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Homophobic act proves costly for Zimbabweans

December 16, 2021
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#Africa, #Somizi Mhlongo, #homophobia, #migration
located:Zimbabwe, South Africa
by:Cyril Zenda
Over two hundred thousand Zimbabweans working in South Africa have lost their legal right to remain in the neighbouring country, as backlash over treatment of a gay artist in their home country proves costly.

In early November, Somizi Mhlongo, a queer South African artist was due to perform at a re-opening of an upmarket restaurant in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. His invitation drew furious protests from Zimbabwean church leaders and members of the ruling ZANU-PF party, resulting in him being unable to perform.  

"Zimbabwe doesn’t tolerate homosexuality"

The Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe wrote a letter to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, threatening to withdraw their support for him and his party in the next elections should the South African artist be allowed into the country. 

“Somizi is a homosexual, hence according to our people’s driven (sic) constitution, Zimbabwe doesn’t tolerate homosexuality,” the Christian leaders’ council wrote.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe and most members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQI+) community have to conceal their sexual identity. South Africa, in comparison, is one of the few African countries where the LGBTQI+ community is constitutionally protected.

“…[I]f we allow Somizi to come to our land, spiritually we would have disturbed a lot, and physically we would have openly accepted homosexuality in Zimbabwe hence affecting our children," the Apostolic Christian Council added. "This move will also affect our revolutionary party ZANU-PF by disturbing the 5 million votes win needed in the next 2023 harmonised elections for it is publicly known that our party strongly stands against homosexuality."

The protest prompted members of the Youth League of the ruling party to approach the restaurant owners with threats should they proceed with having the South African artist as their guest of honour. 

South Africans, most of whom have long been unhappy with the influx of foreigners into their country, reacted angrily to Somizi’s ban in Zimbabwe, with many demanding that South Africa respond in the same way.

Hypocrisy of Homophobia

The barring of the actor-cum-musician, who is also a celebrity chef, from performing in Zimbabwe angered even some Zimbabweans, most of whom pointed out that the move was hypocritical as the same church leaders remain quiet when many other provisions of the Constitution are violated when citizens are regularly abducted, raped and even killed by security forces. 

Maynard Manyowa, an international Zimbabwean journalist, accused Zimbabwe's authorities of hypocrisy. 

“Zimbabweans love to throw ‘principles’ around. Which is all well and good, until one realises how hypocritical it is,” Manyowa wrote in an opinion piece

“If at all we were that loyal to bigoted principles, one would assume we would choose to suffer in our 18th century anachronistic world and not want even a piece of a country that allows homosexuality," he further stated. "It is mind-blowing that if South Africa declared Zimbabwean citizens undesirable because they hold bigoted views, South Africa would be fried deep in xenophobia fat."

A political move

All this happening as it did when South Africa was holding its local government elections: opposition parties - which have always made immigration a big issue - capitalised on it by arguing that if a gay South African artist could not perform in Zimbabwe due to morality issues, the same should also apply to the millions of Zimbabweans who are working and living in 'immoral' South Africa.

There is an estimated three million Zimbabwean economic refugees in South Africa, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants.

This also happened at the same time as over 200,000 special four-year permits - which were granted by the South African government to Zimbabweans at the height of the country’s political and economic crises in 2009 - were due for renewal. 

No More Special Permits For Zimbabweans

Shortly after the ruling, the African National Congress party lost huge ground in the local government elections to opposition parties that blame the deteriorating economic situation - highlighted by record high unemployment - on President Cyril Ramaphosa, and pressure was put on him to terminate the special permits for Zimbabweans.

On 24 November, hundreds of South Africans mobilised under the banner of #putsouthafricafirst took to the streets to protest the possibility of the renewal of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs). 

The permits’ beneficiaries also did not help their own case by having the effrontery to drag the host government to court, demanding that they be granted permanent residency. 

Then the bombshell came on 25 November, when South Africa’s Home Affairs department announced a Cabinet decision according to which the permits would no longer be renewed. The decision further stipulates that he immigrants would be allowed a grace period of 12 months to find alternative immigration status, and would face deportation should they fail to do so.

Following the announcement, some banks immediately started closing accounts held by Zimbabwean permit holders, prompting the South African government to intervene.

South African trucker drivers started blocking highways, protesting against the employment of Zimbabweans and other foreigners.

Not Everyone Is Xenophobic

While many senior South African government officials and celebrities have come out in support of these anti-immigrant sentiments, not everyone agrees.

Leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, Julius Malema, says he would not base his politics on anti-immigration, even if it means losing supporters.

In a tweet, Malema defended the right of all law-abiding foreigners to remain in South African.

“Someone said to me ‘if you want us to vote for you in 2024 you must abandon this thing of foreigners’. I’m prepared to go home. I’m fine. I will never take a platform and denounce Africans. I will never do it. If it means votes are going, let them go. I’m prepared to go home. But to take a platform and please white minority by pointing a finger at other fellow black brothers, I’m not going to do that. When I see a Nigerian or a Zimbabwean or a Congolese or Ghanaian, I see myself.”

Image by wikimedia commons

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Zimbabwe South Africa
Embed from Getty Images
Somizi Mhlongo (right), a South African artist, was banned from performing in Zimbabwe for being gay.
© Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100
South Africa’s Home Affairs department announced a Cabinet decision according to which Zimbabwean migrants\' work permits would no longer be renewed.
© Mike Hutchings
South Africa’s Home Affairs department announced a Cabinet decision according to which Zimbabwean migrants' work permits would no longer be renewed.
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