Zimbabwe: I Have Been Beaten for My Appearance and Sexuality

Most residents of Harare consider the city’s downtown a jungle, a no-go area where only those with an appetite for noisy hustles, chaos and violence are home.

Witnessing catcalling and thorough beatings of women in skimpy clothing is not surprising. In fact, most women are conscious of what they wear when planning a visit to this part of the city.

It is even worse for members of minority communities particularly lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+).

The violence they have had to endure, south of Samora Machel Avenue has shut them out from social circles in that zone, forcing them north where safer spaces have been created to accommodate them.

Safer spaces are zones in which members of the LGBTIQ+ can celebrate their sexuality and gender identities with little fear of abuse.

Irvine Muzuva who identifies as non-binary and is still exploring his sexuality reckons their appearance has in the past betrayed their sexual orientation and resulted in the much-feared attacks.

To them, the zone is still a jungle, just thornier. Unlike the ordinary Harare chap, their forays into this area almost always end in abuse.

“You cannot go to most clubs in town and more as you head south of Samora, it is very hectic for one to go there,” said Muzuva.

“There have been series of physical violence that is really bad. I am afraid for my life downtown; I have been in so many incidences that have left me hurt and laying at home for days.

“People know me, even my looks do not require me to come out to anyone, it is pretty much obvious. I am always a target; you never know what people will do so you always have to be careful.

“You are never safe when you are walking around. You are always walking aware of your surroundings because there are a lot of homophobic slurs, name-calling, and catcalling and to an extent it gets very physical, especially to the people who do not pass.

“I have faced that personally where people come hit on me and when they realise I am not a woman they get pissed off leading to a physical fight.”

Muzuva is a member of Harare Queer Collective a community setup to create and maintain safer spaces in the capital.

After surviving late President Robert Mugabe, whose intolerance was exhibited in his ‘worse than dogs’ statement, successor Emmerson Mnangagwa is widely regarded as tolerant.

He has not made any moves to criminalise their sexual orientation as is on the cards in Uganda while state-sponsored attacks on their activities have fallen considerably.

A 2021 research by the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) however revealed one in every three transgender, lesbian or bisexual had experienced acts of violence based on their perceived sexual orientation.

Last year over 50 LGBTIQ+ activists met in Johannesburg and called on governments within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to ensure protection of their rights, especially against violence meted on them by either state agencies or ordinary citizens.

Maria ‘Vera’ Chisvo, who runs Safe to Speak, a platform where LGBTIQ+ community members are given opportunities to also exhibit their talents told this publication importance of safer spaces could never be understated.

She bemoaned how most LGBTIQ+ community members were still in the closet (yet to come out to family and friends out of fear).

“These spaces are important, remember some of these people live double lives. Imagine waking up every day presenting a certain way, acting a certain way, speaking a certain way that you are not, that does not fully represent who you are and how you feel,” said Chisvo.

“Having spaces like these where people can just be themselves is necessary, especially for their mental well-being. Remember some of them have families and they have to present themselves in certain ways both at home and at work.

“Having a few hours for them to be who they are is very important.”

Harare Queer Collective often hosts pop-up events around the city for the LGBTQI+ and is attended by hundreds of members from the community.

Muzuva said they hoped for a day their sexuality and those intolerant to their nature did not relegate them into secret corners of the vibrant city whose name betrays its inability to sleep

“Our last gathering had about 200 people coming to participate at our event where the poor black queer, rich black queer, white poor queer and white rich queer all met,” they said.

“My hope is that we stop criminalising people for who they are. Because once the criminalisation is over you will realise that there are a lot of people who have been going through a lot just because they did not want to compromise their security.

“These are people in high places in government, business, churches; it is so sad seeing them cheating on their wives and husbands, some actually getting violent on members of the LGBTIQ+ community.”

*This report was made possible by support from Content Creators Network ZW.