Zim gay debate goes viral
By Alfonce Mbizwo, Harare, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been a butt of jokes most of his political career, but his recent statements on gay rights have torched a social media storm.
A movement called ‘One Million Against Morgan Tsvangirai Gay Statements’ debuted on Facebook this week - most likely launched by opponents of his Movement for Democratic Party – with a symbol of a splinter MDC formation on the background of a Zanu-PF flag.
Speaking to BBC's Newsnight programme on a recent visit to the British capital, Tsvangirai said he would defend gay rights if he became president but noted that there was a "very strong cultural feeling" against homosexuality in Zimbabwe.
"It's a very controversial subject in my part of the world. My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody. To me, it's a human right," he said.
He later told a local political rally: “I am not gay, but I will not persecute someone who wishes to make his or her own choice about their sexual orientation, it is their own business.”
Zimbabwe is drafting a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum ahead of possible elections next year and Tsvangirai’s statements are seen as a call to enshrine gay rights in the final draft.
However, homosexual acts are illegal in Zimbabwe as in most African countries except South Africa, where many people view such as un-African.
Tsvangirai, who founded the MDC in 1999, is seen as the second most powerful politician in Zimbabwe and likely future president after his party took majority seats in the 2008 parliamentary vote.
However, his comments alarmed many in the conservative country and within a short time had gone viral on Facebook and Twitter social media forums, mainly because his coalition government partner President Mugabe - a practising Catholic - once described gays as "worse than pigs and dogs", sparking international outrage.
Rivals waded into the controversy and Zanu-PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo speculated in the State-owned Herald newspaper that the British were pressuring Tsvangirai to support gay rights in return for aid.
“There is a clear link between what Tsvangirai is now advocating and it is not surprising. They (MDC-T) are sponsored by the British and the West and they have to toe the line. Failure to do so would cost them British support,” he told the Herald.
The Herald maintains that gays and lesbians freely exist in Zimbabwe and are not persecuted, they are only prosecuted at law if they take their activities into the public domain since the constitution does not provide for same-sex unions and calls homosexuality ‘an abomination’.
It is widely believed that social media played an integral role in the election of United States President Barack Obama and its omnipresence fuelled the Arab Spring.
In Zimbabwe, it may determine the fate of one Morgan Tsvangirai.