Mugabe stands aside as Banana is hounded with gay rape charge

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The Independent Online
Zimbabwe's former president Canaan Banana is to be charged with sodomy, attempted sod-omy and indecent assault in the next few days, according to the country's attorney general Patrick Chinamasa.

In a country where homosexuality is illegal and President Robert Mugabe regularly indulges in gay-bashing, the decision to take Mr Banana, 60, a long-time political ally of Mr Mugabe, to court, has caused a scandal.

Mr Mugabe has attacked homosexuals as "lower than pigs and dogs" and says homosexuality is a perversion imported from the West.

Rape allegations were first made against Mr Banana in February during a trial at Harare High Court. His former aide de camp, Jefta Dube, 36, claimed he had shot a policeman because he was taunted for being Mr Banana's "wife". Mr Dube told the court Mr Banana had forced him to have sex for three years. Since Mr Dube's trial, other men, including a cook, a gardener, a security man and six former aides, have claimed Mr Banana sodomised or assaulted them.

Mr Banana, a figurehead president to the then Prime Minister Mugabe after independence, claims the accusations are part of a campaign to discredit him. The Methodist clergyman, who now lectures in theology and is married with four children, insists he is not homosexual.

But Mr Chinamasa has said he is satisfied Mr Banana "has a case to answer". More than 30 witnesses are expected to appear soon in a high court case which will be heard in open court.

Mr Dube, who was sentenced to 10 years for the 1995 murder of the policeman, claimed Mr Banana's attentions had left him depressed and alcoholic. He claims that he had to comply with his bosses' wishes or lose his job.

The judge who tried Mr Dube for murder ruled he had suffered diminished responsibility at the time of the killing. The judge then ordered that the charges against Mr Banana be investigated by police.

In Harare, where rumours of Mr Banana's homosexuality have circulated since the 1980s, the decision to prosecute has puzzled many. Unusually, the autocratic President Mugabe has made no attempt to save his ally, or hush the allegations up. Despite the embarrassment to the government it seems happy to let Mr Banana sink. Commentators are also puzzled by Mr Banana's claims that he is the victim of a political conspiracy.

"He was only ever a figurehead and has really no position of power," said one.

In court, Mr Dube claimed senior officials in the ruling Zanu (PF) party and the security services knew about Mr Banana's abuse of power and colluded in intimidating him to comply with the former president's sexual demands.

Mr Dube claimed in court that he resisted Mr Banana for the first six months but that the president eventually spiked his drink. He said that the last thing he could remember was Mr Banana trying to remove his trousers. He woke next morning to be confronted by the smiling president who said: "We helped ourselves."

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