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Opinion: Mugabe bashes gays again

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

He was taking a shot at the whole concept of the independent woman. "Look at the strange things that happen when women choose their own careers," he was saying of post-independence Zimbabwe. Look what happens when they are released from what Camille Paglia called the tyranny of the reproductive cycle.

It was a message that resonated with the deeply conservative instincts of the country’s leadership and its religious allies. Mugabe’s attack on civil society was applauded by many as a moral call to arms.

Fifteen years later the response is very different. Civil society has been quick to assert the right of gay people to be included in the proposed constitution. Very few voices have expressed solidarity with the president this time round.

Movement for Democratic Change leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, having at first been drawn into Mugabe’s poisonous embrace on the issue, was quick to withdraw and emphasize the right of gay people to be included in the constitution-making process. The alacrity with which he moved to correct a report in the official press that he supported Mugabe exposed the changing tide of public opinion.

Even church leaders, with the notable exception of a former Anglican bishop, declined to speak up in support of Mugabe.

“It was as if people, without any particular support for gay rights, were saying, ‘Well, if Mugabe thinks it’s bad, it can’t be all bad,’” one patron of an upscale shebeen in the capital, Harare, said of the president’s latest foray.

Gay people are no longer intimidated. The organization that drew Mugabe’s fire in 1995, Galz — Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe — recently held a party in a suburban house where they have their offices. The event was attended by hundreds of young people in the 18 to 25 age group dancing the night away, completely oblivious to any threat.

“Things have changed now,” said one reveler, Shadreck. “The country no longer takes its lead from the old man.”

The statement was greeted with laughter by his friends. Nobody seems to care what Mugabe thinks any more. And it shows.