19 November 2017
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Torturous life of a minority

Written by  Idah Kazembe


Blantyre, August 31, 2017: Shamed in public, denied shelter by many and disowned by her parents, life for one young lady in Blantyre cannot get harder than this.

In this narrative she goes by the name of Thandie. She is 26 years old. She says she is a lesbian and attests that life for her has not been easy in Malawi where such practices are considered a taboo.

She has had to change so many houses within two months because of her sexual orientation.

“I remember staying in one house just for hours. The landlord came and gave me back my money and ordered me out of the house saying am possessed with evil spirits that would spill over to others,” Thandie says.

Since February 2013 when a local newspaper carried a story about her, life has been hell for Thandie. She came in the open because she wanted to make peace with herself. Instead of finding the peace she was seeking, she found ridicule and hatred.

Apart from the housing problem, she has lost many clients and a lot of money in her business. She has been a victim of hate messages on social media platforms especially on her Facebook page, which was once awash with 2000 negative comments in a day.

The worst experience has been the ridicule from her parents who disowned her. Thandie is not bitter with them regarding their position in society.

 “The society was crucifying them because of me. My father was excommunicated from his church and my mother almost stopped associating with people because everyone ridiculed her,” she says.

Thandie had been out in the wilderness without talking with her parents for a year when they invited her for a meeting. But she got another shocker when her parents said they would forgive her if she gives them a baby.

“The thing is, I don’t have any feelings for a man, but I had to do it because I needed my parents back,” she says.

Now a mother, Thandie is back to talking terms with her parents after giving them a grandchild.

The young womanis convinced that the social environment in Malawi is not safe and ready to accept lesbians or gays.

 

Dr Jones Mawerenga is a scholar in theology and lectures at the Chancellor College. He has conducted an intensive study on the ongoing debate on homosexuality in Malawi.

Mawerenga says religious homophobia is reinforced by the argument of “gender complementarities” in creation of male and female as stated in the book of Genesis in the Bible. Thus, the expression of human sexuality is understood as normatively heterosexual. Any digression from this established norm is considered unnatural.   

Religious homophobia is also re-enforced by the African cultural contempt of homosexuality which does not lead to procreation.

“African culture values procreation more than other aspects of marriage such as love, companionship and sexual pleasure,” he explains.

In 2012, the Center for the Development of People (CEDEP) and Center for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) conducted a study that gauged attitudes of religious and traditional leaders on homosexuality.

The joint study saw respondents acknowledging the existence of homosexuality in Malawi with 66.7 percent choosing negative words to describe their feelings towards homosexuality.

Such findings show that there are still high levels of smouldering hate in society against homosexuals.

But is there any chance of clearing this hatred?

Dr Mawerenga’s research draws people’s attention to inclusive approaches by Jesus Christ.

He says in the Gospel, Jesus considers the Church to be an inclusive institution with everyone welcome ‘at the table’.

“Jesus reaches out to bring in those previously excluded: those of low status like the poor, the sick and ritually unclean, sinners, tax collectors, and outcasts,” Mawerenga says.

He adds that the teachings of Jesus should inform the contemporary church in dealing with minority groups.

Traditional Authority (T/A) Mabulabo of Mzimba feels the starting point on the issue of gays and lesbians is to intensify civic education on the existence of such minorities so that people understand.

He feels most organizations advocating for minority rights are working in isolation thereby confusing the general public with their messages.

“There is need for bodies championing the rights of minorities to work together in achieving the desired results,” says the traditional leader.  

CEDEP’s Programs Manager Rodney Chalera feels their organization has made notable achievements especially in breaking the silence on the matter by engaging of stakeholders.

Recently, the organization called various key stakeholders like traditional and religious leaders, the media, medical personnel and politicians to a forum on how best to champion issues of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI).

According to Chalera, the champion forum was meant to devise means of creating a conducive environment for all people to coexist.

“Records indicate that the LGBI community continues to suffer various human rights violations which need to stop. As CEDEP, we believe all stakeholders should be involved in finding solutions,” he says.

Whist some organizations are fighting for such minorities, Malawi’s law still criminalizes homosexuality.

The Malawi Penal Code has a number of provisions in connection with homosexuality. They include Section 137A, 153, 154 and Section 156.

Section 137A is on indecent practices between females while the rest are on “unnatural offences” against the order of nature between males.

Human rights lawyer Mandala Mambulasa is of the view that there is need to review the legal instruments that criminalize homosexuality if Malawians are to co-exist.

According to Mambulasa, this needs to be done now either through court or parliament.

Without that, then individuals like Thandie have a long way to go in getting acceptance from a society that is hell-bent on ignoring their existence.

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