Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader and prime minister under a tense power-sharing agreement, tells the BBC he supports including protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in a new Constitution:
“It’s a very controversial subject in my part of the world. My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody, … To me, it’s a human right,” he said.
In March 2010, Mr Tsvangirai said gay rights was not up for discussion in Zimbabwe. “I totally agree with the president,” he said at the time.
A new constitution will be drafted over the coming year, and submitted to a referendum ahead of the 2012 elections, which most expect to be close and violent.
Tsvangirai once asked, “Women make up 52% of the population … there are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?” Today, his spokesman told the AFP that the prime minister
still believes that the issue of homosexuality is alien in Africa … However, he is a social democrat. What he was saying is that ordinary people’s rights must be respected as long as they do their things in private.
Tsvangirai’s change of heart, however qualified, sets up a test in next year’s vote: whether Mugabe’s tried and true exploitation of homophobia, which he’ll surely haul out yet again, still works in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai’s comments also mark a general shift in attitudes affecting many African countries. Zimbabwe’s Guardian newspaper notes,
Tsvangirai’s U-turn comes after Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae told the BBC last week that his country should decriminalise homosexuality and prostitution to prevent the spread of HIV. Mogae, who heads the Botswana government-backed Aids Council, said it was difficult to promote safe sex when the two practices were illegal.