Zimbabwean law triumphs over homophobia

By Richard Lee | January 15th, 2014

Zimbabwean homophobes – particularly those high up in the police and government – will be shaking their heads in disbelief today after the High Court dealt a major body blow to their attempts to halt – and indeed criminalise – the work of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).

In what amounts to a massive victory for GALZ, Justice Priscilla Chigumba yesterday ruled that the police had to return all of the (completely un-incriminating) property – including computers, DVDs, pamphlets, booklets, CDs, and other documents – that they had seized from the organisation during a raid last August. But more importantly, the High Court ruled that GALZ was not operating illegally since it did not – as the police had asserted – have to legally register under the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act.

Needless to say, GALZ’s staff and members have welcomed the ruling and the legal protection it affords them – but, unsurprisingly, they are not yet dancing in the streets.

While the organisation’s chairperson still faces a charge of running an illegal operation (a case which should surely be dismissed following the High Court ruling), all gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe still face a hostile environment – where politicians and religious leaders stir up homophobia and resort to hate speech on a regular basis. And GALZ also knows that the police will simply come up with news ways to harass and intimidate it.

But this important ruling shows that, despite the ruling ZANU-PF's influence over the judiciary, the law can still protect the vulnerable from abuse – and that some brave judges are prepared to adhere to the rule of law despite the wishes of the country’s rulers.

And it makes it crystal clear that the work of GALZ is legally above board – and this will certainly make it easier for GALZ to operate. Not easy – since many major obstacles remain, including the fact that the majority of Zimbabweans remain publicly opposed to homosexuality – but a little less difficult.

And after the concerted attacks on the organisation and its members in 2013, that amounts to a pretty good start to 2014.

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