from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – A PROTEST against the rape of a teenage girl in Zambia has degenerated into a multipronged crisis bringing to the fore the long running issue of same sex relationships and tensions between the ruling party and its critics.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community apparently hijacked a protest against the recent rape of the 17-year-old, who was allegedly violated by a guard at the University Teaching Hospital when she went to seek medical treatment.
The march was advertised as the Women’s March for Gender Equality from East Park to the Showgrounds Rugby Club Grounds in the capital, Lusaka.
The Sistah Sistah Foundation Zambia on February 22 applied for the permit to hold a march to raise awareness against women and girls sexual and gender based violence.
Zambia Police Service granted the non-governmental organisation’s permission.
Danny Mwale, Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, said the permit was granted considering that issues of sexual and GBV were on the increase as detected by the Police Victims Support Unit.
“As such, this was deemed to be a noble cause by the police,” Mwale said.
“It has, however, come to the attention of the Zambia Police Service that during the said march-past, conveners exhibited a different agenda from the one whose permit they sought. The agenda highlighted issues of LGBTQ,” said Mwale.
Some LGBTQ members and activists donned in rainbow t-shirts in full force and turned the protest into a demonstration for gay rights.
Thus, the march, according to Zambian laws, contravened Sections of the Penal Code Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia criminalizing same-sex conduct between consenting adults.
“In addition, Zambia is a Christian nation and the government does not champion homosexuality,” Mwale insisted.
He confirmed the police had summoned the conveners of the march in order to ascertain why the event was allegedly turned into “a forum for championing homosexuality.”
“Members of the public are, therefore, warned that they should not flout the law deliberately by taking advantage of the prevailing environment that allows for freedom of expression and assembly,” the police spokesperson cautioned.
The main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) has laid the blame on the administration of President Haikande Hichilema and his governing United Party for National Development (UPND) for the prevalence of pro-gay processions in the Southern African country.
“President Hakainde Hichilema’s fraternisation and cosy policies with the West is going to cost this country its soul,” Emmanuel Mwamba, presidential candidate in the PF intraparty election, said.
The opposition party disclosed it had information that LGBTQ activists also intended to march on Women’s Day on Wednesday.
Mwamba argued homosexuality offended cultural, traditional, Christian and public morals as well as national principles and values.
“But this government (of Hichilema) has deliberately chosen to turn a blind eye,” he accused.
Mwamba, a diplomat, drew parallels between the incidents in Zambia as well as those in Botswana and Kenya where he pointed out members of the same-sex relationships had scored legal success.
Locally, LGBTQ awareness and training workshops have recently been held in Livingstone, Lusaka and Siavonga.
“I place all the blame on President Hichilema as all these activities are being allowed under his watch,” Mwamba said.
Last September, LGBTQ activists were out in full force at the Lusaka July, an event heralding the advent of spring.
This drew widespread criticism from authorities, with the government issuing a reminder such conduct was illegal in the country.
Commentator, Maxwell Nsama, expressed mixed feelings.
He commended police under the leadership of Hichilema and UPND for not using force on the group of LGBTQ advocates.
He said this showed that people were now enjoying freedoms of association, expression, movement and speech “unlike what we witnessed during the PF Regime where citizens were being denied peaceful protests, brutalized, tear gassed, terrified, killed and threatened of having their bones crushed by the police under the command of PF leaders.”
PF was in power from 2011 until its defeat in the 2021 elections.
While Nsama welcomed the enjoyment of freedoms under the Hichilema administration, he spoke strongly against LGBTQ.
“Zambia is a Christian nation. We won’t allow our land to be contaminated with unnatural transformation, sexual and marital acts for these are disgusting matters before the eyes of God and those who worship Him,” Nsama lashed.
In 2019, Zambia and the United States fell out after Daniel Lewis Foote, America’s envoy in the African nation criticised the 15-year prison sentence the High Court imposed on a gay couple.
– CAJ News