He has a haunted look. His eyes have a dark shadow, the strain of a man whose dark secret haunts him but he cannot open up.

He has lived a double life for two decades. He pretends to be happily married and a doting father to his brood but deep down he has another life, a secret – living a gay life underground.

Carl Kunsawanga (not real name), a father of two from rural Gokwe lives in deep fear of being outed and labeled ‘a deviant or social misfit’ by relatives and the community.

Kunsawanga (39) lives with this secret of his sexuality and has only opened up to two relatives – his wife and sister – who, he argues he had no option but let them understand who really he is.

He relocated to the rural area after he lost his job in the city after a tabloid carried a story about his private life. The rural community gives him sanctuary as very few if any read the article.

Kunsawanga said publication of the article has made his life some living hell as his prospects of landing another job are next to zero. He adds the article keeps popping up in search engines and with most companies now checking internet and social media before engaging new employees.

“I cannot get employed simply because of my sexual orientation, everywhere I go the issue sticks with me and I am made to feel like a criminal,” he said.

His case is further compounded by the Zimbabwean society which is conservative and does not tolerate homosexuality. All the three main religions – Christianity, Islam and African tradition – frown upon it.

Homosexuality is seen in one prism and only one prism – deviance. It is neither a right nor inherent.

“I have noticed that I have to conform to religious values my family and society subscribe to, to avoid falling into the abyss of social stigma and discrimination. My family expected me to have a wife and children. I have two children and I have a mutual agreement with my wife as I cannot have sex with her. She is content that I have given her children and I satisfy her sexual needs orally,” he said.

This rings true, there are many closet homosexuals as was shown in the 1990’s when Zimbabwe’s first president and cleric Canaan Banana was convicted of sodomy by the High Court.

Banana was a respected academic and sports fanatic. His social capital was high but all changed after his conviction. He was ostracized, slowly erased from the country’s history books and never found a way to the National Heroes Acre. Zanu PF politburo decided against his hero status.

Kunsawanga says over the years he has had six steady partners most of whom are also married men. Men who also live double lives for fear of ostracisation.

“I have been in six steady relationships with willing partners. I do not fear these men exposing me as we are in the same boat. Some members of the community suspect that I am gay, but they do not have proof. I don’t plan to come out publicly because of the fears I have,” he said.

Kunsawanga said he is an active member of Zanu PF and he does not want to ruin his chances of actively participating in politics by revealing his sexuality.

“I cannot come out as I am active in Zanu PF politics. The current status that people just suspect works for me,” he said.
The party frowns upon gays and lesbians. Its former leader the late Robert Mugabe who was a devout Catholic was clear in his hostility towards gays. Mugabe called them “worse than dogs and pigs.”

Mugabe’s hatred of gays may have been reinforced after his encounter in London with British gay Peter Tatchell. He was horrified by the brazen manner in which Tatchell, in a staged theatric live on television, wanted to affect a citizen arrest on him.

In a separate incident, Mugabe in 1995 banned Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe (Galz) participating at the Harare International Book Fair.

The country was left further polarized on the question of gay rights between 2010 and 2013 when the country was writing its new constitution. There were heated debates at public meetings and at times physical confrontations. Mugabe made sure the clauses on sexual orientation were removed from the draft constitution.
Zimbabwe’s criminal code expands the penalty for sodomy to include acts that “would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act.”

Zimbabwe’s position stands in sharp contrast to its neighbors, South Africa which has put in place Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) protections. The country through the constitution banned same sex marriages.

For now, Kunsawanga and other gays and lesbians have to continue living in the shadows, leading a double life for their safety and job security in a homophobic state.

In an interview with this publication, Zhombe traditional leader Chief Wait Gwesela said being gay is punishable by banishment.

“This is taboo in African tradition, if one is found guilty of having sex with another man we expel you from our society. Before that they will be made to pay a fine of four beasts, one which will be used for cleansing our community,” said Chief Gwesela.

Kwekwe human rights lawyer, Artwell Chinamatira said members of the LGBTQI deserve to be treated like any other member of society.

“They deserve to be treated like any other person, they have the right to human dignity as enshrined in Section 51 of the Constitution which says, “every person has inherent dignity in their private and public life and the right to have that dignity respected and protected,” he said.

“Being gay does not take away humanity, you remain a human being. It is a private choice between two consenting adults so the society and state institutions should not erode into personal choices of an individual,” said Chinamatira.
Chinamatira said Zimbabwe has a long way to go in terms of ensuring basic human rights and freedom.

“We are below 50% in terms of respecting basic human rights. We still have a lot more work to do. We have cultural, political and religious hurdles so we are still far,” Chinamatira.

The writer, Chipo Gudhe is a veteran journalist based in the Midlands Province. This article first appeared in the Midlands Observer