MIDLANDS provincial governor Cephas Msipa has quit as an honorary trustee of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) to escape a deepening row over the exhibition by gays at the fair.
Msipa resigned on Monday to protest ZIBF’s decision to allow the gay rights organisation, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz), to exhibit at the annual show.
ZIBF executive director Samuel Matsangaise confirmed that Msipa had resigned, citing the gays’ presence at the fair.
“Governor Msipa resigned on Monday. He was an honorary trustee of ZIBF,” Matsangaise said. “He said his resignation was against the decision to let Galz exhibit at the book fair.”
Msipa’s resignation means ZIBF now has seven honorary trustees from across the world. George Kahari is the only remaining Zimbabwean on the board of trustees.
The ZIBF board has 13 members chaired by Professor Rukudzo Murapa of Africa University in Mutare.
A confrontation has been looming between government and ZIBF over Galz’s participation at the fair. Clashes broke out on Monday at the fair between Galz officials and a group apparently responding to President Robert Mugabe’s homophobia.
Members of Galz were reportedly forced to flee after a mob pounced on them at the exhibition venue. Galz director Keith Goddard said it was regrettable that homophobic elements were illegally using violence to suppress other people’s freedoms of assembly, association and expression.
Mugabe has personally opposed gays’ exhibition at the book fair.
He is on record as saying gays and lesbians are worse than “dogs and pigs” and a “moral outrage”.
Mugabe’s hatred for gays seemed to have been worsened by his clashes with British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell of Outrage! who tried to arrest him on two occasions in London and Brussels a few years ago for alleged human rights abuses.
Gays were banned by government in 1995 from participating at the fair until they got a Supreme Court order in 1996 allowing them to take part. But government has remained consistently opposed to their attendance.
Between 1997 and 2002, Galz participated at the book fair as part of the human rights stand. Last year the group exhibited on its own amid hostile rhetoric from officials and members of the public.
Official double standards were exposed during the sensational sodomy trial of the country’s first post-Independence president, Canaan Banana, in 1998.
Testimonies from victims, including the late Jefta Dube, during the 17-day trial revealed that the ex-president sexually abused male subordinates who guarded him at State House.
Banana was subsequently convicted and jailed for a year.
Goddard said although Banana’s trial was more about abuse than the pursuit of sexual freedom, “it went a long way to convince people that being gay is not a white-imported thing”.