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Opinion: Mugabe bashes gays again

Zimbabwe's leader returns to attacking gays, but few are listening.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe speaks at a rally in Harare to mark the country's 30 years of independence from Britain on April 18, 2010. Mugabe urged Zimbabweans to end political violence and focus on rebuilding a devastated economy that critics say is a victim of his three decades in power. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Thirty years ago, on April 18, 1980, Zimbabwe was born amid joyous celebrations that the country had at last won its freedom from colonial rule after a protracted bush war.

Today there is little enthusiasm for the southern African nation’s 30th anniversary of independence as it continues to languish under the iron fist of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

Bereft of policies that might rescue the country from the morass to which he has consigned it, Mugabe, 86, has turned to what he believes is a panacea: Bashing gays.

He thinks the issue of sexual preference should be excluded from the new constitution that is being drawn up by parties represented in the government of national unity.

“It is not worthy of discussion,” he declared at a ceremony to mark Women’s Day recently. “Those that engage in such acts are insane. We cannot tolerate this, otherwise the dead will rise against us.”

It is 15 years since Mugabe made his notorious speech comparing homosexuals to pigs and dogs in front of a distinguished audience that included Nobel laureates attending a book fair whose theme was human rights.

Mugabe made it clear that under his rule gay people don’t have any rights. Vilified abroad as an ignorant bigot, Mugabe worked to build a domestic coalition against gay rights of church groups, traditional leaders and politicians of all persuasions. Many were happy to climb aboard his bandwagon including whites and Indians.

Most analysts at the time missed the sub-text. Mugabe was asserting his claim to be the authentic voice of African culture in contrast to the strange new “rights” enshrined in South Africa’s draft constitution.

Mugabe paraded his narrow and exclusive nationalism as a direct rebuke to Nelson Mandela’s inclusive “Rainbow nation” where gays were not just tolerated, but celebrated.

There was another dimension to Mugabe’s 1995 speech made in the presence of Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka and South African author Nadine Gordimer, who had incensed Mugabe by attaching their names to a statement deploring the exclusion of Zimbabwean gays from the book fair.