By Pamenus Tuso
THE European Union Election Observation Mission (EUOM) to the just ended harmonised elections in Zimbabwe has expressed concern over violations of the rights of Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexual and Queer Plus (LGBTIQ+) community members in the country.
In a preliminary report released on August 26, the EUOM noted that members of LGBTIQ+ were conspicuous by their absence in the plebiscite, particularly as candidates.
The report pointed out that political parties and candidates were silent on people of diverse sexual identities. “During the campaign, LGBTIQ+ phobic insults circulated and there is no openly LGBTIQ+ candidate or public official”, reads part of the EUOM report.
Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) programmes manager Mojalifa Ndlovu said his organisation was aware of concerns raised in the report and was consulted for its observations on the matter.
“During the build up to the elections, we were engaged by the EU observers who wanted to check on the preparedness and participation of LGBTIQ+ in the democratic and electoral processes in Zimbabwe,” said Ndlovu.
“We shared our concerns and the EUOM was right by pointing out in its report that there were some incidences of victimization of members of the LGBTIQ+ community especially transgender people.”
He said the incidences were, however not of high violence scale but had to do with issues of gender markers on the national identity cards not matching with the person that was coming to vote.
Gender markers represent an individual’s gender identity, most commonly in the abbreviations F for female and M for male. As part of the voting process in Zimbabwe, one is required to state their age and gender.
Ndlovu cited an elections related incident in which a transgender person was allegedly attacked in Harare.
“We had a case in Harare where a transgender person was attacked during an election engagement. Our rapid response team responded to that case and yes, we agree with the EUOM report that the LGBTIQ+ still feel unsafe to participate in elections in Zimbabwe,” said Ndlovu. He said his organisation observed a very low turnout of its members at polling stations countrywide. Research carried out by LGBTIQ+ organisations estimate that about ten percent of Zimbabwe’s population is gay, noting that most gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe have to hide their sexual identity to avoid discrimination, exclusion and violent attacks against them.
The SRC manager appealed to LGBTIQ+ organizations and other stakeholders to continue encouraging and teaching LGBTIQ+ community members their democratic and citizen rights to participate in national elections.
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) director Chester Samba said his organisation would present a comprehensive response upon the release of the final EUOM report.
The ruling party Zanu PF and government were quick to dismiss the EUOM report on violation of the rights of minority groups in the 2023 harmonised elections.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said; “Some of the comments like one saying we were supposed to allow homosexuals to contest suggest that we asked one’s sexuality when you go to the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) to submit your nomination papers. Notwithstanding that our culture does not allow that and then they come here to say we must recognize minorities,”
Ziyambi described the comments as “an example of uncalled for reportage to try to tarnish the whole process in a manner that we felt we should respond.”
Addressing a press conference, Zanu PF party spokesperson, Christopher Mutsvangwa issued a stern warning to some foreign observers whom he accused of interfering with the country‘s electoral processes.
Recent media reports point out that while the LGBTIQ+ community in Zimbabwe has constantly complained of violations of their rights, a substantial proportion of the abuses were between partners themselves.
Common causes of same sex intimate partner violence were sighted as economic and infidelity among partners in a community with a limited dating pool.
Affected LGBTIQ+ individuals interviewed said their plight was exacerbated by the fact they could not easily report such cases to the police as the force has a negative attitude towards them.
While some victims of such violence access health care services at private clinics that have been established by non-governmental organizations, there are no health support systems for the LGBTIQ+ at public health institutions where members complain of ill-treatment.
While the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination it is silent on specific rights for the LGBTIQ+ community.