I spoke to a few LGBTI activist and human-rights defenders. ‘‘The anti-homosexuality laws that make sodomy a crime have to be abolished, because after 22 years we don’t still have to live under such laws. The politicians who claim that homosexuality is un-African must know that it has been part and parcel of our society before the colonisers arrived on the African soil,” said Nicodemus ‘Mama Africa’ Aochamub, a proud transsexual and Director of Namibia’s biggest sex-workers’ organisation, Rights not Rescue.
Aochamub also believes that the Namibian government should not hide behind the Bible when denouncing homosexuality because it has been a tool brought by the colonisers, ‘The Bible is un-African and should not be used against us to deny the rights which belong to the LGBTI community,” he feels.
A leading transsexual, Aochamub also warned government officials to back away from hate-speech against the LGBTI community, “because the whole world is watching every step taken against us.” According Aochamub some top officials including parliamentarians are gay, lesbian or bisexual, but are too scared to come out of the closet as they may lose their parliamentary seats. Until when must elected officials of the people be too scared to come out or support their follow LGBTI community? A lot still needs to be done, like the repeal of sodomy law which the anti-gay crusaders used against us, Aochamub, who declares herself a proud SWAPO party member believes.
“I have been a victim of Nujoma’s hate speech years ago. The Namibian Defence Force stripped me naked and showed my private parts to passing cars in Windhoek. I was so humiliated as the public watched me, while Defence Force members folded my private parts, telling me that I was a man and it [genitals] must be used for its purpose,” fumed Mama Africa, who said that the thought of soldiers who humiliated her still burned fresh in her memory. In 2000 former President Sam Nujoma threatened to imprison gays and lesbians as lesbianism and homosexuality are apparently not welcome in Namibia.
The first Mr. Gay Namibia winner, Wendelinus Hamutenya, who hails from the north, also echoes the same sentiments. The sodomy law should be repealed as Namibians cannot live with colonial laws, despite gaining independence 22 years ago. ‘‘It’s impossible that the colonial sodomy law is still used by the government, while we had gained freedom more than two decades ago’’ Hamutenya says.
Hamutenya believes that a national dialogue has to take place which must be attended by both the LGBTI activists, civil organizations and also by government officials to openly discuss the rights of the LGBTI community and the sodomy law. Hamutenya said that ‘‘minor changes have take place, although not put into law. The crowning of Mr. Gay is a huge achievement for the LGBTI community. Most of the people feared to attend this event last year as the government might bash on us, but it did not happen.”
“The northern LGBTI community is visible. Today one can see a group of gay men walking together without being assaulted, but still more has to be done” he says. “Namibia still has a long way to go to fully accept LGBTI individuals. They are Namibian citizens, but the Government still denies their rights. We have been in Africa before colonizers arrived on our continent, but I am a second class citizen” said one successful bisexual musician who asked not to be named as his sexual identity is hidden.
Some companies discriminate against employees if it is found that they are homosexuals, according to Johan Maritz who is an openly gay male living in Windhoek. “My friends lose their jobs, because of their sexual orientation. It’s really still hard for the LGBTI community who are discriminated against at work, in the community and nation at large,” Maritz said. According to Maritz, no major changes have taken place for the Namibian LGBTI community since Independence. “Same-sex marriages should be allowed. We gays pay taxes, like any other Namibians and we are part of this wonderful land,” Maritz added. Like Mama Africa, Maritz believes that government sides with the religious order to oppress the LGBTI community.
A bi-sexual son of a former Government Minister who spoke on condition of anonymity says that changes have to take place and that the rights for LGBTI individuals should be protected by Namibian law, just like any other individual. “I am still scared to tell my father that I am a bisexual, because I might be disowned by my family.”
Another bisexual man from the North said that “the Namibian community is accepting gays and lesbians. It was not like LGBTI people were beaten up in the north in past, but still we are scared. One has to be clever to hide his behaviour in the north. In Windhoek and coastal towns you can behave as you want, but the north is not an LGBTI playground.”
Leading human-rights activist and Executive Director of NamRights, Phil ya Nangoloh, said the “situation of gay and lesbian Namibians has more, rather than less relevance, especially among the oppressed. After Independence and despite what the Namibian constitution says to the contrary the situation of sexual minorities worsened.” Ya Nangoloh argues that numerous verbal attacks and also physical attacks, to which sexual minorities are been subjected testify to this fact. In Nangolah view, the Namibian government has adopted a negative stance towards sexual minorities.
Ya Nangoloh points out that “despite the fact all persons are equal before the law (refer to Article 10 of the Constitution) the Namibian Government has stringently refused to recognise the rights of LGBTI people which was a recommendation by the Universal Period Review of the United Nations Human-Rights Council, which the Swapo-led government rejected last year.”
According to the NamRights Director, the issue of homosexuality was often issued as a diversionary tactic to divert the attention of the masses away from critical issues such as abject poverty, corruption, unemployment, hunger and ethnic strife which threatens to tear up our young nation.
The leader of NamRights argues that several discriminatory laws, such as those on sodomy and the Immorality Act, all date back to the pre-independence era. The conduct of political leaders, as well as dated religious and traditional beliefs currently pose the greatest threat to sexual minorities. According to some individuals interviewed, after Nujoma’s expression of anti-gay sentiments dozens of heterosexual, gay and transsexual men had their ear-rings ripped off and some were also publicly undressed by the police and soldiers.
Joe Gerstmayer, one of the leading white gay activists and organiser of the Mr. Gay Namibia contest calls upon government to decriminalise sodomy and also to recognise the rights of LGBTI individuals. “Sooner or later the government has to recognise LGBTI people and the exceptional law against sodomy has to come off the statute books.”
According to Gerstmayer the Mr. Gay Namibia contest is a great way to achieve visibility and acceptance within the community. “We believe all people are created equal and have the same right to freedom, liberty and equality.”