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Wednesday, August 12, 1998 Published at 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK

Zimbabwe: the problems of progress

Harare: a peaceful and pleasant city - but not for all its residents

They are "worse than pigs and dogs"; they are "the infected limb, which must be amputated"; they are "perversions of nature". 'They' are the homosexuals and lesbians of Zimbabwe, targets of a stream of vitriol from the country's president, Robert Mugabe.

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In this week's Crossing Continents, Rosie Goldsmith travels to Zimbabwe to investigate this outpouring of homophobia. The president's attacks have been backed up by fire-and-brimstone church sermons and a media hate campaign. Zimbabwe's sole homosexual association has been accused of being a front for child abuse and prostitution. Extortionists have started to blackmail gay men, threatening to accuse them of sodomy - which is illegal in Zimbabwe and subject to heavy penalties.

Listen to the programme in full (from 11.00 GMT Thursday)

Homosexuals are bewildered by this hostility, arguing that most of the population is unconcerned by the issue. They deny Mugabe's claims that homosexuality is intrinsically un-African, and universally abhorred. Rosie Goldsmith meets the politicians, churchmen and journalists campaigning against homosexuality and hears how gay men and lesbians are fighting back. (Read more about this story in our Top Features section.)

[ image: Chiwoniso Haraire is blazing a trail in Zimbabwean music]
Chiwoniso Haraire is blazing a trail in Zimbabwean music
And she checks out the newest thing on Zimbabwe's irrepressible music scene - the revival of the mbira, the traditional thumb piano. Rosie meets up-and-coming star Chiwoniso Maraire, one of the first women to make a career of playing what was always a man's
Hear one of Chiwoniso's captivating songs...
instrument. Chiwoniso explains the role of the mbira in passing on the oral history of Africa through song. And she tells us that white Zimbabweans have economic control of the local music industry, even though black and mixed-race Zimbabweans make most of the music.

[ image: Chenjerai Hove on his own home ground]
Chenjerai Hove on his own home ground
The races are also at odds over Zimbabwe's central political issue: land. More than 70% of the prime farmland is still owned by the white 2% of the population. President Mugabe has repeatedly promised to give this land to black farmers and landless 'squatters', although so far he's done little.
Hove: "for us, the land is a shrine...."
Chenjerai Hove, one of Zimbabwe's most respected novelists, gives his views on this intractable issue in a passionate and moving essay, exploring the roots of the people's attachment to the soil. And he warns that unless the issue is resolved, politicians could use it to stoke up racial violence, in what he describes as a tragic outcome for his country.

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Previous programmes in this series of Crossing Continents have visited Western Australia, Barcelona, Singapore, New Mexico and Iceland; you can read more about each of these places, and listen to the programmes in full, by visiting our Archive and Top Features sections. Next week's programme, the last in this series, visits Argentina and investigates what happened to the children of the 'disappeared', abducted by the country's military junta in the 1970s.

Do you have any comments or feedback on the programme? Are there stories or regions you'd like to hear more about?

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Internet Links

The Zimbabwe Independent

BBC Radio 4 homepage

The Herald newspaper

Links to dozens of sites on Zimbabwe's culture, arts and languages

Zimbabwe overview

Chenjerai Hove overview

More on mbira players

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Crossing Continents: packing our bags