Search Browse On This Day Map Quotations Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

The Strange Passions of Venus Monstrosa

Sat 2 Sep 2006 In: Comment

Apart from HIV/AIDS, who would have thought that South Africa might become a paragon of human rights and pluralism only twenty years ago? Today, though, compared to the rest of Southern Africa, it is. Back in 1986, South African apartheid still seemed locked in place, even if its end was closer than anyone dared hope. It still isn't perfect, as President Mbeki believes in conspiracy theories about HIV/AIDS, rather than orthodox medical science. Apart from that glaring problem, though, it is a relative haven for LGBT Southern Africans. What about the rest of Southern Africa? Oddly, colonial era anti-gay legislation is still in place, and their resistance to change is buttressed by a new myth, arguing that African societies knew nothing about lesbian and gay sexuality until colonialists introduced it. Of all the remainder, Zimbabwe is the most blighted. Robert Mugabe is a conservative Catholic Shona, whose tribal community has high levels of domestic violence and spousal rape, and as well as draconian censorship, it bans any 'promotion' of lesbianism or male homosexuality. It also retains archaic penalties against male homosexuality from its colonial era as Rhodesia. Of course, not only LGBT Zimbabweans are persecuted. So are members of the Opposition Movement for Democratic Change, white Zimbabwean farmers, independent trade unionists, and deported 'vagrants', who share in the misery of the elderly despot's dictatorship. Much to the disgust of many South Africans, Mbeki continues to maintain links to the northern regime. It shouldn't be assumed that Zimbabwe is the only such offender within Southern Africa. According to Scott Long of Human Rights Watch, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia all bear their own unamended colonial era antigay/anti- 'sodomy' legislation. In each nation, there are references to archaic terms like "carnal knowledge against the law of nature,""gross indecency," "crimes against nature" and "sodomy." Collectively, this prohibited sex was known as "venus monstrosa" within these jurisdictions within its antigay/antisodomy legislation. Long explains that the latter term is residue from South Africa's Afrikaans Roman-Dutch legal heritage, as well as antiquated reference to 'buggery' in nineteenth century British antigay statutes. Apart from South Africa, which finally decriminalised male homosexuality in 1996 after the African National Congress assumed government, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana all imported Roman-Dutch law from their southern neighbour when it came to criminalisation of male homosexuality. According to Long, the 'sodomie' discourse is the usual mishmash of heterosexual masturbation, heterosexual coitus interruptus, paedophilia, incest, oral sex, bestiality... and male homosexuality and lesbianism. In Zimbabwe, white gay Zimbabweans feel the brunt of this legislation, with $Z300-$Z500 fines, and anywhere from six months to seven years imprisonment as penalties. Zambia also retained its colonialist Penal Code, and Sections 155 to 158 criminalise male homosexuality, heterosexual oral sex and bestiality, with five year prison sentences. Botswana's Penal Code (Section 155) also criminalises gay male sex, although Section 167 might now also criminalise lesbianism. Botswana's High Court rejected a challenge to antigay Penal Code clauses in 2002. Zimbabwe and Zambia also have draconian censorship laws that ban any manner of erotica whatsoever, while Section 178 of Zimbabwe's Miscellaneous Offences Act, and Section 172 of the Zambian Penal Code prohibit sex in public places. The Miscellaneous Offences Act also criminalises Zimbabwean sex work, as does Sections 140-149 and 178 of the Zambian Penal Code, and Sections 149-158 of the corresponding Botswanan Penal Code. Zimbabwe criminalises any HIV+ man who has sex, even if he uses a condom for safe sex. What can be done about this situation? Amnesty International has long campaigned against human rights abuses worldwide, and British-based LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell has a long record of opposition to the Harare dictatorship of Mugabe and his cronies. Zambia and Botswana may be more liable to change given sufficient international pressure. Recommended: Scott Long: "Before the Law: Criminalising Sexual Conduct in Colonial and Post-Colonial Southern Africa:" Human Rights Watch (2003): Marc Epprecht: "The Unsaying of Indigenous Homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping a Blindspot in African Masculinity" Department of History, University of Zimbabwe. Peter Tatchell: Craig Young - 2nd September 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 2nd September 2006 - 12:00pm

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us