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Sexuality debate rips Botswana apart

By Sapa-AFP | Mar 17, 2011 | COMMENTS [ 14 ]

GABORONE - Normally tranquil Botswana has plunged into a fierce public debate about whether homosexuality is "un-African", sparked by a new lawsuit against the country's sodomy law.

Wedged between liberal South Africa, which allows gay marriage, and conservative Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe regularly lambastes gays, Botswana has emerged as a testing ground for competing visions of African social values.

The court case was filed on March 4 by Caine Youngman, founder of a group called Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (Legabibo), which the government refused to register in 2009.

He argues that the sodomy law violates his constitutionally protected freedom of expression, and he has won support from the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV (Bonela) and other civil forums.

"I never freely express my sexuality because of the law that criminalises sex between people of the same sex," Youngman said in an affidavit.

He originally announced the lawsuit two years ago, but delays in gathering paperwork for the court meant it was only filed early this month. During that time, Botswana's gays received an unexpected - if cautious - voice of support from no less than former president Festus Mogae.

As head of the National Aids Council, Mogae last year began speaking out against sexual discrimination, saying prejudice was hindering efforts to fight HIV in a country where one in four adults had the disease. "We do not want to discriminate. Our HIV message applies to everybody," he said last year in his first remarks on the issue.

"If we are fighting stigma associated with sex, let's apply it to sexual discrimination in general," Mogae said.

He has continued speaking out, telling the BBC last weekend that during his 10 years in office he had instructed police not to arrest or harass gays.

"I could not change the law because that would be unnecessarily stirring up a hornet's nest. I was not willing to lose an election on behalf of the gays," he said.

"The majority of our people are still opposed (to homosexuality) so I must convince them first before changing the law unilaterally," he said.

But the backlash has been vocal.

Parliament's deputy speaker, Pono Moatlhodi, told local media that gays were "demonic and evil" and had no place in African society.

"On this point I would agree with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who once described such behaviour as that of Western dogs," he said. "I don't like those gay people and will never tolerate them. They are demonic and evil."

Conservative religious leaders have also claimed that homosexuality runs against Botswana's culture.

"Our nation has done well to keep these legally and customarily unacceptable, and we must resist any suggestions that would lead to homosexual marriages in our nation," said Biggie Butale, head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana.

Such intense debate is rare in Botswana, which prides itself on its stable democracy, but has few public disagreements with a largely homogenous population. The nation's diamond wealth is generally seen as well-managed.

Current President Ian Khama has straddled a middle line, saying he had no problem with homosexuals as long as they "do their things" behind closed doors.

Derision of gays as "un-African" infuriates Youngman, a 27-year-old inspired by the freedoms he sees across the border in South Africa.

"Enough is enough. Gays are Batswana, and were not made in a cocoon somewhere and put in this country to corrupt the Batswanas," he said.

"I need to be free in what I do. Gay people are no different from the rest of the nation and they deserve that freedom."

COMMENTS [ 14 ]

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i agree with Roberto Mugabe actually they must be thrown to the sea and sink or think there....

Mar 17, 2011 11:56 | 0 replies

@Zizik
:) Thank you.

I know a number of gays and lesbians and they are all very nice people! Several married in the hope they could 'change' their orientation and even had children.
Naturally it couldn't and didn't work! They went 'back' to being themselves and are now in stable partnerships with like minded people, and very happy.

I think the AA prayer (Alcoholics Anonymous not Affirmative Action) says it all.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference!

Mar 18, 2011 9:51 | 0 replies

I love you LBS, you've summed it up beautifully. Mainstream society has double standards. Yes gay people can be a tad bit exaggerated but then again when you have been oppressed for too long, you tend of be flamboyant (for lack of a better word), look at the now "black diamonds" and their constant need to flash their bling. With that being said, I still think some gays peeps need to tone down a bit. Our rights are being recognised and protected by the highest law in country. We should stop seeking validation from small minded individuals, live your lives and let them bask in their ignorant bliss. Nuff said.

Mar 18, 2011 9:29 | 0 replies

As much as the so called "straight" guys may claim to hate gays,i know some of them who hang out with the gay guys at nite thinking they are hiding.these guys sleep with the gays because they know that they have money,so they get money and get booze for free.This happens while the "staight" guys are married or have girlfriends.ke ma after nine staight.

Mar 18, 2011 8:4 | 0 replies

I will never understand ukuthi i-KUKU iwe kangaka umuntu a-decide ngendunu. this is crazy.

Mar 18, 2011 7:11 | 0 replies

Why are so-called 'straight' men so threatened by gay and lesbian people?

They have always been around but 'in the closet' because of intolerance.
You cannot change the way a person is born any more than you can change your skin colour because you don't like it.

Calling it 'un-african' and behaviour of Western dogs is such BS coming from people who surround themselves with the excesses and luxuries that the 'Western dogs' have created. Either embrace what the West has to offer entirely, or reject it entirely. You can't be selective here.

To homosexuals I say stop flaunting your sexual behaviour and having parades to advertise it.
I don't agree with your actions but as long as it isn't in my face, do what you like.

To everyone else - suck it up people, get on with your own life and be very grateful that YOU weren't born with the gene that makes you 'different'.

Mar 18, 2011 6:54 | 0 replies

Lesbians and Gays wht a confusion and waste of life

Mar 17, 2011 9:36 | 0 replies

Disgusting what they do really but i have 2 cousins who do this rubbish. Ass banging suckers. Gay dudes but are such hardworkers and successful. I have a good business because of them. They do not beleive in being employees but employers and they are damn good at business. They live by the phrase, "own the corporate ladder & decide who goes up on it"
Problem is what they get up too when love needs come! Goodness! And you will be surprised by how many these people are in our community. NUMBER! Waste really.

Mar 17, 2011 5:17 | 0 replies

Oh here we go again, bigots having a field day at our expense. Wonder why it bothers them so much?

Mar 17, 2011 4:20 | 0 replies

- gotta luv Mugabe sumtym!
- i jst dnt understand how can intshebe imonqoze enye intshebe!
- well Anti-Straight people r here, & they want u 2 Feel them, Please Lord Jesus return rea kupa hle!
- They say they have rights these ppl, i agree with President Ian Khama, keep ur nonsense behind closed doors then, not TVs and media, we trying to raise children here not oSis'Bhuti.

- check TV's now, how many teenage boys r now gay, girls who r lisbians- So i conclude we r in Sodom times.....on khumbula ekhaya this one mama said "what i like about these ppl (anti-straight)is they dont rape" well i say mama, watch this space

Mar 17, 2011 2:54 | 0 replies

I know am not suppposed bt this gay thing is just not k........

Mar 17, 2011 1:33 | 0 replies