Mugabe anti-gay policy brings down trusted ally

A loyal aide of the President is accused of homosexuality as mediators attempt to bring about unity government
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The Independent Online

These are trying times for gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe. Alum Mpofu, who until yesterday was one of President Robert Mugabe's most trusted spin doctors, can attest to this.

Mr Mpofu was chief executive of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the architect of Mr Mugabe's propaganda campaign on state television and radio ahead of last month's presidential elections. He lost his job yesterday after allegations that he was caught last week in a "compromising" position with a man at Harare's popular Tipperary Restaurant and nightclub.

Mr Mpofu's resignation from the ZBC warded off an inquiry ordered by the government into the allegation that he had performed a homosexual act.

The statute books in Zimbabwe do not specifically outlaw homosexuality. Yet Mr Mugabe has declared Zimbabwe to be a "no-go area" for gay people, whom he has repeatedly vilified as being "worse than pigs and dogs" and "human rejects".

His legendary homophobia explains why even the greatest optimists would not have expected Mr Mpofu to survive in his post after allegations of his homosexual tendencies surfaced at the weekend. Once claims of gay behaviour were levelled two years ago against Canaan Banana, Zimbabwe's ceremonial president from 1980 to 1987, Mr Mugabe immediately severed all ties with Mr Banana, who was subsequently jailed. He ordered officials to stop inviting Mr Banana to state functions and instigated the removal of Mr Banana from his role as special envoy of the Organisation of African Unity.

Although it has become customary for Mr Mugabe to pardon most of his officials and supporters convicted of corruption and murder cases, Mr Banana served his full one-year sentence without the favour of a presidential pardon.

Ironically, Mr Mpofu, the latest victim of Mr Mugabe's virulent homophobia, led the campaign propagating the Zimbabwe leader's harsh anti-gay rhetoric at the state broadcaster after his appointment in July last year.

Mr Mpofu's own fall from grace arose from an alleged incident at the Tipperary Restaurant, which is owned by the Zanu-PF MP Pearson Mbalekwa. Reports said there was pandemonium at the nightclub after Mr Mpofu was caught "in a compromising position" with a young man. Sources say Mr Mpofu appeared to have been fondling and cuddling him.

The alleged incident was spotted by security guards, who immediately arrested him and chained him to a fire hose. A sobbing Mr Mpofu told Mr Mbalekwa's son, who was in charge at the club that night, that he was the ZBC chief executive and a friend of his father. Reports said the senior Mr Mbalekwa was then called in and guards freed Mr Mpofu.

But this was only after other patrons at the club had jostled to see the top man at the ZBC in handcuffs and had hurled abuse at him. The nightclub is located near Harare's central business district but has some discreet nooks and crannies within its surrounds.

Officials said Mr Mpofu, a Zimbabwean who was recruited from the South African Broadcasting Corporation last year to help mastermind the broadcasting end of the Mugabe re-election campaign, resigned voluntarily. A cartoon in The Daily News showing Mr Mugabe screaming on a telephone while holding a copy of a newspaper with Mr Mpofu's story probably summed up the real circumstances surrounding his resignation.

Mr Mugabe has repeatedly dismissed Britain's government as being one of "gay gangsters and lesbians who need biology classes on human reproduction". But some Zimbabweans are now raising questions about the number of gays in Mr Mugabe's own extended circle.

"If Mugabe believes that gays are worse than pigs and dogs ... then it means he has allowed pigs and dogs to take charge of the country, judging from Banana and Mpofu's cases," said Chesterfield Samba, of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ).

Mr Samba said the persecution of homosexuals had become a permanent feature of Zimbabwean society under Mr Mugabe. "How many more pigs and dogs are in his government running the affairs of this country?" he said. "Is this why we are in such a mess?"

Mr Samba said gay people, particularly those less prominent, were routinely harassed. "We will, however, stand up to him [Mr Mugabe] and claim our rights," he said. It was time that Mr Mugabe stopped demonising gays and accepted them as equals, he said.

A Zimbabwean analyst said: "Perhaps if Mpofu had stolen hundreds of millions from the national treasury Mugabe would have just said he is being normal like everyone else in government and would have forgiven him ... However, Mpofu committed the wrong crime and he has to pay dearly."

GALZ once invoked Mr Mugabe's ire when it tried to set up an exhibition at a book fair in Harare to promote understanding of gay issues among Zimbabweans. Mr Mugabe send police to burn down the stand and declared that Zimbabwe "was not for gays".

"Homosexuality is unnatural. If we were to accept homosexuality, then the human race will be extinct," Jonathan Moyo, Mr Mugabe's Information Minister, told the state media yesterday.