Zimbabwe has a history of discriminating against and harassing LGBTI people, with former President Robert Mugabe once describing them as “worse than dogs and pigs” and saying they have no legal rights.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been less vocal against LGBTI people, but hostility from some sections of society remains.
The uproar involving Mhlongo “is not an isolated incident,” said Chester Samba, director of GALZ, an LGBTI rights group.
Discrimination “plays out in a plethora of ways,” he told The Associated Press on Friday.
Sometimes when LGBTI people report crimes such as theft and violence against them, “the police have responded by arresting them rather than the perpetrator — often in the hope of extracting ﬁnancial gain from the victims by exploiting their fear of exposure,” said Samba.
Members of Zimbabwe's LGBTI community have also faced discrimination when trying to get vaccinated against COVID-19, he said. GALZ has worked to “support the vaccination drive by partnering health service providers to provide services in premises where our communities feel comfortable in accessing these without harassment,” he said.
Debate over the issue has been raging on social media in Zimbabwe. Some people accused the anti-LGBTI groups of hypocrisy by openly associating with religious groups that promote child marriages.
Sex between men is a crime in Zimbabwe that carries a sentence of up to a year in prison and the country's constitution bans same-sex marriages.