Namibian president announces purges against gays

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Namibian President Sam Nujoma

«The Police must arrest, imprison and deport homosexuals»

Sam Nujoma, 20 March - President Sam Nujoma yesterday warned about forthcoming purges against gays and lesbians in Namibia, saying "the Police must arrest, imprison and deport homosexuals and lesbians found in Namibia." If realised, this would make Namibia Africa's second country after Uganda acting against the gay community.

Addressing students at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, a fired-up President Nujoma yesterday declared: "The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality, lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, and deport you and imprison you too," The Namibian today reported.

Nujoma's comments follow similar statements made by Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo last year, when he told new Police recruits at Ondangwa to "eliminate" gays and lesbians - whose conduct he equated to "unnatural acts" such as murder - "from the face of Namibia". In November 1998 Ekandjo also stated in the National Assembly that legislation would be tabled in Parliament to combat homosexuality. Nothing has come of that - yet.

The status of homosexuality in Namibia has so far been disputed. Apart from the homophobic statements from the President and some prominent politicians, the gay and lesbian community has been allowed to exist openly. Legislation prohibiting homosexuality or protecting gay rights explicitly does not exist. 

Earlier this month, gay rights were tested in a milestone court case, where the Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian relationships couldn't claim to have the same legal status in Namibia as heterosexual unions. Acting Judge of Appeal Pio Teek concluded that the Namibian Constitution did not protect homosexual relationships. Public anti-homosexual statements by the President and Home Affairs Minister were even cited by the court as "indicating the dominant values of the Namibian nation" that homosexuality was not accepted in the public opinion.

The new statements made by President Nujoma yesterday therefore are a major blow to Namibian gay rights organisations, which have tried a silent lobbying to achieve the same rights South African homosexuals have. Nujoma last night was shown on the eight o'clock NBC television news, warning the youth to guard against what he termed foreign influences - such as homosexuality.

He also railed against alcohol abuse in Namibia, saying this led to domestic abuse such as men beating their wives and children and even cooking their wives. Also, he said, it caused people who had been drinking to go home with "any man, any woman", which then contributed to the spread of HIV-AIDS. "Are we not a sick nation?" he asked.

Gay activists in Namibia do however count on the support by liberal elements within the Parliament and even the Government. In November last year, oppositional MP Rosa Namises asked Homophobic Minister Ekandjo to clarify his call for police officers to "eliminate gays and lesbians from the face of Namibia," a statement that caused outrage nationally and internationally. 

Minister Ekandjo elaborated, "elimination does not only mean to kill," but repeated other homophobic statements, maintaining that homosexuality was against the law. Ekandjo argued that the Namibian Constitution, which entrenches equality and freedom for all people, does not apply to homosexuals. However, Ekandjo's understanding of the Constitution differed sharply from that of Prime Minister Hage Geingob, which stood by his previous statements that the human rights of all Namibians are protected under the Constitution when asked if the rights of gays and lesbians fell under the Bill of Rights. 

It is unclear whether anti-homosexual laws, opening for possible purges against gays and lesbians, would pass the Namibian Parliament if promoted. The opposition to such laws has seemed massive so far and an earlier try to criminalize gay sex (April 1999) did not succeed. Increased pressure from President Nujoma could, however, change this situation, as the governing SWAPO has a comfortable majority in Parliament.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, and although its prosecution is seldom, oppression often is harsh. The strongest homophobic statements from government officials in Africa have so far come from Zimbabwe, Uganda and Namibia. 

In Zimbabwe, where homosexuality is prohibited and President Mugabe has made strong statements condemning homosexuality, only a few, symbolic cases have been prosecuted, including the country's first president, Mr. Banana. Although the national gay and lesbian organisation, GALZ, has been victim of government intimidation, one cannot talk of real purges against gays and lesbians in that country.

Uganda, on the other hand, has experienced purges against homosexuals under the homophobic, current Museveni government. In September 1999, the president instructed Ugandan police to lock up and charge homosexuals and in October, five members of the newly formed organisation, Right Companion, were arrested and deported to so-called 'safe houses.' One of the activists reportedly was raped twice, all were beaten. Gay activists since then have continued to be persecuted in Uganda.

In Namibia, gay rights organisations have operated rather freely. The anti-gay rhetoric has increased over the past four years and the governing SWAPO is experienced as increasingly autocratic and indifferent about its international reputation. Though contradicting Namibia's human rights traditions until now, one lately does experience a climate where purges against homosexuals might become a reality.

Sources: Based on article in The Namibian and afrol archives

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