Human rights organizations are charging the Zimbabwe police with accelerating harassment of the gay community as the country approaches the election season. Robert Mugabe is opposed to provisions in the draft constitution that would dilute presidential authority, and is angling to create popular support against the draft before it is submitted to a voters referendum. Though the current draft makes no reference to gay rights or gay marriage, Mugabe and his supporters may be using that silence on both issues to rally opposition to it by association. Earlier in the year, Mugabe tied the new constitution to gay rights by saying that there were efforts to insert a same-sex marriage clause in the draft. He is quoted as saying, “we won’t accept that.”
Human rights organizations’ charges that Mugabe is manipulating homophobia to advance his political agenda are entirely credible. Homophobia is widespread in Zimbabwe as it is elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. In traditional societies, marriage and procreation provide for the care of elders. As homosexual relationships do not do that, they are seen to threaten wider society. Only South Africa’s constitution protects gay rights, but even there populists sometimes try to rally popular homophobia to advance their political agendas.