In late March, Sam Nujoma, President of Namibia, ordered apurge of homosexuals, stating that “The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality or lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, deport you and imprison you.” The Namibian Society for Human Rights countered that the “attempt to turn a personal dislike into ad hoc national policy is entirely unconstitutional and misguided.”
The Black Radical Congress joins those who have strongly condemned the Namibian president’s assault on same gender loving people in his Southern African nation. Namibia, a former German colony that was administered as a mandate and later annexed by South Africa, gained its independence in 1990 after a more than 20-year long anti-apartheid war. Given that he is a former freedom fighter and a head of state, Nujoma’s homophobic, discriminatory actions are particularly repugnant. His actions and rhetoric come on the heels of similar rhetoric and repression in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has campaigned to imprison and expel same gender loving people.
Both Mugabe and Nujoma have equated homosexuality with bestiality and even murder, and both have called for the eradication of homosexuality from the face of the earth. These threatening pronouncements signal that a new wave of genocidal crimes against gays and lesbians in Africa could be in the making.
Attacks on same gender loving people are by no means an unfamiliar occurrence. In recent years, violence and hostility against this sector have escalated to horrifying proportions in practically every part of the world. In Africa however, European colonialism—from which the severe economic problems of the African continent derive—provides the context and fuel for this emergent witch-hunt. Virulent homophobia, incubated in the right-wing movements of the imperialist metropoles and also an outgrowth of Africa’s own indigenous patriarchal systems, is finding a home in the political agendas of desperate African leaders. Sadly, these leaders, having little power in a world dominated by Western global capital, seek to buttress their authority through corruption and strong-arming. In the absence of real leverage, and confronted with more and more popular challenges to their leadership, they have resorted to scapegoating same gender loving people and fomenting a climate of heightened tolerance for misogyny.
Nujoma’s homophobic attack comes in the wake of other anti-democratic domestic and foreign policy initiatives, including the use of violence to repress trade union leaders at home and promoting militarism abroad. It is not by chance that this recent outburst against homosexuals in Namibia comes just when the government has to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both societies committed troops to assist Laurent Kabila at a time when negotiations would have strengthened the democratic forces in the whole of Southern Africa. More importantly, these leaders committed their soldiers to train and fight beside those who committed genocide in Rwanda. With this track record and the fact that these two leaders did not condemn the late Kabila when he called on people in his country to kill Tutsis, the attacks on same gender loving people are by no means an unfamiliar occurrence. In recent years, violence and hostility against gays and lesbians has arisen in tandem with a search for new sources of legitimacy for their increasingly unpopular regimes.
But there is another aspect to consider as well as a lesson to be learned. Most anti-colonial and national liberation movements (and even our own civil rights/black power movements) of the 60s, 70s and 80s were ideologically weak on questions of misogyny and homophobia. While the most advanced groups made sure that gender equality was a part of stated political goals, clear positions against homophobia were noticeably absent. Moreover, even the struggle against misogyny was not a structural part of the movements’ ongoing internal development. Our conclusion is that freedom movements which neglect the ideological development of their members risk the continued operation of reactionary policies when these leaders ascend to state power.
Point IX of the BRC Freedom Agenda states “We affirm the right of all people to love whom they choose, to openly express their sexuality, and to live in the family units that meet their needs. We support anti-homophobic instruction in the public schools, and we believe that violence against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and the transgendered should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of laws that specifically prohibit abuses in this category of human rights.”
The Black Radical Congress calls upon all democratic-minded and freedom loving people to rally against the spread of homophobia throughout the world. And to those who have a particular affinity to the struggles for democracy and freedom in Africa, we ask that you make known your opposition to Nujoma’s vicious assault on the human rights of homosexuals in Namibia, and to meet the callous disregard for human rights on display in Southern Africa with organized resistance. The Black Radical Congress likewise reconfirms our commitment to fighting such reactionary tendencies within our own movements. The struggle against homophobia, sexism, racism, and all the forces that are destructive to the basic rights of humanity is indivisible from the struggle against neo-colonialism and imperialism.
Black Radical Congress, 21 April 2001