Zimbabwe’s new President: ‘It’s not my duty’ to press for change on LGBT issues

Zimbabwe’s new President has shot down questions about whether he will roll back the state’s harsh anti-LGBT policies.

Long-serving Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe was ousted late last year by his lieutenant Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mugabe was notoriously one of the world’s most homophobic leaders, presiding over a regime that has carried out horrifying homophobic purges, targeting gay men and women with extortion, arrest, and even torture.

Mugabe previously claimed homosexuality is a filthy disease, vowed to reject international aid that requires Zimbabwe to accept gay people’s human rights, and insisted Zimbabwe would “never, never, never” decriminalise homosexuality.

Mnangagwa’s rise has signalled a shift towards modernisation for many Zimbabweans, but he struck a much less open tone when asked about progress on LGBT rights in an interview with CNN.

The leader was challenged on the country’s stance by CNN’s Richard Quest, who is gay.

Asked if he would do anything to progress LGBT rights in the country, Mnangagwa responded: “Those people who want it are the people who should canvass for it, but it’s not my duty to campaign for this.”

When asked whether the country would remove its current ban on same-sex unions, Mnangagwa responded: “In our constitution it is banned – and it is my duty to obey my constitution.”

But elsewhere in the interview he pressed the case for modernisation in the country to allow greater international investment and trade.

Speaking about business, he said: “Those who want to live in the past can continue to live in the past. But those who want to see the future can look at what we are doing, and make a judgement of what we are doing.

“We have to say, why are other economies in our region progressing? Why are other economies growing? Why do we not have direct investment coming into Zimbabwe?”

Referring to Mr Quest, he said: “We must have dialogue with people like you, with people who want to come into Zimbabwe.

“We must say, what did you see which constrains you from coming into our environment. When they do so, if we’re able, we’ll adjust the legislation and laws.”

It is unclear what he meant by “people like you”.

But even as he declines to press for change on LGBT rights, Mnangagwa’s measured answers are a far cry from the homophobic outburts that Mugabe was prone to making.

Mnangagwa, known in Zimbabwe by his nickname ‘The Crocodile’, had been one of Mugabe’s key lieutenants, serving in various ministerial roles since the the 1980s, becoming First Vice President in 2014.

The politician led the country’s delegation to the United Nations last year, where he rejected calls to respect the human rights of gay people.

He said: “With regards to areas that we felt we would not accept, it is issues of gays and homosexuality, which is unlawful in our country. We rejected all those.

“There are a few countries from Europe which recommended we reconsider our position with regard to adults of same sex marrying each other that we rejected.”

Mnangagwa also insisted that Zimbabweans will “reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our norms, values, traditions and beliefs”.

Writing for PinkNews when Mugabe was ousted, queer Zimbabwean Joyline Maenzanise said: “As a queer person, my deepest fear is that we may only be replacing one homophobe with another, even if they may not be as dramatic.

“I highly doubt that that new leader will express sentiments that are any different from what President Mugabe has staunchly believed about the LGBT+ folks.

“They may not publicly condemn us and compare us to animals – which have also been shown to have homosexual species, thus refuting the dehumanising comparison – but they will, most likely, not be a champion for the queer community.

“I know that if I am ever attacked by queerphobes or if I am refused a job because of my gender identity, none of those candidates will come out to publicly condemn oppression of others on the grounds of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Until Zimbabwe has a leader who will recognise the rights of the LGBT+ community, I am always going to feel like an alien in my own country; a part of me will always feel caged.”

Pink Triangle Trust Secretary George Broadhead said: “Mugabe must rank as one of the worst homophobic leaders worldwide… let’s hope that the new regime will be truly democratic and respect human rights.”

Mugabe previously gave a bizarre speech to the United Nations in which he ranted about gay rights before shouting “we are not gays!”

Mugabe has previously claimed homosexuality is a filthy disease, and insisted Zimbabwe would “never, never, never” support homosexuality.

When the country suffered one of its worst droughts in decades last year, Mugabe held a lavish birthday party at which he vowed to reject international aid that requires Zimbabwe to accept human rights laws and stop persecuting gay people.

In his speech, he said: “If aid, as I understand, is to be given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages, then let that aid stay were it is.

“We don’t want it. It is rotten aid, filthy aid and we won’t have anything to do with it.”

During his 2013 inauguration address, Mugabe urged young Zimbabweans to “damn” homosexuality, calling it a “white disease”..

He added: “That [homosexuality] destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease.”

Ahead of the election, he said that gays should be castrated.

Throughout his election campaign vocal attacks on the country’s gay population were a prominent feature. In one attack he urged for the heads of gay men to be chopped off, and described them as being worse than pigs.

He said: “If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads.

“This thing [homosexuality] seeks to destroy our lineage by saying John and John should wed, Maria and Maria should wed. Imagine this son born out of an African father, [US President Barack] Obama says if you want aid, you should accept the homosexuality practice. Aah, we will never do that.”

He also described homosexuals as worse than animals because pigs “know who to mate with.”

Related: Ever been told homosexuality is unnatural? These 7 animals strongly disagree

Mugabe recently expressed his admiration for President Trump.

Zimbabwes President Robert Gabriel Mugabe addresses the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 21, 2017. (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Mugabe says people should “give him time” in the hope Trump will lift sanctions on Zimbabwe, and backed his nationalistic agenda.

“Give him time,” he said in an interview aired ahead of his 93rd birthday.

“Mr Trump might even re-look [at] the sanctions on Zimbabwe.”

Mugabe and his allies have had their assets frozen and faced travel bans by the US for 15 years.

He said: “When it comes to Donald Trump… talking of American nationalism, well America for America, America for Americans – on that we agree. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.

“I was surprised by his election, but I did not like Madam Clinton to win either,” he said.

“I knew she could slap sanctions on us as a legacy.”

He was not such a fan of Obama.

Mugabe said of him: “I’ve just concluded since President Obama endorses the same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people and enjoys an attractive countenance, thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, get down on my knee, and ask [Obama’s] hand in marriage.

“I can’t understand how this people dare to defy Christ’s explicit orders as our Lord prohibited mankind from sodomy.”