The GALZ stand, ZIBF 2003

BOOK FAIR SAGA

GALZ rose to international prominence when it attempted to enter the 1995 Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), which had as its theme that year, ‘Human Rights and Justice’, The fair was preceded by an indaba entitled ‘Freedom of Expression and of the Press’ and took place in the last week of July and the first week of August.

The reasons for GALZ wishing to participate largely centred round the fact that in the 12 months preceding, the association’s attempts to have its counselling advert published in the smalls columns of the state-controlled media had been frustrated and, having appeared a couple of times on state radio, GALZ had been banned from the airwaves. In the same moment, the State had launched a virulent anti-gay campaign which allowed GALZ no space to respond and GALZ’s attempts to approach the independent media had backfired with The Daily Gazette publishing a sensationalist headline article ‘POLICE WARN HOMOS – Net is closing in’.

ZIBF Director, Trish Mbanga, at first rejected GALZ’s application because she was nervous about straining the already tenuous relationship between the Book Fair and Government. In addition, the President, already on record for having anti-gay views, was to be asked to open the fair that year.

GALZ complained to the ZIBF Board of Trustees. The majority agreed to the ban being upheld although two Trustees promptly resigned in protest at the decision. GALZ then approached a Trustee resident in South Africa, Hugh Lewin, who succeeded in getting the Book Fair to reverse its decision. He threatened that, if they did not do so, he would organise for a boycott by South African publishers. This in effect would have brought down the Book Fair and meant its removal to South Africa.

The Book Fair reversed its decision in April and GALZ began preparing its materials for display. However, divisions within GALZ over participation led to the membership being polled. Luckily, over 80% agreed that GALZ should go ahead although almost the entire executive committee resigned as a result.

On the Friday before the fair opened, GALZ received a letter from the Book Fair withdrawing its acceptance. It was accompanied by a strongly worded letter from the Department of Information warning that the relationship between Government and the Book Fair would be adversely affected if GALZ were allowed to participate.

GALZ then made it known at the indaba that the association had been banned. South African author and Nobel Laureate, Nardine Gordimar, who was speaking at the time, immediately called for a statement of protest from the indaba to the Book Fair organisers. In the end, however, it seemed that a directive had been issued by the President himself and so the final decision could not be reversed.

The GALZ stand reverted to the Book Fair and statements of protest from organisations and individuals and all the correspondence between GALZ and the Book Fair were posted on its walls. A bowl of flowers placed on the table, gave it the appearance of a shrine (see left).

The President toured the fair before the official opening ceremony but was steered away from the offending edifice. In his speech, Mugabe then issued the first in his ongoing series of vitriolic attacks on lesbian and gay people. On Heroes Day, ten days after the fair, he referred to gays as ‘worse than dogs and pigs’.

And so, although GALZ had been refused any publicity even in the smalls column of state-controlled newspapers and had been banned from radio and television, the remarks of the President led to headline coverage in all local media and wide coverage in the regional and international press. As a result, the membership of GALZ, especially amongst younger black lesbian and gay people, increased dramatically. In addition, it was now clear to regional and international human rights bodies, such as Amnesty International, that homosexuality was a human rights issue in Zimbabwe and international funders began to approach GALZ offering to provide financial support.

In 1996, Government again tried to ban GALZ from the Fair. This time the association was well prepared and it took the Ministry of Home Affairs to court twice in one week and won the right to participate at all future ZIBF events.

From 1997 to 2002, GALZ put its information on the newly-created ZIBF Human Rights Stand. In 2003, GALZ again applied for a stand in its own right. Since then, barring a few days of disruptive homophobic incidents, GALZ has appeared annually at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.