In the crowded streets of Harare’s central business district, Mojalifa waits for a taxi to take him to the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) office for a coalition meeting for LGBTQI+ organizations and activists.
Mojalifa Ndlovu is an openly gay man living in Zimbabwe, and an LGBTQI+ rights activist at the center of the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) work, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to build and promote a strong coalition of LGBTQI+ groups on electoral reform. In his early 20s, Mojalifa decided to put aside his dream of being a nurse to help establish the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), an organization focused on the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights in Zimbabwe. SRC is the facilitator of the LGBTQI+ coalition and works closely with NDI on political and electoral reform, including challenging systematic exclusion and discrimination. NDI knows that democracies are more likely to develop and endure when all citizens are able to participate without reprisal. LGBTQI+ communities who are able to engage in democratic processes have greater levels of acceptance in their wider communities and are able to more readily address exclusionary institutions, laws, practices and norms.
Through his work as an LGBTQI+ activist and for SRC–in a country that outlaws same-sex marriage and does not provide protections for LGBTQI+ persons–Mojalifa has been exposed to numerous threats of violence, noting: "I had a lot of unknown cars following me home. It was creepy but I also understood that the risks came with the work. I lost friends and other family members who felt by coming out openly as gay I was kind of tarnishing them, so they chose to disassociate themselves with me. But I have remained resolute. My sexual orientation is not a hinderence to acheiving my goals and working hard for the betterment of our communities."
To achieve meaningful and lasting change, we believe first in harnessing individual and collective self-determination, voice, agency, and empowerment of marginalized, vulnerable, and key populations. We believe it is when they are empowered, they are capable of challenging and redressing the deep-rooted inequalities and inequities that predispose them to multiple vulnerabilities.
For Mojalifa, the existence of strict anti-LGBTQI+ laws creates an environment that violates the basic human rights of LGBTQI+ communities and restricts their space for collective action and political organizing. Due to stigma, discrimination and exclusion that LGBTQI+ communities face, SRC and the coalition are working to empower LGBTQI+ voices to call for reform and promote their rights and fundamental freedoms. Reflecting on his experience with the LGBTQI+ coalition, Mojalifa explained that this has been groundbreaking work. Since its inception 15 years ago, SRC’s work has brought acceptance and visibility to the LGBTQI+ community, with programs bringing together parents, friends, and religious and traditional leaders to affirm their solidarity and learn about the challenges that face LGBTQI+ communities in Zimbabwe.
SRC’s goal is to change the environment of fear, exclusion and stigma that impedes LGBTQI+ communities from civic participation in the democratic process, especially ahead of the 2023 election. NDI supported the coalition in developing an advocacy roadmap that will guide activities in the lead up to the election. Mojalifa and his colleagues are particularly excited about the role the coalition will play in promoting voting rights and the equal participation of all Zimbabweans, including LGBTQI+ communities. Through their project, people who lack the required documentation to vote will be assisted to access national identity documents with gender matching markers that will allow greater participation in political processes.
As an LGBTQI+ rights activist working in Zimbabwe, I am motivated by the need to see the change we have desired for many years, the exclusion and discrimination, the hate crimes ... have all kept me fighting for change. It is my hope that we fight and create an enabling environment where all persons can live their lives freely and equally as others.
Looking forward to 2023, Mojalifa and his colleagues are hopeful that a united coalition will increase active participation of LGBTQI+ communities in the upcoming elections to ensure their voices are heard and the right to participate in political processes and elections is respected. Mojalifa and the LGBTQI+ coalition will continue to champion the idea that participating in democratic and electoral processes is a constitutional right that should be open to everyone, and is an effective way to counter exclusion and marginalization.
NDI's engagement in Zimbabwe is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development.
Author: Tinashe Mundawarara, Senior Program Officer, NDI-Zimbabwe
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.