In a daring and unprecedented move, a gay man in Blantyre has come out and lashed out at the ‘homophobic’ government saying it should either kill and eliminate gays or give them their rights.
The man, Eric Sambisa, 26 who heads the Southern Region Rainbow Alliance, a secret grouping of mostly gay men, said this in a fateful interview in Blantyre on Wednesday that saw police crashing it and briefly taking him and this reporter into detention.
We also spoke to another gay man, whose alias, for obvious reasons, is Fortune “I think government should make a very final decision whether to purge us, whether to kill us all, eliminate us all… I plead with government not to work according to the crowds; it should work according to how things are. The government signed that it will respect human rights, that it will respect us but what is happening on the ground is not that.
“We are also human beings, we are also tax payers, we are also contributing to the growth of this nation so please, we should be included in whatever is happening in this nation…,” charged Sambisa.
Sambisa says he is tired of hiding and says he is ready to lose friends and take the heat for coming out in a homophobic nation but said he can no longer stand being a second class citizen.
“And I also want to give information to people in my community to say this is time to stand up and claim our rights – we have been in denial for a long time, we have been discriminated against for a long time – I think this is time for action.
“We should get what is ours, we want our freedom; we want to be treated like everyone else. The services that are being catered to the heterosexual community should also be given to us. We have many people in our community that are failing to get a job because of their [sexual] orientation, that are being dismissed because of their orientation,” he said.
Homosexuality in Malawi
In 2005, the Anglican Church in the country rejected the installation of a pro-gay bishop Reverend Nick Henderson but the real pinnacle came in 2009 when Malawi made international headlines by arresting two ‘gays’, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza after they openly engaged.
In 2010, at the height of the high profile trial of the two aforementioned ‘gays’, a Peter Sawali was arrested in streets for putting up posters calling for recognition of gay rights and was sentenced to 60 days community service.
Homosexuality as Western
Since 2012, the American government has channelled more than $700 million into supporting gay rights groups and causes globally. More than half of that money has focused on sub-Saharan Africa a development the New York Times wrote might actually be making homophobia worse.
US Christian groups have also been fighting their own government’s efforts by rallying their African flock to resist homosexuality.
For Fortune, he wonders why people cannot understand that he is gay not acting as such. “Why would I cling to being gay when I know for sure how society hates it? People are getting killed for being gay, it’s because it’s what I am and I cannot change it, I can marry a woman but I would soon go out cheating on her with other males, it happened with my first girlfriend, I wanted her brother more.”
Sambisa said he has never been indoctrinated by any white person nor did he need to be told he was gay.
He said he always felt gay and found out for sure at around age 17 and this came after he tried in vain to purge, through religious exorcism, the same sex attractions in him – which he says manifest as ‘feminine traits’ not dominant in an average male.
He says he told his pastor that he wanted to get out of ‘this life’ and suspected demons, as taught by the church.
Said Sambisa: “I have been going to the mountain to pray about it, fasting and I came to the point that I was just starving myself…it’s something that I have tried and I have come to the point where I am saying: this is me and if I try to run away from myself, then who am I going to be?”
Sambisa in stressing that he was authentically born gay, cited his attempt at marriage, which saw him married for just two weeks before calling it quits.
Sambisa said he did engage in marital sex but was ‘not just into it.’
Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries in the world, 38 of which are in Africa and of these 38; homosexuality is punishable by death in 4.
The Penal Code of Malawi (Sections 153(a), 154, 156 and 137(a)) prohibits “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, attempts to commit “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and acts of “gross indecency”.
The maximum sentence for these ‘crimes’ is 14 years imprisonment.
In its own admission, the Malawi government said that ‘about 1.84 percent of the overall male population aged 20 to 39 years in Malawi or about 38 734 individuals’ are men who have sex with men. This came out in the Concept notes on HIV and TB programming, which the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) submitted to The Global Fund.
Malawi requested for around K180 million from The Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids to support activities such as testing, counselling and treatment, condoms and prevention of risky behaviour programs.
Sambisa expressed fury at this request saying government gets so much money in the name of the LGBTIQ community that actually never reaches them in any way.
“It’s very serious [The HIV prevalence among gays] and it’s very sad just because this same government receives a lot of money in the name of LGTIQ but they are failing to help us.”
Gift Trapence who heads the Centre for Development of People (Cedep) is also on record saying it is hard for government to reach a population whose very existence is illegal; he thus called for the scrapping of the Penal Code sections that bar consensual homosexuality.
In 2008 Cedep conducted the first ever HIV prevalence study amongst 200 gays and found a shockingly high HIV prevalence among MSM in Malawi (21.4percent) as compared to the general population.
Violence and harassment
In 2012 Afrobarometer, one of Africa’s leading pollsters conducted a survey on perceptions of Malawians to gay rights and found that there was over 90 percent disapproval of same-sex relationships.
Fortune spoke of hate spewing his way after he was ousted in his community.
Friends stopped coming to chat at his place, some sent him messages explaining that they cannot go on chatting with a Satanic; one person went up to throwing a stone at him as he walked by.
“I withdrew, I stayed indoors. My brother heard of the rumours and he told me that as much as he hopes that I will stop being gay, the family cannot disown me but again they cannot support me in my being gay.”
Nobody has ever told his father fearing that his frail heart will topple over. The father however has also heard of the rumours and when he asked Fortune, he flatly denied all in the name of protecting the father from a heart attack.
76 human rights violations mostly against gays were reported between June 2013 and March 2014 and are documented in a 2014 report by Cedep and CHRR called Human Rights Violations on the Basis of Real or Perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi
Living on the downlow
Sambisa says the advent of social media has simplified the networking of gays as they are able to find partners in private groups on Facebook and WhatsApp. He says he knows about 200 gays in Blantyre and about 20 lesbians.
They find mates among themselves, and Sambisa said they even have a secret church where a pastor comes to minister to them without the judgement of the traditional Christian church.
Both Sambisa and Fortune also hailed a CEDEP approach reaching out to one LGBTIQ member who in turn brings his friends, which allows for the organisation to target them with HIV and other interventions.
It is risky being gay in Malawi and Fortune, 35, knows it. He also said getting attention for Sexually Transmitted Infections is difficult for gays.
“We get training on the dangers of unprotected sex, we also get condoms and lubricants to use during sex from Cedep,” said Fortune.
The new National HIV Strategic Plan (2015 -2020) places emphasis on interventions targeting gays and this could be why the Global Fund proposal requested funds just for the same.
One of the biggest enemies of gays in Malawi is religion. Religious grouping shed all their differences when it comes to condemning gays the height of which was when one evangelist told his congregation that gays deserve to die.
Whenever gays come closer to being recognised the church comes out in full force, a situation that infuriates Cedep.
“We have seen our bishops, self-proclaimed prophets being champions of patriarchal culture that promotes the oppression and hate against LGBTIQ people instead of promoting love and peace,” said Trapence.
Fortune insists although he is a born again Christian in the CCAP church, he has not told his congregation that he is gay fearing a repeat of what happened the last time he came out.