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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Investigation Reveals Zambia's 600 Homosexuals Living In Fear

An African gay rights activist hiding his face

By Paul Shalala
A four year undercover investigation has revealed that Zambia has a thriving community of about 600 lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex (LGBTI) who practice their sexual orientation in total secrecy for fear of being lynched by the community or being arrested by the Police.

According to results of a secret baseline survey of the LGBTI community in Zambia commissioned by a Lusaka-based human rights advocacy organization Dette Resources Foundation, about 600 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals are known to be leading their normal but difficult lives in Lusaka, Copperbelt and Southern Provinces.

The baseline survey was launched on 21st July 2012 and immediately, the Zambia Police Force embarked on a search for the people behind it and activists lived in fear of being arrested. 
Zambia’s current President Edgar Lungu, who was then Home Affairs Minister, warned that the people behind the survey would be arrested and brought behind bars to face the law.

However, no one was arrested as the people behind the survey went underground for fear of being arrested and prosecuted.

The survey was actualized across the country and the results are now ready and this reporter is the only Zambian journalist to have full details of the findings.

The document reveals that the secretive community is so closed up that even human rights activists have tough time to penetrate it and offer health services to those with complications.

According to results of the survey, the 600 LGBTI are known to be leading their normal but difficult lives in Lusaka, Copperbelt and Southern Provinces. 

The survey indicates that in other provinces with vast rural areas, the LGBTI community could exist but these could be very few people who may be scared to be identified and be integrated into the wider LGBTI community.

This reporter has interacted with activists who have shared the struggles that the members of the Lesbian and Gay community face in Zambia.

David Musonda
“We should not ignore the fact that some Zambians are born like that. We need to accept them and do everything we can to help them live their normal lives without being arrested or discriminated against,” said David Musonda, a Zambian human rights activist who is a Global Coordinator for Religious Global Interfaith Network for Sexual, Sex Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (GINSSOGIE).

He went on to say Zambians need to change their mindset on LGBTI as most of them are born that way.
"We need to change our mindset in the way we treat gays and lesbians. They are people created by God but with a different sexual orientation. Many Zambians are not well informed about this community that's why there is too much animosity against LGBTI," said Musonda.
Mr. Musonda, who has undergone training as a Catholic priest in East Africa, says there is need for religious leaders to embrace the LGBTI community. 

He says it saddens him that people who preach the word of God and Jesus' tolerance are the ones in the forefront discriminating against people created by God.

The activist is determined to advocate for the rights of the LGBTI community adding that there is need for the Government and all stakeholders to chat the way forward on this matter other than resort to leaving this issue in abeyance as it will explode one day and the effect will be difficult to deal with.

And Dette Resources Foundation Director Jane Kaluba has called for policy change in Zambia in the way the LGBT community is treated by society.

“I call upon religious leaders, politicians and lawmakers to come together and reason on this matter. The country needs to change the way it looks at gays and lesbians,” said Ms Kaluba, who is an outspoken Zambian activist who has in the past eluded arrest over the issue of gay rights.

Like Mr Musonda, Ms Kaluba’s advocacy is also on the religious front.

“Yes Zambia is a Christian nation as declared in the preamble of our republican constitution. But that doesn’t mean that gays and lesbians are not Christians. They are also God-fearing despite their sexual orientation,” she said.

Kitwe, Lusaka and Livingstone are some of the biggest cities in Zambia where the largest members of the LGBT community live.

According to investigations, due to the cosmopolitan nature of the three cities, gays and lesbians find it easy to live in these towns and satisfy themselves with their partners as opposed to rural areas where resentment for such acts are considered a taboo and unheard of.

In their typical day to day lives, Zambian LGBT host secret parties where they enjoy themselves over beers but sex is highly practiced while the party is on.

Homosexuality is highly criminalized in Zambia and practicing it carries a 25 year jail term upon conviction.

According to the colonial-era Zambian Penal Code, homosexuality is a crime which makes it an emotive issue in this southern African country which has a strong conservative society.

The all-powerful three church mother bodies who have thousands of affiliate churches are open campaigners against homosexuality which has been a major campaign issue during general elections in Zambia since 2006.

On July 22, 2014, a youth-led organization Zango Youth Consortium submitted before the on-going sittings of the Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission that homosexuality must be decriminalized by removing the words‘unnatural acts’ from the statute books.

“We need to amend the Penal Code so that we can allow homosexuals to live freely in Zambia. Our research has shown that there is a thriving community of homosexuals and they are being oppressed,” said Kaimbo Katengo, Chairman of Zango Youth Consortium when he appeared before the Frederick Chomba-led Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission which sat at Nakatindi Hall in Lusaka.

After his story was published by the mainstream media, Mr Katengo received death threats and he was forced to go into hiding for five days only to reappear and offer an apology on TV for his comments on homosexuality.

“Am here to apologise to His Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata and the people of Zambia. Our submission to the Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission has not been received well by stakeholders and am here to withdraw our submission on homosexuality. Next week I will appear before the commission to officially withdraw our comments,” said Katengo as broadcast by Zambia’s state TV channel.

On April 7, 2013, a gay rights activist Paul Kasonkomona appeared on the privately owned MUVI TV’s ‘The Assignment’ one hour live TV show where he discussed various issues to do with the LGBT community.
Paul Kasonkomona live on MUVI TV

Police officers in full riot gear stormed the privately owned television station and arrested Mr Kasonkomona for allegedly propagating homosexuality in Zambia.

The activist was charged with loitering but he was acquitted by the courts of law on February 25, 2014.

Another highly publicized case was the arrest of two youths from the central Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi who were arrested for sleeping in the same house and allegedly practicing homosexuality.

Philip Mubiana and James Mwape were arrested on May 6, 2013 and acquitted on July 3, 2014.

Their historical court case was consistently attended by western diplomats based in Zambia whose presence in the courts was received with protests from the Zambian government.

After their acquittal, they are now freely living in their home town but it is not clear if they are still living as a ‘couple.’

But religious leaders have now joined forces with activists to campaign and help change people’s mindsets and accept the LGBT community as human beings who need the same love and care as heterosexuals.
Reverend Patson Kabala
Reverend Patson Kabala of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa is an ordained minister who has been preaching the word of God since 1991 and his comments may be considered controversial in Zambia due to his open advocacy for the need to allow gays and lesbians to freely practice their sexuality without state intervention.

“In John 3:16 God says he loved all humanity and died for all of us. This passage is clear, it does not leave out homosexuals. We should not judge these people; let us allow God who created them to judge them. Ours as human beings is to embrace whatever God created,” said Reverend Kabala in an interview in Lusaka.

Reverend Kabala likens the stigma against homosexuals to the people who suffered and died in the early years of the HIV virus.

“When HIV first came in our Zambian society, people were discriminated against and many died of stigma which was too much to bear. What is happening now to people of different sexual orientation is the same. We need to break the silence and allow these people to access medical attention and live peacefully,” said Rev Kabala.

Another religious leader who feels the LGBT community needs support is Reverend Tellas Shumba of the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ) Chawama East congregation in Lusaka.

“I have been a leader in the church since 1988 and I can tell you I have interacted with all types of people and it is unfortunate that our brothers and sisters the homosexuals are highly discriminated against,” said Rev Shumba who has served in various positions of RCZ in Zambia.

Reverend Tellas Shumba
The clergyman goes further to call upon the Zambian government to decriminalize homosexuality and create what he calls ‘an equal society.’

“We can only fully embrace the gays and lesbians in this country if government comes up with a law to embrace the LGBT community. I therefore call upon those in the corridors of powers to bring up this law. We need to be an equal society in Zambia,” he added.

And Zambia's only openly gay person Lundu Mazoka has welcomed the support by religious leadersto embrace homosexuality.

"The rising support for homosexuality among priests is progressive but it is also worrying as it is not African born. And it stands threatened by the fact that those that are currently proponents may fall by the wayside under the attacks of conservatives," said Mazoka in an emailed statement. 

And on the need for new laws to protect the LGBTI community in Zambia, Mazoka says implementation is where the problem is.

"Zambia does not need any new laws until we are able to properly implement the ones that we already have," he said.

On 13th October, 2014, PANOS Institute of Southern Africa held a workshop on the marginalized community at Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka which was aimed at creating a platform of discussion on the human rights of marginalized communities in Zambia.

Lilian Kiefer
The German Embassy-funded one day workshop discussed various issues but the issue of homosexuality brought up the most heated debates as both its opponents and advocates sized each other up during the highly charged debates.

In an interview on the sidelines of the workshop, PANOS Executive Director Lilian Keifer said the workshop was necessary as the issue of marginalized communities was no longer a secret.

“This workshop is a platform on which various interest groups in Zambia can discuss human rights and try to find solutions to the human rights problems we are going through. In Zambia, it is not easy to openly discuss homosexuality but am happy people in this workshop are debating it freely,” said Ms Kiefer.

The one day meeting was attended by a serving ruling party Member of Parliament, various leaders of opposition political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and civil society leaders.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Over A Thousand Mufulira Residents Living In Fear Of Demolition

By Paul Shalala in Mufulira
One of the demolished houses

Over one thousand residents of New Kalukanya area of Mufulira District are leaving in fear following threats by the Mufulira Municipal Council to demolish their houses.

The residents built their houses in an illegal settlement, which the Council has described as an encroachment.

One of the residents who lost her houses in a recent demolition exercise Emeldah Mulenga tearfully complained to ZNBC News that her house which she built from retirement benefits was demolished without notice.

"I constructed a slab for my house using retirement benefits my late husband left me with. Now the council has demolished it. I have even suffered a stroke which has left me with a painful eye," cried Mrs Mulenga who spoke in Bemba.

In November 2014, the Council demolished houses which were constructed illegally. 

But residents are up in arms with the local authority for allowing them to pay fees for land which has now been deemed illegal.

"We are suffering here. We need the President Edgar Chagwa Lungu to intervene in our plight. Why should we suffer in our own land?" said Elizabeth Chungu, who also lost a house.

The land issue in New Kalukanya has taken a new twist as the local authority is now re-demarcating and selling the plots to new owners.

Chairperson of the displaced residents Henry Chanda says the action by the council is suspicious.

"Why are they shifting beacons? Why are they selling our plots to people we dont know? This is a syndicate. We will not accept this," said Mr Chanda.

But Mufulira Municipal Council Assistant Public Relations Manager Melvin Mukela says the local authority is doing everything possible to legalise the area but residents have not been cooperative.

"We have called for several meetings but the residents don't show up. We have now asked them to pay K12,500 as penalty fee so that we can give them plot numbers and start processing their title deeds as a way of legalising the settlement," said Mr Mukela.

On Tuesday, the residents effected citizens arrest on two buildings inspectors from the Council who were found analysing plots in New Kalukanya and they were handed over to the Police.
New Kalukanya area has been contentious and it started growing in 2008 when some people who masqueraded as land owners sold plots in the area to unsuspecting Mufulira residents.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Shortage Of Doctors In Zambia Now Hits 3,000

By Paul Shalala in Ndola
Patients queing at Kanyama Clinic in Lusaka

Long queues at clinics and hospitals are a normal occurrence in Zambia, a country that is plagued by various diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera and malaria.

The lack of enough man power at health facilities is part of the problem that has led to patients queuing at health facilities for long hours.

In rural areas, the situation is even worse as patients walk several kilometers from their villages to the clinic and spend more hours waiting to be attended to.

Some critically ill patients die on their way to the hospitals due to lack of proper roads and ambulances in rural areas.

And in some health facilities, there are no trained medical personnel to attend to patients.

In some areas, cleaners and office orderlies who are not trained in medicine, attend to patients and give out prescriptions.

Currently, Zambia has 1,500 doctors and has a shortage of 3,000 more.
At the University Teaching Hospital, Zambia’s largest health referral center in Lusaka, doctors are overwhelmed with work.

Some give out appointments to patients six months or a year away.

This situation has led to patients dying as they wait for their appointments.
And some doctors have also started running their own private clinics to cash in on the shortage of doctors.

According to some patients, doctors give them long appointments or encourage them to visit their private clinics where there are no queues and they can be attended to the same day.

According to the World Health Organisation, the normal doctor-patient ratio is 1 doctor per 5,000 patients but Zambia has one of the most abnormal doctor-patient ratio which now stands at 1 doctor per 12,000 patients.

At present, Zambia only has two government run institutions that train doctors plus a few private ones and their output is not enough to reduce the deficit in the coming years.

The University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University produce about 200 doctors per year and at the rate at which these medical personnel seek greener pastures abroad, the number of doctors in Zambia may not reach the required level.

To try and mitigate this problem, the Zambian government and the Jewish Council of Zambia have partnered to construct a school of medicine in the northern city of Ndola which is projected to produce doctors on an annual basis.

The School will be under the Kitwe-based Copperbelt University whose current School of Medicine is squatting at the Ndola Central Hospital were there is inadequate space for students.

The US$5 million project has already progressed and is scheduled to be completed in June 2015.

Sogecoa Zambia Limited, the Chinese construction company which is constructing the school, is scheduled to complete phase one of the project in June and hand it over to government.

Professor Kasonde Bowa
Dean of the School of Medicine at the Copperbelt University Professor Kasonde Bowa says it can take Zambia over 15 years to produce the 3,000 needed doctors if nothing is done to improve the training of doctors.

“Currently, the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University will take over a decade to offset the deficit. But with the new school of university under construction, it will only take less than 7 years to normalize the doctor-patient ratio,” said Professor Bowa.

According to the plans by the Copperbelt University, the School of Medicine will be producing 250 doctors and 50 dentists on an annual basis.

This effort, though a bit insignificant, will help beef up the numbers for medical personnel in Zambia to reduce the long queues patients have become used to when they are seeking medical attention.