President Sam Nujoma says homosexuality is unAfrican
Southern African leaders have been accused of blaming homosexuals for their countries' problems.
A joint report released in Cape Town by two human rights organisations said that verbal attacks by African leaders had led to a culture of intolerance in their countries.
Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) have documented harassment and violence against lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Their report says that victims have been assaulted, jailed, sacked from jobs, denied access to healthcare, expelled from schools, evicted from their homes and driven into exile, or even to suicide.
"When Southern African political leaders like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe make speeches saying that gays and lesbians are 'worse than dogs and pigs', it should be no surprise that violent attacks follow," said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch, co-author of the report.
"These attacks are just the first step in creating a climate in which
all rights are at risk," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC.
The report was compiled from eyewitness testimonies. One 16 year-old Zimbabwean gay man, tells how four plain clothes policemen confronted him and a friend in November 2001 at a shopping centre in Harare.
"They showed us their IDs, they were CIO [presidential security police]. They handcuffed me and threw me in a car. They called my friend over, and they said to us, 'You gay people, you should be killed'."
He said they beat them both and drove him about until night before he was thrown into a prison cell.
The two organisations are calling on the five governments to stop promoting intolerance and inciting discrimination and abuse. They also urge:
repeal of laws banning sodomy;
enacting protection against discrimination;
promoting awareness of people's rights.
In South Africa, the constitution outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and in March the nation's highest court ruled that gay couples should receive the same financial benefits as heterosexuals.
However, the report concludes that any equality is fragile, and even endangered by "the silence and foot-dragging of political leaders in South Africa".