Saturday, 15 May 2010

Freedom without my lover is useless and meaningless..

Renowned gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has told the Guardian newspaper that he has received a message of defiance from Tiwonge Chimbalanga, one half of the Malawian gay couple who are currently facing criminal charges of 'unnatural practices between males' and 'gross indecency'. In the message, Chimbalanga stated "I love Steven too much. If people of the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."

Tatchell who has maintained contact with the couple since they have been in prison also quoted Steven Monjeza (the other half of the couple) as saying, "We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge." The couple who have been refused bail, have been remanded in prison custody since last December. The verdict of the court in the trial of this heroic couple is due next week. It has been said that currently Steven looks "thin and weak", with "jaundiced eyes".

Residents of the Machinjiri township on the outskirts of Blantyre where the couple have their home have responded angrily, saying that they will not allow the couple to return home if they are set free.

"They have given this township a bad name", said Maikolo Phiri, a local vendor.

Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Steven said, "We as a family have been terribly embarrassed to be associated with this gay thing. Its a curse and a big shame. We will chase them away if they are freed."

Nchiteni Monjeza, Steven's uncle, said: "I won't drop a tear if they are jailed. They deserve it."

For me, the couple are social revolutionaries who deserve the support of all right-thinking people. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa where more than half of the population live below the poverty line. Tobacco is the country's main export and the use of child labour is rampant. This worrying BBC World Service report elaborates on the problem of families, who due to poverty are forced to send their children to work in the tobacco fields, thereby denying the children their childhood and their right to education. There is much talk about large international tobacco companies being unscrupulous and uncaring, but my mind tells me that the government of Malawi is more directly responsible for the welfare of the child-citizens of the country than any international company is. The Malawian government, as with many other governments in Africa, continues to fail its people. Employers of child labour are not pursued and prosecuted, even though under Malawian law the employment of children is illegal.

While child labour can be defined as any work, which by its nature or employment conditions is detrimental to a child's physical, mental, moral, social or emotional development, the "Worst Forms of Child Labour" refers to the types of work for children described in Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182. Article 3 of the Convention, among other things, emphasises any work, which is "likely" to harm a child's health, safety or morals, such as, in this case the work carried out in the tobacco and tea estates of Malawi.

For statistics on child labour in Malawi you may take a look at [download] this very detailed ILO report. For the year 2000 the ILO projected 445,000 economically active children between the ages of 10 and 14 working as child labourers, representing 31.5% of this age group, 216,000 girls and 229,000 boys. The report also observed that being tender physically, children are susceptible to various work-related injuries and illnesses to a greater degree than adults doing the same kind of work, and that a high percentage of the children were physically injured or fell ill while working.

Interestingly just last evening I saw a report on this same subject on Channel 4's Unreported World. (Please click on the link and see the Unreported World report. It will be available online only for about one month from the date of this blog post). Unlike the reporter however, who apparently sought to cast aspersions on the big tobacco companies, I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Malawian government for failing to protect the children of the country. And yet it is this same government that will enthusiastically pursue and persecute harmless homosexual men. I eagerly await the verdict next Tuesday and the fallout thereafter if the couple are jailed.

The Malawi Law Society (MLS), the professional body of the country's 200 lawyers, has spoken out in favour of the couple, saying that they are "not a threat to the society" and should be freed. This is an about-turn from a few months ago when Malawian lawyers proclaimed that the couple broke the law and deserve to face justice. It is a clear example of the effectiveness of the efforts of rights campaigners worldwide, who since this saga began in December 2009, have ceaselessly stressed the injustice that is inherent in the continued detention of the couple and how unlikely it is that they will get a fair trial in the face of such massively hostile public opinion.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Africans are fighting the wrong battles. We are blaming imperialist Europe of old for homosexuality, which is a natural occurrence, while at the same time justifying our position with arguments invented by Europeans of old.

I expect that international pressure will influence the court in its decision.

Anengiyefa said...

Hello Anon, thanks for your comment. I think that society in Africa is in a muddle, not being sure whether its values are African, or whether its values are a caricature of 19th Century Europe's.

People stubbornly cling to ancient ideas and attitudes, (which as you rightly pointed out were introduced to the continent by the colonialists). Scientific knowledge and advancement seem to have no place in the minds of modern day African people..