MAURICE APPEAL

From the start, one of the principal aims of GALZ was to establish a drop-in centre to house the growing video, book and magazine collection that the organisation was acquiring. It was generally feared though that the police might raid any GALZ premises and confiscate literature en masse. This likelihood was confirmed when, on July 19, 1993, the police raided the offices of two prominent lesbian activists confiscating eight items, including an edition of Time Magazine (which was being sold on the streets at the time) and a family photograph. None of the items was ever returned. A book of lesbian poetry, also confiscated during the raid, was subsequently gazetted as banned.

Until 1996, GALZ had no offices and its materials were stored in the private homes of executive committee members. Early in 1994, in line with efforts to make its growing resource library more accessible to members, the organisation decided to hire the entrance hall of a gay-friendly hotel, the Red Fox. It was intended that, on the last Sunday of every month, GALZ books, videos and magazines would be displayed so that they could be borrowed by members. To protect the materials from possible seizure, it was decided to keep these meetings discreet. However, a reporter got wind of the first event and published the date and venue in The Daily Gazette. GALZ felt it necessary to cancel the first meeting scheduled for January 1994.

At this time, GALZ was in the process of challenging the seizure of a video tape, Je t’aime moi non plus sent to GALZ by a supporter in England, Richard Flynn. Between February and August 1994, Flynn had sent four letters to the office of the Chairman of the Board of Censors stating that the video was not pornographic and asking that a dialogue be opened between himself and the board. In April 1994, as a way of opening discussion, Flynn submitted a tape containing two safer-sex films, Well Sexy Women and A Safer Sex Guide for Younger Gay Men. He wrote again on 6th June and 1st August, expressing disappointment that the board had not replied to any of his letters. In the second letter he stated his intention to send the two films submitted to the Board of Censors directly to GALZ. He did so and both films arrived safely.

The Board of Censors finally responded in September 1994 stating that the matter would be referred to the Attorney General’s office for advice and action. At this point, the correspondence ended and no further communication was received from the board.

GALZ was at an impasse. The Board of Censors was not co-operating and the protection of the GALZ library was still an issue. All books and videos remained hidden away in boxes and were reaching only a selected few.

In mid 1994, GALZ sought legal advice and decided that the association should submit individual books and videos in its collection to the Board of Censors for approval. As the videos and books received certificates of approval, they would be made available to the membership. Presentation of an accompanying certificate would be enough to ensure that items were not seized.

For its first submission, GALZ chose a video of the television feature film, Maurice, based on the book of the same name by E. M. Forster. It was considered suitable on many grounds: the film had been broadcast on prime-time television in Britain and carried no age restriction; it was made by the reputable film company, Merchant Ivory, and the main theme was the dignity of the homosexual. Homosexuality was depicted in a realistic, serious and sensitive fashion.

The film was submitted for an issue of a certificate authorising exhibition as required under the provisions of the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act (CECA). According to the initial judgment from the Board of Censors, an examination of the film was conducted on the 18th May 1994. It was considered that the film offended and was in contravention of Section 9 as read with Section 27 of the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act. The Board claimed that the subject matter of the film ran contrary to Zimbabwe legislation.The judgment stated that:

The film would have little appeal to the normal Zimbabwe cinema audience other than perhaps one of prurient interest but obviously of greater interest to those persons inclined to such perverted sexual activity as may be found in the organisation to which the video was sent from a source in England, namely the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

GALZ challenged the decision. A hearing took place on 20th June 1994 attended by members of the appeal board and a member of the GALZ executive committee who was accompanied by GALZ’s legal representative. The board refused to change its position although it was clear that most had not even made the effort to view the film.

GALZ launched an official appeal which pointed out that Philadelphia, The Crying Game, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Four Weddings and a Funeral (all containing overt homosexual content) had appeared on the mainstream film circuit in Zimbabwe within the previous 12 months.

The board did not reply to any of the letters sent by GALZ’s lawyer and so an application was made to court for a mandamus, forcing the board to hand down its decision. Almost four years later, the matter was heard before the High Court on 21st January 1998 and the judgment ordered the Censorship Board to hand down its judgment within 30 days and pay the legal costs incurred by GALZ.

Only after threatening board members with imprisonment for contempt of court did GALZ receive a reply which stated that the board had made a decision as far back as July 1996.However, this was unlikely to be the case since the decision had never been gazetted.

GALZ considered pursuing the matter in the Supreme Court but, being fully occupied with other campaigns and no longer fearing the seizure of materials by the police who, by then, had seen the video and book library at the GALZ Centre, the association decided to drop the case in June 1998.