The Blackmailers’ Charter

An act of blackmail, or extortion (as it is referred to in legal terms) is making an unwarranted demand with menaces with a view to gain or to cause a loss: in other words, it is threatening to discredit one or more people by revealing damaging information about them unless they make it worth your while not to do so. Blackmail is a particular problem for homosexuals in Zimbabwe where government leaders have whipped up a hysterical climate of homophobia and have even encouraged people to make citizens arrests of ‘gays’ should they see them in the streets.

The extortion menace in Zimbabwe is directly attributable to homophobic laws that target homosexuals. Under common law, sodomy was considered an ‘unnatural offence’ and was narrowly defined as the penetration of one man’s anus by another’s penis. This law became the ‘Blackmailers’ Charter’, giving them license to expose homosexuals as criminals. This common law has subsequently been codified under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. (See GALZ and the Law)

The skill to blackmail is measured in terms of the amount of fear that blackmailers can instill in their victims which increases the blackmailers’ ability to pressure their victims into paying. The current law and State disapproval at the highest level of homosexuals provide the perfect culture for blackmailers to operate in. One sexual act, or even an ordinary casual encounter, may soon be followed by demands for money and threats of exposure or a report to the police.

The sensational trials and subsequent convictions in the High Court, in 1998, and the Supreme Court, in 1999, of the first President of Zimbabwe, Reverend Canaan Banana, on 11 counts of sexual assault against his male employees and other men, led to a sharp increase in the number of cases of blackmail reported to GALZ. It was clear to potential blackmailers that, such was State disapproval of homosexuality, that not even the most highly positioned male members of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, would be spared public humiliation if they engaged in sexual relationships with other men.

Although GALZ has dealt with a few cases of attempted blackmail against lesbians, there is nothing under the law which criminalises sex between women. At best, the police can charge lesbians with indecent exposure. For this reason, blackmail remains almost exclusively a gay-male phenomenon and it is most likely to happen where there is a large economic gap between the partners and where the poorer partner is dependant on the wealthier one. In cases of relationships that have gone sour, the dependant may feel deprived: the gravy train has stopped and he is being told to get off. He has no legal recourse to divorce courts since same-sex unions are not recognised under the law in this country; and so, in an attempt to maintain his comfortable lifestyle, the dependant chooses to threaten his partner with arrest or social humiliation within the family or workplace unless he continues to pay.

Another major cause of blackmail is cruising or picking up sex workers from the streets. These two habits can lead to serious consequences. Once you pick somebody up and you let him see where you live or where you work, he can easily use this information against you. Blackmailers have also been known to keep detailed notes about private body parts, such as scars or birthmarks, which they use as evidence that sex did indeed take place.

Targets of blackmail often feel they have little choice but to hand over money to protect their social and professional standing. Such is the stigma attached to same-sex relationships, professionals stand to lose a great deal if they are suddenly outed as homosexual in their workplaces and their careers may be threatened.
It is relatively easy to recognise blackmail. Usually it begins as asking for favours: for example after sleeping with somebody, a blackmailer may feign illness and ask for money to seek treatment. After the victim makes an initial payment, the blackmailer continues to ask for more, either using the same excuse or inventing others such as “you gave me AIDS.” This last accusation is particularly effective in a country where transmission of HIV may attract a hefty prison sentence of up to 15 years. Such claims are probably untrue but the art of blackmailing is the ability to instill fear. The potential claim by a blackmailer that he has been infected by HIV is yet another powerful reason why consistent condom use is necessary.

GALZ consistently warns against giving in to blackmailers. Those who are being blackmailed, need to be very courageous and be prepared to be outed. The first step before handing over any money is to seek legal advice. The moment you pay up it is a sure sign of admission of guilt and the extortions will continue. And once other blackmailers find out the extortion is working, they will also come after you. Rather spend your money on a legal defence than continuing to pay extortionists. Once your money is finished, you will probably still have to go through the trauma of a court case, except that now you won’t have any money to pay for the legal fees.

When it comes to homosexuality, Zimbabwean law is both very confused and extremely unfair and sexist. Sodomy does not apply to anal sex between men and women, only to two men and, until January 2006, there was no distinction under the law between consensual sodomy and male rape.

With consensual sodomy, both parties are considered to have committed a crime. A blackmailer knows that if he reports to the police that he has had anal sex with another man, he, too, stands to be arrested for sodomy. For this reason, blackmailers invariably report that they have been raped. One blackmailer went as far as to claim that he had been kidnapped for a year and used as a sex toy. Staggering though it may seem, the police took his claim seriously.

Blackmailers are generally aware that extortion is illegal (it carries a two-year prison sentence whereas consensual sodomy generally attracts a fine) and so they generally report that they are demanding compensation or damages for sexual assault. In a sexist society such as that prevailing in Zimbabwe, claiming that you have been ‘used as a woman’ also acts as a defence, as it did in the case of The State vs. Dube, where the death penalty for Dube was commuted to ten years imprisonment because Dube claimed in court that he murdered his victim because the latter had accused him of being Canaan Banana’s wife.

There are other sexist inconsistencies in the law. In heterosexual rape, the issue of consent is an essential element of the offense and this must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In sodomy, all that needs to be proved is penetration of the anus, as consent is no defence. It is then often assumed that it was non-consensual (as it was during the Banana trial) without the issue of consent being examined in any detail. One is then effectively found guilty of homosexual rape (even though the offense is not named as such in Zimbabwean law) without the issue of consent receiving proper consideration. This is yet another reason why blackmailers can so easily get away with reporting their victims to the police as rapists.

Before succumbing to blackmail, it is necessary that people spell out to the blackmailer that, whereas their own offense attracts only a fine, that of blackmail attracts a prison term of not less than two years. This is likely to deter the blackmailer. It is also wise to keep any documentation of threats and demands. The law can use this evidence against the offender.

Rights Come with Responsibilities

Whatever one’s views on sex in public places or the hiring of sex workers (both of which are legal in other countries such as South Africa), it is essential that homosexuals in Zimbabwe remember that they live under an extremely homophobic climate. Even for those who are out to family and friends about their homosexuality, blackmail can be an extremely frightening and distressing experience. For those still in the closet, fears of exposure in a media that delights in reporting on cases of alleged male rape (especially when the wealthier partner is white) become much more extreme. One needs to ask oneself: “Is it worth throwing away my money, reputation and any chance of a good night’s rest for the next five or ten years just for a one-night stand?”

We need to act in a responsible manner. If you have sex with someone without using protection and the person accuses you of having infected him with HIV, it may not be true but you have still acted irresponsibly and you need to accept some blame. Sex with underage people will not only slap you with an additional charge of statutory rape but will earn you no sympathy from the LGBTI community and leave you without support from GALZ. And by giving in to blackmail, you send out a message to all extortionists (and would-be extortionists) that theirs is a rewarding career. They will gain confidence and continue to enrich themselves through their behaviour and each time they are successful it encourages others to enter the profession. The aim is to stamp out the plague and bring the culprits to justice, not to encourage them to find new victims and swell their ranks.

And finally, never insist that someone have sex with you. It is only recently that marital rape was recognised under Zimbabwean law but, even so, every person has the right to bodily integrity which means that he or she has the right to say no to sex even if both parties are within a long-term relationship.

Are You At Risk?

GALZ offers assistance and advice to members who believe they are being blackmailed. If you are in this position, contact the GALZ Director and ask for an appointment (See Contact Us). Only very rarely does a case of attempted blackmail which GALZ has dealt with reach the courts so there is every reason to ask GALZ for assistance if you feel you are being threatened.

Consider the following and decide for yourself how much you are at risk of being blackmailed. If you score 0-2, you are probably reasonably safe; 3-4, you need to take precautions; 5-6, you need to change your lifestyle; 7-9 you have probably already been blackmailed.