Thursday 20 May 2010

Malawi: Free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga

People like us
One should be outraged but it is with sadness that I read of the jailing of the Malawian gay couple [1] Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, who are being punished for having dared to conduct a engagement to bless a committed relationship.
I am of the view that everyone should be entitled to the pursuit of happiness in whatever pairing of relationship or absence of partnership that suits them – to deny that happiness on the basis of some moral import that prejudges difference as an abomination is unfortunate at best and savage at worst.
Rather than clamour for justice, let us examine what the judge had to say. At first he said he wanted protect the public from “people like you” – You, probably meaning homosexuals or people in unusual relationships that decide to have an engagement signifying commitment.
People like you
The full statement he made was, “I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.
Then he said, "We are sitting here to represent the Malawi society, which I do not believe is ready at this point in time to see its sons getting married to other sons or conducting engagement ceremonies."
The mob that witnessed the judgment felt that the sentence was lenient but the facts of the matter are still too difficult for the people to face up to and accept.
Despite all the denials about there being homosexuals in Africa, the truth is homosexuality has been part of humanity ever before recorded history, it is neither Western, Eastern, African, Asian or tribal – it is a part of humanity - it is not alien to any culture, nation or race - it has always been part of every society until religious influences made indigenous traditions and differences from the "norm" inherently evil.
People like them
The other truth is whilst many Africans might not be bold enough to admit that they practice homosexuality there are quite a good many that profess to be bisexual or have entered the convenience of a public heterosexuality and a secretive homosexuality – a concept known as being on the down-low [2].
The sad aspect of this matter is the partners of these people either as wives or husbands who do not know that their beloved ones are loving rivals they cannot compete against on the side.
Enough studies have shown that engaging in heterosexual relationships does not create a permanent conversion from bisexuality or homosexuality – if that were a matter of basic choices, I am sure many would have rather adapted to the “norm” than be chastised for being different.
People like everyone
Here, we find that two young men have made the honest and bold choice not to live deceitful double-lives that could ruin the lives of partners and children alike but decided to celebrate their difference and in the process have been criminalised and penalised for it – it is both a shame and an injustice.
Rather than have the public protected from people like them, these people would go underground with their public and private lives whilst we all jolly on in denial and seemingly justifiable homophobia thinking the right has been done.
However, the most interesting part of the judge’s statement is that he recognises that the society is behind in the times, he opines that it is a matter of readiness and it calls on other people in the Malawian society who do not think their views are represented in this judgment to speak up and be spoken for.
People in love
For some, this engagement was before its time but the truth is same-sex relationship commitments would still take place in Malawi and every other corner of the world where hypocrisy, denial and homophobia appears to thrive – if loving and caring in a same-sex relationship be a crime greater than “loving”, abusing and battering in a heterosexual relationship we have our sense of justice wrong and our hypocrisy exposed with shame.
Free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga today, they have wronged no one and committed no crimes, if we cannot tolerate difference then what gives each person a right, an identity and purpose in life is lost along with the basic sense of humanity.

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