The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Arrest of gay couple in Malawi spurs debate

On Dec. 28, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested in Malawi for openly celebrating their engagement. Their engagement party, according to The Nation, was the first public display of homosexuality in the country. Homosexuality is a crime in Malawi, and the men may receive a sentence of five to 14 years in prison. Charged with “unnatural acts and gross indecency,” the men went on trial Jan. 11, according to The New York Times.

Mauya Msuku, the couple’s lawyer, told the Times that in Malawi’s Bill of Rights in their new Constitution, it is stated that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

Malawi, a landlocked country colonized by the British, gained its independence in 1964. Since, Malawi has struggled with a dense population and underdevelopment.

In 1994, Malawi became a multi-party democracy, and created the new Constitution.

Despite the Constitution, there has been a recent surge of arrests of gays. A 60-year-old man, according to The Boston Globe, was arrested on Feb. 15 for sodomy. Peter Sawali was arrested on Jan. 30 for handing out posters supporting gay rights. He now faces four years in prison for disturbing the peace.

The most recent arrests of Monjeza and Chimbalanga hold the country riveted. Many Malawians believe homosexuality comes from Western cultures and that it does not belong in their own.

“Homosexuality occurs in every society, and there is a same-sex attraction in every society, but that is not accepted in some cultures,” said Martha Lang, a visiting sociology and anthropology professor and the interim coordinator of LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Alliance). “We cannot apply our Western ideas of queerness to other populations because it must be identified by them.”

Gay rights activists are outraged at the arrest of Monjeza and Chimbalanga and are calling on other countries to help. Groups such as Amnesty International also condemned the arrests. The Malawian government, however, is not apologizing and the trial continues.

Pro-gay groups within Malawi have begun working underground, passing out leaflets and information against AIDS, but the groups are keeping their members’ names secret for fear of persecution.

“For those of us who it is safe to be out, I think we should rise to the occasion to help others, whether it is by signing petitions or talking,” said Lang.

A verdict on Monjeza and Chimbalanga is expected sometime this month, and the outcome may change Malawi’s opinion of gays.

“It is striking to me how dramatic the change in thoughts on homosexuality has been in the United States in my lifetime,” said Dana Professor of Psychology Richie Zweigenhaft. “It shows me that there is always an opportunity to change in cultural ideas.

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