`Zimbabwe has declared war on gay community'

CHESTERFIELD SAMBA, a gay man in Harare, feels the citizen's arrest on President Mugabe was "a good thing because it got people talking''. Mr Samba, an accountant aged 24, said yesterday that even though homosexuality is not illegal in Zimbabwe - only sodomy is - the prevailing climate is hostile because of President Mugabe's rhetoric.

"I have not been attacked, though many of my friends have," he said. "You find yourself very conscious of not dressing in tight clothes or wearing jewellery. I always have to be aware of who I associate with - that is, no one who is too effeminate, only people who are straight- acting or looking.

"The safest place to be is at Galz where we have parties every weekend; there is only trouble with the police when we play music after midnight. I often get into situations where I can be pressured. A guy will say, `Buy me a beer or I'll tell the barman you are gay'. So you end up always having to be kind and pandering to these people.''

Mr Samba, who has been in a steady relationship for seven years, hopes pressures for Zimbabwean constitutional reform, spearheaded by Galz and human rights groups, will succeed in changing attitudes. "My family is extremely supportive. Not everyone in Zimbabwe is against us. We want a sexual orientation clause to be included in the next constitution.

"It would have been good if OutRage! had warned us of their action. We were caught off guard and some Galz [Zimbabwe's gay rights movement] members got into trouble. But it also gave us the chance to go on national television and put our case.''

Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, who was at the centre of the Mugabe arrest row, says the Zimbabwean government has "declared war on the gay community in Zimbabwe", adding: "He has advised gays to leave Zimbabwe voluntarily or face dire consequences."

A spokesman for Galz said it would be difficult to lay specific charges against Mr Mugabe for crimes against homosexuals but said his anti-gay rhetoric "has had a devastating effect on the lives of lesbians and gay men and their families". After an international Internet appeal, Galz built a "resource centre'' in a northern Harare suburb, with a small library, where the weekly discos are held.

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