Tsitsi Tiripano  

The evil spirit is upon her!
During a speaking tour through the USA and west Europe, Tsitsi Tiripano (amnesty international, and GALZ, Zimbabwe) was interviewed for ai-Journal. Tsitsi Tiripano was a “case” for amnesty in 1996 arising from incidents at the International Book Fair in Harare.

Published in various forms in amnesty international Journal (Germany) and Die Andere Welt


I regret to announce that the human rights defender, Ms. Tiripano,
died of cancer early in May 2001.

C.M-S: Can you tell us something about yourself?
T.T.: My name is Tsitsi Tiripano from Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. I am the first black lesbian (in Zimbabwe) to come out and say “I am gay!”  I am also the first black person to join GALZ which was formed in 1989. When I joined the organisation (1993) we had nine white men members. Now we have 320 black gay men that are members of GALZ. We also have 15 black lesbians members and five bisexual women.

I am the mother of two boys – 16 and 18 years old.I was forced into a marriage by my father when I was 15 years old – my husband was 40 (fourty!) years older. My father came to me and said,  “You are going to get married tomorrow! “ This enforced marriage ended in 1988. I came out – because I am  a lesbian. I thought if I stay quiet maybe they will force me into another marriage – so that’s why I came out.

C.M-S: How did your parents react?
T.T.: After the 1996 Book Fair my father said he didn’t want to see me. I spent the next two year without seeing my family, or my own children. Then I said I am going to see my two children….My father has become supportive but doesn’t really want to talk about me being a lesbian.

C.M-S: You mentioned the book exhibition …
T.T.: We (GALZ) applied to participate in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1996. They turned us down, so we went to court.  The day of the book fair I was at the stand and then the university students came and were throwing apples, oranges and things like that, I managed to get to my friends house. Next day I went to my home town in Marundela. I was met by the Women’s League holding placards “Down with Homosexuality”.

I was so confused I went to the mayor of the city.  But he wouldn’t help because the President had said that he didn’t want gays and lesbians. I managed to get on a bus to Harare. Keith (Goddard, GALZ) suggested I go to a rural area. But there it was even worse. They said you came here to teach our young ones to become lesbian and gays – because this is a western thing.

C.M-S: How do you see the general situation in Zimbabwe?
T.T.: People now are saying - Why is Mugabe focusing only on gays and lesbians? Why doesn’t he focus on economics and what is going on in the country?
More people are becoming supportive now, even if in rural areas.. We have an Outreach Project where we talk about HIV and AIDS – and later gay issues. There is a big improvement.
But we went to one rural area and found the daughter of a chief who was a lesbian her whole life. The father found out, and she was raped by one of her family. Later she committed suicide.

C. J.: How are the relations between the black lesbians and the white lesbians?
T.T.: There is a white lesbian group called Women’s Culture Club  (WCC). They decided to separate from GALZ because people are saying homosexuality is from the white influence. So that now people can’t say that because we are separate. Sometimes we hold meetings together, but most of the time we work on our own.
People say there were no gays or lesbians before the Whites came – it is only starting now especially the tourists from America and Europe. But in our SHONA language there is a word called “Mbotchani “. Where does this word come from if there were no lesbians and gays in early times. It wasn’t a thing which was talked about in earlier times – gays and lesbians. Now we don’t want to hide our feelings. It is not only the white community, we have homosexuality in our own culture.

C. M-S: Is it difficult to find places where you can be together and make love?
T.T.:  Even heterosexual people can’t kiss in public. Love is only two people in a closed room – very private.  It is the same with gay men and women. But in GALZ we have this “Drop-In” Centre.  Every Friday and Saturday we have dances and parties.  There is no lesbian or gay bar in Zimbabwe .... If people come to the centre they can meet people and be as they want.
In Bulawayo – the second city of Zimbabwe – there is now an organisation called Gays & Lesbians of Matabeleland. We agreed with them to have their own organisation because it is too far for them to come to Harare to the centre every Friday. It was started last year and there are now 70 members. It was started last September or October (1999).

In Europe there are drag Queens – and in Zimbabwe we have drag Queens too. So if I meet someone like this I introduce myself. Sometimes he will be shy or scared. But I tell him “You should feel free!” and tell him about our organisation. …
There are some women who dress like men, but if it is noticed they say “She has got an evil spirit.” Then they say she has an evil spirit. They prescribe potions and medicines that you have to wash with or drink to drive the evil spirit out.
Long ago I myself met another man who was wearing dresses, and so on. I thought then, well maybe he has got the same evil spirit as the women. Then we met again after I had come out, and I invited him to my party because he was wearing a nice dress. I gave him the address – which was that of the (GALZ) centre !! … and today he is a good member of GALZ.

C. J.: Is there anything you want to say to amnesty international ?
T.T.: I have been a member of amnesty since 1996. I found it very good to be with the amnesty because they defended me in the 1996 Book Fair. I received 4,500 letters of support from the USA. And 3,020 from European countries as well as Hong Kong and Israel. That was wonderful. I want to thank people, and also say we need continuing support from amnesty international and other human rights organisations like IGLHRC and ILGA not only in Zimbabwe but all Africa. I also want to ask amnesty people to “take action” against the Ugandan President.

As a person who is an amnesty activist and I have travelled in North America – 12 cities – and now I am here in Europe, there is something going on within amnesty. They don’t want to talk about gay and lesbian issues, and I am not happy with that. amnesty international is a human rights organisation focusing on all human rights violations. I think they must also focus on HR violations against gays and lesbians. All sections in amnesty should discuss gays and lesbians.

And especially in Spain, something must be done. They don’t even want to say a single thing about gays and lesbians. Something should be done about Spain. All the sections in amnesty should discuss such things as gays and lesbians. On behalf of black gay men and black lesbians in Africa the is right time to stand up and challenge the discrimination because there is no one else who is going to stand up for us unless we do it ourselves.

But we don’t want amnesty people to be in the front of the struggle  in Africa. We want to be in the front of the fight ourselves because, if any of the Human Rights organisations take the lead in Africa the Presidents will be saying “Oh look, it is the organisations from western countries who come to Africa to teach people to be lesbian and gay. Now is the time to stand up and challenge discrimination.

In Africa we want to be in the front of the fight ourselves and decide our own structures, but to work with the HR organisations.

Thank you for the interview.

Colin de la Motte-Sherman and  Claudia J.

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© 2001 Colin de la Motte-Sherman