Africa / Democracy / Religion

And God forbids… Religion, Prejudices and LGBT Rights in Southern Africa

Maybe Paul Kasonkomona knew about the risk he was taking when Early-April, he gave an interview in Zambia’s TV Channel Muvi TV in Luanda about gay and lesbian rights. The HIV and human rights activist appeared on a live television show and called for the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships which are strictly forbidden in conservative Zambia. Zambia should recognize its gay population, he proclaimed. Barely an hour later he was arrested.

Kasonkomona works for the Engender Rights Center for Justice who fights for the rights of sexual minorities, not only gay and lesbians, but sex workers or those who are living with HIV or AIDS as well.

Sources at the television station later reported to the AFP news agency: Police had tried to stop the interview and arrest Kasonkomona earlier, but the management refused. When leaving the television studio Kasonkomona was arrested nonetheless under section 178 (g) of the Zambian Penal Code for soliciting in a public place for an immoral purpose. It is an offence which originates in a colonial law, the English Vagrancy Act, which was repealed in the UK in 1956 but never in Zambia. Homosexuality is therein not deemed a crime but is filed under “Nuisances and Offences against Convenience”. Under “idle or disorderly persons” the law for examples prosecutes prostitutes, people engaging in a game of chance for money which is not an authorised lottery or “every person who publicly conducts himself in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace”. Concerning Kasonokoma’s case it states in section 178 (g) that “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes” will be prosecuted. The above mentioned “are deemed idle and disorderly persons, and are liable to imprisonment for one month or to a fine not exceeding sixty penalty units or to both”.


Zambian Penal Code:


According to “Zambian Watchdog” the arresting policemen acted under direct order of Edgar Lungu, Acting President and Home Affairs Minister, who vehemently opposes gay and lesbian rights. In a statement Lungu lately declared anybody engaging in “vices” like gay marriage would be prosecuted. He commented on men who had registered their marriage to white men in Lusaka Civic Center: “As a nation and a government, we will not accept foreign misdemeanours because we have never known same marriages of man to man, or woman to woman and the bible does not allow. We would better remain poor as a nation than to accept some of these norms perpetuated by people with money who want to destroy our society.” Following that he stated as cited in the Lusaka Times: “We will not sit back and watch man marrying man, or woman and woman. We will arrest them and deal with them according to the law.”


Lusaka Times about Lungu’s statement:

Zambian Watchdog about the arrest of Paul Kasonkomona:


Lungu is not alone with this opinion. Commenting on the article about Kasonkomona’s arrest on the website as cited above some writers went as far as this: “Kill the homosexuals!!!!! Put tires around their necks and burn them alive!!!!” Others declared: “Clearly homosexuality is illegal in this country. The vast majority don’t support or even want to hear about it.” Or: “Just keep him locked this is Zambia not the West.” Their reasoning is sometimes quite simple: “The bible doesn’t allow homosexuality in all manner of sort. Why should we have this stupid foolish ignorant man feature on national TV that is total crap to educate our children to express themselves in foolish ways of being gay and feel happy about it. Just hung this man so he saves an example to our beloved Zambian nation. He actually doesn’t have fear for God at all, I wish such people burn on earth coz hell might delay.” For these commentators homosexuality is what they call “dirty” an “unchristian”.

Others in Zambia protest vehemently against such atrocities. Some hidden, others openly, like Paul Kasonkomona. The activist is known for his steadfastness, he has been threatened with arrest before and was arrested while demonstrating for HIV treatment access for those who are not only living with HIV, but with HIV in poverty.

Even a church man did speak up in protest against gay and lesbian criminalisation. On April 10th Reverend Kapya Koma wrote in the Lusaka Times concerning the threats he received after an article: “If speaking in favour of gay rights is a crime, then our democracy is hollow.” And he argues against using the bible to justify homophobia: “It is clear that Mr. Lungu does not know that he is not acting Bishop but President.” Reverend Koma laments that the government is employing gay issues to distract from the real Zambian problems like corruption or “lack of rule of law”. The reverend himself says that he normally keeps quite in question of gay right, but that there is a time to stand up in the fight for human rights because oppressing others is “not a Christian or African value”. In a Christian nation it should not be accepted when people in comments threaten to kill gays. He goes as far as to compare these threats with the genocide in Ruanda and the German Nazi concentration camps.


Reverend Kapya Kaoma, Lusaka Times:


Katharina, co-author of this article, is currently living in Zambia: “I have to admit that I still have to fight myself not to stare at two man, holding each other’s hands, one busy talking, holding the other one tight”, she writes. In Europe you would immediately say they are gay, but here it is just a sign of friendship, of appreciation to have met the other one. Imagine two people standing in a shop in front of you, while one is shopping he is tightly holding his friends hand or arm, nobody cares, it is ok. Seeing this makes you wonder how at the same time there can be so little tolerance for homosexuality.

It is a misbelief that the prosecution of homosexuals only happens in Muslim countries, as comments like that of Zambian Edgar Lungu show: Prejudices against homosexuals are just as widespread in Christian and traditional African communities. And most times homosexuality is prosecuted with the same arguments – no matter the population’s religious belief.

Today homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries, in only 13 it is legal or at least no law exist addressing the topic. Some countries still do have quite harsh regulations: People caught in a homosexual act in Mauritania, Sudan or northern Nigeria for example do face death sentence. In Uganda, Tanzania or Sierra Leone homosexuality can mean a lifelong prison sentence. The interesting thing about Sierra Leone is: Even though male homosexuality is prosecuted very harshly, homosexuality between women is not illegal since the country signed an UN declaration. The same applies to Kenya. Homosexuality is legal for example in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Chad or Niger. In southern Africa homosexuality is outlawed in almost every country, except Mozambique and South Africa. In some southern African states homosexuality is as well only legal for women.

Wikipedia has quite a good collection of the laws applying to homosexual relationships in Africa:


South Africa is the only country on the continent which allows not only homosexual relationships but marriages as well. None the less homosexuals are confronted with rather heavy prejudices. When visiting South Africa in 2000 the English author and journalist Gavin Bell witnessed the following scene during his stay in Soweto:

“Our group included a gay couple from the United States, and one of them was interested to know why the government had recently legalized homosexuality. Max (the guide) said he didn’t know because in his culture they didn’t have that sort of thing. ‘Well’ the gay man replied indignantly, I’ve got news for you, you most certainly do.’ The exchange was in danger of becoming heated, when Max changed the subject by taking us to the only street in the world that had been home to two Nobel laureates.”

(Gavin Bell: Somewhere over the Rainbow. Travels in South Africa. Pages 149/150)


Even though gay marriages have been allowed in South Africa for six years now the first traditional gay marriage was held only this April when Tshepo Cameron Modisane and Thoba Calvin Sithole exchanged their vows in front of 200 guests. They wanted to have a Western white wedding as well as a wedding according to African tradition: They dressed in their traditional grabs as Tswana and Zulu and the wedding included traditional dancing and the ritual sacrifice of a cow. “We see no reason to hide in darkness as if there is something to be ashamed about”, said Tshepo Cameron Modisane towards MambaOnline, a South African gay lesbian network.


Mamba Online

A Gay Africa Love Story:


Even though this story might sound beautiful and promising at the same time there are enough examples for the still existing homophobia in the South Africa: A lesbian couple was told to get divorced or remove their child from a private school, a wine farm turned down a gay couple who wanted to celebrate their wedding on the estate.

And anyone who still needs good arguments why homophobia is quite stupid should read this article by South African Author Rebecca Davis in the Daily Maverick who seems to be quite angry about these recent events:


In Zambia meanwhile Paul Kasonkomona’s situation is still somehow unclear: In a first court hearing four days after his arrest he was granted bail. His lawyer had argued that his client was only charged with a misdemeanour. Kasonkomona pleaded not guilty, his trial will be on May 15th, for speaking out loud for gay and lesbian rights he could face a fine or even one month in prison should he be found guilty. Meanwhile his lawyers are filing in a separate case at the high court because Kasonkomona was kept in a police cell for more than 48 hours until he was brought before a judge.

Jessica Holzhausen and Katharina S.

3 thoughts on “And God forbids… Religion, Prejudices and LGBT Rights in Southern Africa

  1. Pingback: SA Bloggers – And God forbids… Religion, Prejudices and LGBT Rights in Southern Africa

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