Many have held little hope for the repeal of the draconian anti-homosexual penal codes, remnants of the Colonial era, still plaguing more than 30 African countries. However, while some countries seek stricter and harsher laws to criminalize homosexuality, Mozambique has succesfully decriminalized it this week, by implementing a new penal code, effectively sweeping away the old Portuguese colonial laws.
The old code, dating back to 1886, targeted anyone “who habitually engages in vices against nature” — though no known prosecutions took place after Mozambique became independent in 1975.
Breaking the law was punishable by up to three years of hard labor.
The new penal code, announced last December by then President Armando Guebuza, serves further to decriminalize abortion. Women can now end a pregnancy until the 12th week. Extraordinary circumstances, such as rape or threats to the mother's life, allow for the procedure until the 16th week.
Perhaps Mozambique's success can be attributed further to the inability of the Western religious radical right wingnuts to reach their claws into the psyche of that country, leaving it largely a non issue. Though homosexuality is still hardly accepted by most people in Mocambique, there has been some positive influence from its neighbor, South Africa, where LGBTI people enjoy full equality under the new democratized 20 year old Constituion. At the same time the extreme negative rhetoric of the rabidly anti-gay President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, can be heard reverberating across the other neighboring border.
It is also important to note that respected former President Joaquim Chissano of Mocambique (serving from 1986-2005) has been an open international advocate for LGBTI rights and the destigmatization of homosexuality.
Picture: By Melanie Nathan, at a recent SAfAIDS conference with former President Chissano, speaking out against homophobia in African countries. ( May 2014)