The illusion of independence and freedom post colonisation is fast becoming a disappearing phenomena in many African states, owing to deteriorating socio-political environments. While the world advances in technology and science, the predicament of one’s humanity still ‘requires’ democratic validation. The rationale that there are some deserving of freedom and some who deserve to be constantly on the margins of society, experiencing life as pariahs leads us to a place where we question ideas of freedom, independence, and the vision of Pan Africanism.
As LGBTQ citizens of Zimbabwe we are constantly and consistently used as pawns, disposable to whomever has a play to make. Our freedoms are an after-thought, considered to be something to be discussed later, or not at all because who we are is said to be unAfrican, unethical, ungodly. This begs the question, as LGBTQ citizens of Zimbabwe – how do we fight shoulder to shoulder for freedom and humanity, when these are denied to us by those we fight alongside?
The feminist framing of liberation and freedom is one that confronts and challenges structures of power such as toxic patriarchal institutions that consist of the state, religion, culture and our families. It is a framing that calls us all to grapple with power [learn it, break it down, understand how it plays out in our everyday interactions] and privilege and the ways in which we manifest toxicity through behaviours that are oppressive and violent. This leads us to a place where we are aware of, and challenging our positions in a society that views us as reviled, where we are aware of a state and society that are intent on policing us ⎯ controlling on the one hand, and on the other, punishing our need to self-determine.
The ways in which homophobic and transphobic Zimbabweans interact with violence and oppression is interesting to witness. There is a cognitive dissonance that needs to be addressed in how Zimbabweans are generally seen as being opposed to violence but have no qualms justifying violence targeted at LGBTQ persons. Most, if not all LGBTQ Zimbabweans have come across people who express statements such as ‘I hate everything about Mugabe, but support his position on homosexuality’, providing a glimpse into an inability to see how violence is a tool for control and repression, wielded by the state and those who consider themselves the heterosexual, moral majority. They do not see that the blade cuts both ways. The tools of violence and marginalisation used against LGBTQ people can and are used against all of us, including those who consider themselves the ethical majority. This is because there is a script and reward for what makes a good citizen, the one who is deserving of love, care and compassion; of rights, resources and opportunities. On the other hand, taboos, moral decay and/ or disgraceful behaviour should never be rewarded, the ‘bad citizen’, naturally deserves to be punished for their behaviour and stripped of not only their humanity but also the right to belong to community.
Under the guise of a peace-loving, well educated people, lies generational violence and trauma that comes out in private and public spaces and interactions. Social media, especially Twitter, has exposed multiple layers of violence experienced by Zimbabweans at the hands of other Zimbabweans. Our experiences, as exposed on these platforms, are historical, where as a collective people of Zimbabwe we were stripped of freedom and the possibility of unity through colonisation and polarised politics. There has been an on-going collective stripping of humanity that spreads hate and intolerance based on political affiliation, sex, gender, sexuality and tribe.
While the debate to participate in the current struggle continues for many LGBTQ persons, individually and collectively, we know that we are human and Zimbabweans; our struggle for freedom goes beyond political parties, because our freedom has not and does not come from them. Our struggle for freedom is rooted in a life free from violence and oppression for all Zimbabweans It is also rooted in freedom from cultural, religious and traditional fundamentalist and gendered expectations which vilify our existence.
This moment provides us an opportunity to figure out how we choose to build from a place that allows freedom for all. This is undoubtedly an uphill task for a society that is so deeply divided to choose love for a country that does not love back; to overcome fear, fear of tribe, fear of difference; how to not detract from forging futures of freedom despite what we think we know and understand; to reduce harm; to create systems of support and care; to learn to go beyond what we have been taught is possible; to be accountable to ourselves and those we share space with; to begin to think of our land, heritage and inheritance as a giving resource that is finite and not to be exploited for the benefit of a few.