Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Morgan Tsvangirai has publicly called for gay rights to be enshrined in Zimbabwe's new Constitution - reversing his previous opposition to homosexuality. Speaking on the BBC, Zimbabwe's Prime Minister admitted that the issue was extremely controversial in his country - where there was a 'strong cultural feeling' against homosexuality - but clearly stated his belief that gay rights were human rights.
"My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, as long as it does not interfere with anybody."
He added that he would defend gay rights if he became President.
It is a very welcome reversal of his earlier public position - when he joined President Robert Mugabe in opposing homosexuality. Unsurprisingly, his change of heart has met with a fierce response in some quarters, particualry from members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. Questionned in parliament, Tsvangirai made it clear that it was his own personal opinion and that whether or not gay rights were enshrined in the final Constitution was dependent on the will of the people.
However, his statement will give impetus to the campaign to get LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) rights into the Constitution and provides much-needed support to activists and LGBTI people in Zimbabwe. And indeed across the southern African region - where very few politicians or public figures are prepared to openly support LGBTI rights.
Outside South Africa, the only leader to speak out has been the former President of Botswana, Fesus Mogae, who has publicly called for adult same-sex relations to be decriminalised. But Tsvangirai has gone even further than that - calling for them to be enshrined in the Constitution like all the other basic human rights. It is a critical step in the fight against intolerance and bigotry in the region.
Zimbabwe is in the process of drafting a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum ahead of the elections. The referendum is expected to take place in 2012. Homosexual acts are currently illegal in Zimbabwe, as in most African countries where many people view homosexuality as un-Christian and un-African.