President Robert Mugabe is no stranger to homophobia. Or racism. Or genocide. He once referred to himself as “Hitler-tenfold”, albeit as a somewhat ironic response to accusations from the western press. He likes a laugh too, he’s quite fun for a despot. He’s like a playful mega Hitler.
Last Friday, kicking off his election campaign with the launch of the Zanu-PF manifesto, and in front of a crowd of thousands of supporters in the township of Harare Highfield, Mugabe launched into a tirade against homosexuality which was both nuanced and hilarious. Chuckling throughout, he threatened to jail gay and lesbian couples who fail to conceive any offspring.
“I should like to shut them up in some room and see if they get pregnant,” he said, “if they don’t then its jail because they have claimed they can have children. So, to that kind of rot, we say no, no, no, no!”
It’s unclear exactly what he was laughing at. Say what you will about him, Mugabe is a man who usually follows through on his threats. So, either he’s consciously slipped into self-parody, or he’s laughing because he’s actually going to do it and the thought of it tickles him.
Given the ridiculousness of some of his previous homophobic statements, gay men “behave worse than dogs and pigs” and the “gay world goes against nature” for example, it would be easy to assume it’s the former. Although, given his proclivity for killing en masse and imprisoning homosexuals, it’s probably safer to assume something nearer the latter.
Apparently using himself as his own warm-up act, Mugabe went on to attack gay marriage and attempts by the West to make them lighten up a bit about it. He dared lesbians who assume the role of the husband in their relationships to prove that they were indeed ‘men’: “Women are also engaged in this vile activity.
We have some claiming to be men but what is it that makes you a man? Show us your manhood; you want to make other women your wives and you the husband? Well, that is madness, we refuse to accept that.” Madness would be right.
But maybe we should give President Mugabe the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe he’s just demonstrating an awe-inspiring commitment to self parody, a long-term project which has resulted in “desperate hyperinflation, a drop in male life expectancy from 62 in 1990 to 44 today, widespread cholera, and desperate malnutrition,” all leading up to this moment when he’s going to confess it was all a big joke.
Maybe we should just sit tight and wait for the punchline. After all, after all the good he’s done for Zimbabwe, he probably deserves it.