Ex-president's sex trial grips Zimbabwe

Canaan Banana is accused of sodomy. Mugabe's rhetoric won't help, writes James Roberts
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THE DAPPER green "Chairman Mao" suit spoke of his days as a radical black liberation leader. The walking stick painted with the Zimbabwean national colours of red, green, black and gold conjured up memories of African despots such as Hastings Banda of Malawi. And the chauffeur-driven purple Mercedes Benz that bore former president Canaan Banana and his wife Janet to the Harare High Court yesterday suggested a confidence only slightly compromised by effete arrogance.

Given the charges against the former Methodist minister and theology professor, it was just as well that Mr Banana was putting on a brave face. For the former Zimbabwean president is being tried on 11 charges of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault, in a country where the President, Robert Mugabe, has done his best to whip up anti-homosexual feeling to a fever pitch.

In his personal anti-gay vendetta Mr Mugabe has frequently described his targets as lower than animals. "If dogs and pigs don't do it, why must human beings? Can human beings be human beings if they do worse than pigs?" he asked his audience at a Harare book fair last August. He prevented the Gay and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe exhibiting at the fair, dismissing them as an "association of sodomists and sexual perverts".

The first of the 40 or so witnesses the state is calling to give evidence was Jefta Dube, during whose trial last year the allegations of Mr Banana's behaviour first emerged. Dube was accused of murdering a fellow policeman, and in mitigation he told the court that his victim had taunted him by calling him "Banana's wife". The court accepted Dube's explanation as mitigating circumstances, sentenced him to 10 years for the murder, and ordered a police inquiry into the allegations against Mr Banana.

Dube yesterday told the court how the former president had laid on a game of cards, alcohol and ballroom music at State House before the first attack.

"He invited me to dinner. He offered me whisky, we played cards. He offered to teach me ballroom music and during the dance he was pressing his erect penis against me. He gave me a French kiss before I broke away from him." Dube said.

Dube said that during the second attack, also at State House, Banana had given him a soft drink, Fanta, which he suspected was spiked with drugs.

"I felt dizzy after a while. Then he was all over me, kissing and removing my clothes ... "When I got home, I wept at the attack and I have suffered since then," he added, saying Mr Banana intimidated him often.

Dube said he was detained for three days in 1984 when he dodged Mr Banana's advances.

In court last year, describing the incident in which he thought his drink had been spiked, Dube told how he awoke at dawn, on the carpet. Mr Banana was standing over him, half-naked and smiling. "We have helped ourselves," he is alleged to have said to Dube.

Out of court Mr Banana has dismissed all suggestions he is homosexual as "a mortuary of pathological lies and a malicious vendetta of vilification and character assassination".

A number of allegations have also been made by former members of Mr Banana's football team, the State House Tornadoes. Mr Banana was the team's patron and used to train with the players on their home pitch, in the presidential palace grounds.

As president of the Zimbabwean Football Association, he attended every game at the national stadium, and greeted all the players after the match. This custom came to a humiliating end when he walked on to the pitch to meet the players, to be roundly booed by the crowd.

Police investigations have also attracted scores of complaints from past and present students at the University of Zimbabwe where Mr Banana was professor of theology.

The chief state prosecutor, Augustine Chikumira, yesterday insisted that the former head of state had abused his authority in his homosexual assaults. "Taking advantage of his position, he coaxed a number of men into sexual activities which they did not approve and which they resisted," Mr Chikumira said.

The state's witnesses include Vice President Simon Muzenda and some former army and police chiefs. Mr Banana is calling 10 witnesses in his defence, including his wife, Janet.

The former president held office from 1980 - the year of Zimbabwe's independence

The case continues today.