Festus Mogae

Former Botswana President Festus Mogae has urged Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe to accept and respect gay rights.

Mogae was responding to reports that some African leaders were of the view that gay rights were un-African, after they applauded Mugabe when he declared at the UN 70th  General Assembly that Africans were not gay.

“In my long interaction with LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-sexual] groups and extensive research, I have come to the realisation that we are limited in our knowledge and must be open to new discoveries. I have been converted; I used to hold the same beliefs as my counterparts. President Mugabe has said that he hates homosexuals and is on record as saying they are worse than pigs and dogs. That is still his position,” a tough-talking Mogae said before accusing Mugabe of self-aggrandisement and a raft of other human rights violations.

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‘Stop hiding behind sovereignty, while abusing people,’ Mogae said in a recent interview with a United Nations online magazine, Africa Renewal, adding: “Sovereignty has limits like any other right. A leader cannot kill and harass his people and hide behind sovereignty. A true leader does not kill, but protects his people.”

The fire-spitting Mogae, who is a business partner of Zimbabwe second Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko in the Choppies Supermarket group, also accused Mugabe and his Zanu PF administration of ‘thinking they are more important than his country’.

“We still have leaders in Africa who think they are indispensable, larger than life and more important than their countries. That must stop. If a leader loses control, the world will and should intervene to save the people,” Mogae said.

Mogae, who was recently in Zimbabwe for the official opening of a Choppies Supermarket in Chitungwiza by Mugabe, further said the Zimbabwean leader should dump ‘outdated beliefs’.

“While I admit that the West often push their agendas on Africa, which we must be wary of, I also believe we must, as Africans, admit that the world is changing and we must move with the times,” he told the magazine, and added: “This means often abandoning some of our long-held convictions about life, if the need arises.”

Reacting to Mogae’s attacks, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Christopher Mushohwe said he had read the interview but that no mention had been made of Mr Mugabe’s name.

“I read it, he did not mention the President by name, but if indeed he was referring to President Mugabe, it is unfortunate. He said it while he was in America, maybe he wanted to please the New Yorkers. Why does he wait to be in America to say it? Why not say it while he is in Africa? He was here a few days ago, why didn’t he say it? If he couldn’t do it here, he could have said it while in Botswana. That is the problem with most African leaders, they think if they are in Europe, they are Europeans, if they are in America, they are Americans.”

Botswana has remained a lone voice in the region against Mugabe’s perceived excesses including gay rights abuse, demanding a return to legitimacy and respect of human rights in Zimbabwe, much to the chagrin of the veteran Zanu PF leader.

Current Botswana President Ian Khama has also clashed with Mugabe on several occasions on various issues.

Gay rights remain a contentious issue in Southern Africa with South Africa being the only country to recognise homosexual marriages.