SAR, Vol 12 No 2, February 1997
GAY RIGHTS (CONT'D)
II - NAMIBIA
BY ABSALOM SHIGWEDHA
Absalom Shigwedha is a Windhoek correspondent for the African news service, Africa Information Afrique (AIA). AIA publishes dispatches by email and in hard copy. They may be contacted at email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Windhoek, January 31, 1997 -
Human rights activists have called on President Sam Nujoma to apologise to the Namibian people for his `dehumanising and inciting remarks' against the homosexual and gay community in the country.
Officially opening the third Swapo Women's Council Congress at Gobabis in Eastern Namibia recently, Nujoma said homosexuals and people who commit sodomy were exploiting the country's democracy and had to be condemned and rejected by society. He described homosexuals as `foreign influences' with corrupt ideologies.
Sister Namibia, an organisation fighting for the elimination of gender discrimination, said in a statement that while preaching reconciliation the president was practising hate by inciting violence against gays and lesbians.
"Through these irresponsible statements, the president is dehumanising Namibian gays and lesbians as foreign elements thereby stripping them of their human qualities and making them into targets of unjustified violence."
The Rainbow project, which represents the gay and lesbian community in the country, have slammed Nujoma's remarks saying they were in direct conflict with the law of the land. "We would like to point out to President Nujoma that homosexuality is not criminalized in Namibian law," a spokesperson from the organisation said.
He recalled that in 1990 Prime Minister Hage Geingob assured the homosexual community of protection in terms of the Namibian constitution. He also said numerous studies have been conducted to determine the reasoning behind a person's sexual orientation. "The only constant finding has been that 10 percent of any population is exclusively or predominantly homosexual in orientation," the spokesperson said.
Some Namibians believe that homosexuality is a mental disease which has originated from the west. They regard homosexuality as an insult to African culture and tradition.
The Rainbow Project quotes the American Psychiatric Association (APA) which in 1993 acknowledged homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle rather than a pathological disorder. It also noted that the practice of homosexuality occurs with some regularity as a variant of human sexuality.
Members of the project say they are proud of their sexual orientation and are prepared to meet with the president to clear up any misconceptions. "We will not apologise for what we are," they say.
Liz Frank and Elizabeth Khaxas, a lesbian couple resident in Windhoek, are shocked by the president's statement. "Who decided that democracy in this country is only for heterosexuals," asks Frank. The couple warns that labelling homosexuals as `elements' is dangerous as it incites violence.
"What rights are homosexuals exploiting? As gays and lesbians we have none of the rights to family which are given to heterosexual couples and their biological or adopted children," said Elizabeth.
Dr. Henning Melber, a political economist with the Namibian Economic Research Unit (Nepru), says President Nujoma's remarks against gays and lesbians were placing democracy in danger.
Melber said it was alarming that homosexuality was condemned and rejected by society and described as a foreign and corrupt ideology. "But what is even more disturbing is that they are blamed for exploiting our democracy," he says.
Elliot Mbako, a Windhoek resident, is one of the many Namibians who regard homosexuals as evil. "Even our parliament starts with a prayer which means we believe in the bible. And it is said in the bible that these practices are evil," he says.
In 1995, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe also lashed out at the gay and lesbian community in his country, saying they should be denied the rights enjoyed by other people.
In South Africa, on the other hand, homosexual rights are part of [constitutionally guaranteed] human rights.
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