It is 2014 and we are still having the same conversations and not making any nation building progress. The content of one half of these conversations seeks to separate and cultivate hatred and intolerance while the other half seeks to establish acceptance and/or tolerance, equality, dignity and unity. Queer Africans are still not accepted in most African societies, including Zimbabwe and the justification for this hatred used by homophobic Africans often finds its rooting in ignorant and irrational fears, adulterated and bastardised cultural beliefs and religious dogma, mainly in the Abrahamic faiths.
I do not subscribe to organised, monotheistic religion. They are, in my opinion generally, infamous for encouraging hatred/oppression and the exclusion of the other e.g. black people, women and “heathens/kaffirs.” I also do not acknowledge the perceived infallibility of their respective texts of instruction. As such, I will not bother with tackling the issue of religion as a contributing factor to the persistence of homophobia in Africa.
When heterosexual cis-gender Africa says that homosexuality and transgenderism are unAfrican I often wonder where they are getting their information from and on what authority. Let us suppose for a second that it is in fact a western import, are the people positing this argument living purely indigenous African lifestyles? Are their public and personal politics authentically African, I wonder? They are more willing to adopt what can be argued to be harmful imported cultures like consumerism and capitalism and ecologically detrimental technologies than they are a harmless and allegedly “unAfrican practice”.
When we speak of the Africanness of sexuality and sexual orientation, I question the logic, or lack thereof, of those who argue that it is not African because I do not believe that these arguments come from a place of truth. Why? Well other than the fact that there is vast historical evidence available to prove otherwise I am also of this opinion because I am a young, albeit urban, African; half Zezuru and a quarter Karanga and quarter Matebele; who recently answered a calling from the ancestors to be a healer and spirit medium. I am also bisexual. I am not an exception. There are many more sangoma/ svikiro* I have encountered over the years from various cultures across the Southern African region that are queer, from transgender/sexual to homosexual or bisexual. According to my understanding of ubungoma, you are chosen before you are even born to carry this gift and by the time you enter this world, you already have the gift, even if you may not know it. Because I, like many other queers such as myself, was born queer – I did not learn it, inherit it or “contract” it from other queers along the way (as though it’s some sort of communicable disease), and in spite of this, the ancestors chose me. Not only did they choose me out of other heterosexual kin in my clan or lineage but other queer people’s ancestors have chosen them too. If the guardians and custodians of our heritage can accept our natural way of being why do mortals who have long lost their way feel that they have any authority to call us unAfrican or unnatural? Mind you, these same self proclaimed defenders of all that is African, the majority of them have long since renounced their ancestry as something evil or primitive and have instead, clung to other people’s ancestors brought through the religions imposed on Africans over the centuries as a tool for oppressing and subduing the African. The ancestors of the very same people they accuse of bringing about the “scourge” that is homosexuality to our people.
The notions of sexuality and sexual identity are naught but human constructs aimed at controlling the masses and not only that but it is also becoming more apparent that our understanding and definition of gender and gender roles today is different from those of our ancestors, particularly prior to colonialism.
In South Africa, a sangoma will be addressed as Gogo* be they male or female, while in Zimbawe they are referred to as Sekuru*, again, irrespective of sex. In South Africa, one is not permitted to let their ancestors walk around “naked” and this means when one communes or communicates with their ancestors, be they male or female, they have to wrap a cloth around their waist if they are not already wearing a long skirt or dress. Also, a sangoma embodies the spirits of their ancestors, both male and female and depending on the dominant ancestor at that time in that moment, they will adopt their personality and mannerisms regardless of their sex or gender or that of the ancestor. Basically, sexuality and sexual identity in the culture of communing with the ancestors is very ambiguous and fluid. Of course some sangomas in their human personalities have their own (learnt) prejudices such as homophobia but their ancestors do not bother themselves with these things (well at least the ones I have encountered anyway) so why do self proclaimed gatekeepers of all that is African?
We say that the reality of homosexuality never existed or was never accepted on the continent and yet we have cultures in our own country that even coined words such as “chirambavarume” in chiShona or “umazakhela” in isiNdebele for women who never married a man but in most cases, co-habited with other women “friends”. Anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe in their publication Boy Wives & Female Husbands reported that women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned “long term, erotic relationships,” named motsoalle. In Northern Congo, Azande warriors routinely took on boy-wives between the ages of twelve and twenty, who helped with household tasks and participated in intercrural sex with their older husbands. Among the Dagara in Burkina Faso, homosexual and transgender people were considered to be very spiritually gifted and responsible for maintaining the society’s psychic balance and were believed to be the gatekeepers between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
In a conversation started by a “friend” on facebook some time ago, the recurring theme was what the law states in a lot of African countries and democracy i.e. what the majority wants. It is interesting to note that female same sex sexual activity is legal whereas male isn’t in quite a few African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Seychelles, Sierra Leone to name but a few. In a few more, same sex sexual activity, be it male or female is legal, just not the social relationships. However, what is most interesting is that these are not even African laws but colonial laws that still exist today. Homosexual expression in native Africa always existed – it manifested itself and was understood and accommodated in different ways in different communities across the continent – and was instead quelled or suppressed by colonialists. Anti-gay legislation is the western import not homosexuality and it is this import that informs and perpetuates contemporary African homophobia and persecution not authentic indigenous identity and values. We need to know our history and to quote Cameroonian anthropologist Patrick Awondo “Knowing historical truths lets us avoid unhistorical (sic) lies.”
The trouble with the current manifestation of “democracy” is that it is seen only to represent majority much to the expense of the minority. However, in its truest sense, democracy should give a voice to the minority just as much. With that in mind, the present state of things robs African queers of their rights as human beings to enjoy freedom, citizenship in their homelands and countries of birth. More startlingly, the new crop of anti-gay laws infringes on the right to life of African queers.
In one conversation recently some argued that they did not have a problem with homosexuals but they believe that if homosexuals want rights they should leave their homes and go to countries whose legislation accepts homosexuality, never mind that these same countries may not be as accepting of immigrants. Basically a lot of Africans believe in forcing their queer brothers and sisters, daughters and sons into exile even if they do not wish to leave and they call this democracy. This is especially tragic and infuriating given that for a lot of us less than 50 years ago, under colonial rule, people were forced to leave their home countries because of another form of oppression that did not view “their kind” as equals or completely human.
It goes without saying that forcing many Africans into exile will only result in further brain drain. The outflux of human capital from the continent into the diaspora is one that has been bemoaned by many and yet our states continue to feed into the push factors that force the children of the soil to escape to foreign lands to go and contribute to the further enrichment of our former oppressors simply because we so naively choose to fervently hold onto the hatred they instilled in us through divide and rule as part of ensuring that we will never unite and reclaim our heritage and glory.
Homophobia, like patriarchy and tribalism, is yet another red herring that has been planted in our psyche so as to distract us, preventing us from keeping our eye on the ball and truly emancipating ourselves. Instead of focusing our common energy on the true problems, wrongs and injustices that plague our continent like corruption, genocides, wars, disease, famine, sexual violence, lack of access to land and food, limited access to clean water and the dwindling quality education etc, we’re expending it on a victimless crime (that shouldn’t even be a crime) and fueling division and entrenching oppression.
*Sangoma – Traditional healer & spirit medium
*Gogo – Grandmother/ elder
*Sekuru – Grandfather/ elder
*Umdali – Creator
Doreen Victoria Gaura
This is a reworked piece, originally posted by the contributor on her blog: Coloured Rays of Grey