August 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Zimbabwe Mob Destroys Exhibit On Gay Rights

Associated Press

Demonstrators destroyed Zimbabwe’s first gay rights exhibit Saturday minutes after activists staffing the booth fled a jeering mob.

The government had fought to keep Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe out of Africa’s biggest book fair, saying its material was obscene. The display was allowed after a judge ruled in favor of the country’s only gay organization.

The booth, festooned with pink balloons, was set up near the back entrance of the hall to allow the activists to escape if necessary.

Activists faced off Saturday with hecklers, including a man who attempted to grab and kiss a lesbian staffing the booth.

The activists distributed information on gay rights for three hours on the last day of the fair, but trouble started shortly before they were scheduled to leave.

Some protesters jeered “Down with homosexuals” in the local Shona language. Others chanted, “Our president says no,” a reference to President Robert Mugabe, who banned the group from the fair last year.

The group decided it had made its point and left early. Protesters then set the pamphlets ablaze and broke up the booth.

“Our system doesn’t allow homosexuality,” said protester Tendayi Musarurwa. “These people must not be allowed here.”

But Derek Matyszak, a spokesman for group, said the exhibit was a victory “not only for us but for human rights and any minority group in Zimbabwe.”

Some 700 publishers, booksellers, librarians and authors from 42 countries are attending the fair.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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