GENDER FOCUS With EMELDA MWITWA
WHEN a bisexual couple was jailed 15 years for practising homosexuality, I knew that the outcome of their case would not please everyone.
Some of Zambia’s friendly countries that have legalised homosexuality took interest in this particular case and a similar one against a hairdresser who was once indicted by the Kapiri Mposhi Magistrate’s Court for practising homosexuality .
The case of the hairdresser and his alleged same-sex partner was dismissed by the court.
However, in the recent case, two men that were being arraigned for having sex against the order of nature, also in Kapiri Mposhi, were convicted and jailed.
In the hairdresser’s case, some diplomats would travel all the way from Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi to witness the court hearing.
I remember seeing a picture of a top foreign envoy peeping through the window of a packed courtroom to follow proceedings of the case.
So the moment the 15-year jail sentence was handed down against Japhet Chataba, a carpenter of Ndeke township in Kapiri Mposhi, and his co-accused Steven Sambo of Kansenshi, a planning officer at Ndola City Council, I knew that an emotive debate was imminent.
It is no wonder that the United States Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, did not take it kindly when Chataba and Sambo were jailed for having sex against the order of nature.
Evidence from the court case indicated that on August 25, 2017, Chataba and Sambo booked a room at a lodge in Kapiri Mposhi where they were later seen having sex by workers.
One of the workers at the lodge peeped through the window and saw the duo, who are both married and have children, having sex in their room.
The act of indecent curiosity by a worker at the lodge was triggered when Chataba went to the reception to buy condoms and shared with her that he was going to have sex with a slim man.
So this lodge supervisor started observing to see if a woman would go to room 16, which the couple had booked, but no female came.
It was at this point that she decided to peep and when she saw the two men in the sexual act, she alerted other workers. The lodge supervisor and another man who witnessed the act testified against the same-sex couple in court.
The couple had been convicted of having sex against the order of nature by magistrate Ackson Mumba in August last year.
However, the couple’s lawyer Daniel Libati appealed to the Kabwe High Court to review the case.
Sitting in Kabwe last week, Lusaka High Court Judge Charles Zulu upheld the conviction of the duo by the lower court and sentenced them to 15 years imprisonment.
Pleas of leniency by the convicts’ lawyer that the duo were first offenders and that their wives and children would suffer did not soften the heart of the judge.
Mr Justice Zulu said he was satisfied that the lower court had proved its case and he decided to penalise the two men because the act of having sex with each other was illegal.
And this is what sparked the hullabaloo we are currently seeing in the traditional media and social media, too.
When Chataba and Sambo were slapped with a 15- year jail sentence, this newspaper led with a story headlined “Gays jailed 15 years’, o n T h u r s d a y, November 28.
The following day, i t was a story of the day that influenced d i s c u s s i o n s between Zambians on one-to-one, on radio and also elicited a lot of comments on social media.
What came out is that the majority of Zambians are conservative people who prefer traditional marriage or heterosexual relationships.
Although there is this crusade by the Western world to legitimise homosexuality and same-sex marriages in ‘hostile’ states, the campaign is likely to hit a snag in Zambia at the moment.
Unless the Government were to unilaterally repeal the law and decriminalise homosexuality without considering the views of the people on the matter, such a crusade may not succeed.
But if the collective will of the Zambian people was allowed to prevail on the matter, homosexuality is likely to remain unlawful in this country, at least in the near future.
The majority of Zambians came out in support of heterosexual relationships, and this they made very clear when Ambassador Foote called on “Zambia to consider its outdated stance and obsolete legislation and how to treat the LGBTI (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans-gender and intersex) community and all others considered different”.
Mr Foote said he was horrified against the sentence of the duo which he felt was harsh.
“I was personally horrified to read yesterday about the sentencing of two men who had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one, to 15 YEARS imprisonment for ‘crimes against the order of nature’,” Mr Foote said.
The ambassador said decisions like these could do untold damage to Zambia’s international reputation because it shows that human rights were not a universal guarantee in the country.
P r e s i d e n t Edgar Lungu also added his sentiments on this issue in an interview with Sky News and said Zambia wil l not be p r e s s u r i s e d t o l e g a l i s e homosexuality f o r f e a r o f losing aid.
Mr Lungu said it would be wrong to tie aid to legalising homosexuality in Zambia.
He said it was up to the Zambians to decide whether to legalise homosexuality, if they wanted, and this should be done at their own time.
I personally share the President’s sentiments on this matter.
The Zambian people must be allowed to choose laws that should govern them.
If the people feel homosexuality is a foreign culture which they do not subscribe to, their wishes must be respected.
And in the event that the country decides to decriminalise homosexuality, the pressure to do so should come from within the country or among Zambians.
Well, I personally do not support same-sex marriages, but the point am trying to make is that the Zambian people must be allowed to write their own laws and decide which ones they wish to repeal.
It is also worth noting that the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriages is an emotive and divisive issue, even in countries like the United States, where President Donald Trump is largely seen to be anti-LGBTI.
In the US, some LGBTI have protested about the Trump administration taking away some of the rights they enjoyed in the Barack Obama-led administration.
Last month, the Guardian of UK reported that the Trump administration had decided to “ban trans (LGBTI) people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers if they seek a religious exemption”.
It was also reported that the Trump administration had since assuming office been working at reversing health care protections for LGBTI.
My reference to what is happening in the US is not to call for the crucifixion of gays by denying them medical services.
The point is that homosexuality is not something you can impose on religious conservatives because even in countries where it has been legalised, there is a lot of resistance from other people.
For example, in the US where same-sex marriages have been legalised nationalwide, it took the Supreme Court to make that decision (in 2015) – it was not a popular decision of individual states.
And Zambia is largely a Christian nation whose majority of people detest homosexuality. It is against our norms and values for men to wed fellow men and women to marry their womenfolk.
As far as I am concerned, we have reviewed the constitution a number of times, but there has been no public outcry that we need to amend our laws to legalise homosexuality.
My only wish on this matter is that the sentence against the bisexual couple should have been lighter, maybe three or five years.
I feel they deserved a lighter sentence because they are first offenders. But I bet the judge’s hands were tied because section 155 of the Penal Code prescribes a minimum of 14 years for ‘carnal knowledge of another person against the order of nature’.
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GENDER FOCUS With EMELDA MWITWA