By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
The self-confession by Mazabuka resident, Joseph Mfula, of his homosexual dalliances with a Portuguese expatriate, Francisco Vasco Dubrito Vale in the 1980s, once again brings the issue of homosexuality in the Zambian society to the fore. Whether Mfula’s confession is a bid to link opposition Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata to homosexuality and his support for it as being historical is difficult to tell.
Before I go into what is generally known about homosexuality in the Zambian society, I woud like to state what Chapter 87, the Penal Code of the Laws of Zambia, says about homosexuality.
Section 155 (c) states that any person who permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him…the order of nature commits a felony and liable, upon conviction, to imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years and may be liable to imprisonment for life.
Section 158 (1) states that “…any male who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with a male…person, or procures a male…person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male…person, whether in public or private, commits a felony and is liable, upon conviction, to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and not exceeding fourteen years.”
Subsection (2) states the same as Subsection (1) but in respect of females. By virtue of the above sections of the Penal Code, Mfula has committed or did, indeed, commit an offence at the time he used to have sex with Vale regardless of whether Mr Sata witnessed the sexual activities.
It is imperative to state, however, that this is not a legal write up arguing about the merits or demerits of the case but neither is it a political treatise in support of any politician or political group. This write up, as stated above, is the perception and knowledge, if any, that people have about homosexuality in Zambia.
Apart from knowing that homosexuality is unlawful in Zambia, I doubt that a lot of Zambians know the specifics of the law on the practice. I will, however, safely bet that most Zambians have an idea about what the bible says about homosexuality. The oft-quoted book in the bible on the subject is Leviticus, in particular chapter 18 verse 22 which states: “…do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
The issue of homosexuality has arisen publicly in Zambia at various times but most notably in the mid-1990s when then outspoken Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT) president Alfred Zulu attempted to register Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Association better known by its acronym LEGATRA whose object was to speak for the people who were practicing homosexuality.
One or two people came out to publicly admit their homosexuality and portraying that they were representative of a number of others who were forced to live a sheltered sexual life because of the Zambian culture which does not tolerate or even admit homosexuality.
Zulu at the time said although few had come out in the open, "we have statistical evidence to the effect that there are over 500,000 homosexuals in Zambia, some of them are senior public figures. But they are too jittery to identify with LEGATRA openly." (Read related story here)
The social and political pressure proved too much in this constitutionally proclaimed Christian nation. Blame was, as usual, put on the western donor community for sponsoring LEGATRA with claims that the concerned western countries where homosexuality is legal, wanted to import foreign cultural practices into Zambia. LEGATRA did not last long. It had come with a bang, it fizzled out not even with a whisper.
Another time when homosexuality became a public issue was when Vice President George Kunda as leader of government business in parliament, accused some people he did not name who were critical of the MMD government of being practising homosexuals.
But it is what the PF leader said in an interview with a Danish media team that has taken the homosexual debate to another level leading to the MMD distributing pictures of males kissing and being in sexually compromising positions. The ruling party and sympathetic Non-Governmental Organisations sympathetic to it vilify Sata on homosexuality at every opportunity as a result.
The icing on the cake came this week when Mfula publicly confessed that he used to be engaged in homosexual activities with Vale who was a friend of Sata’s.
The question to ask is, should homosexuality be reduced to Mr Sata (read related story here) , or is it a bigger problem than it is being presented? As stated above, over 15 years ago, ZIMT through LEGATRA had established that there were 500,000 homosexuals in the country. The population was smaller then but with the population at over 13 million, the figure could even be higher.
For as long as I have been conscious of socio-cultural issues, I have heard stories of sodomy in prisons, a matter that is never officially acknowledged. What is equally not known is what support is given to ex-convicts who had been exposed to sodomy while in prison or if they go on into society to practice their new sexual orientation. (Read related story here).
But, equally, there is always chatter about homosexuality in society. For a long time, there have been rumours of homosexuality involving a named late Lusaka businessman of Greek origin who was into property development who is alleged to have been luring male students for sex by lavishing them with cash and other presents. Unfortunately, no one has ever come out publicly to admit same sex liaisons with the businessman.
In Ndola in the 1990s, there were rumours among people working in the crude oil/fuel industry complex of Bwana Mkubwa area of an Italian expatriate they called Santo Petro who is alleged to have had a passion for same sex liaisons. Again, no one ever admitted to have been sexually involved with Santo Petro apart from pub talk about his activities.
As much as homosexuality is a touchy subject, maybe Zambia needs more Joseph Mfulas to come out and share the stories so that citizens get an idea of the depth of the practice.