Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Criminal Law Act 2006, which criminalises acts of ‘sodomy’. This provision carries a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and a fine. Only men are criminalised under this law.

Zimbabwe codified its criminal laws in 2006, explicitly criminalising same-sex sexual activity in legislation for the first time since it gained its independence. Prior to this, Zimbabwe’s criminal provisions operated under the common law inherited from the British during the colonial period, under which ‘sodomy’ was criminalised.

There is some evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being occasionally subject to arrest, though there appear to be no successful prosecutions under the law. There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including assault, sexual violence, harassment, blackmail, and the denial of basic rights and services.



In September, two individuals were arrested on charges of sodomy in Gweru. One of them asked the police to arrest his partner because of an initial deception – the belief that his partner was a woman. After all, they were both arrested and charged for engaging in consensual same-sex activity.

Still in September, a 42-year-old man committed suicide in Gokwe while being on the run, chased by police for alleged sodomy.


The US Department of state report found that there were no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual conduct. This has been the consistent finding of these reports in recent years.


In April, two men were arrested on “homosexuality charges” for allegedly urinating behind the back of a bar. The men were held in jail where they were beaten, and then released on bail. The outcome of the case is not known.


The US Department of State report noted that police reportedly detained and held persons suspected of being gay for up to 48 hours before releasing them. LGBT advocacy groups also reported police used extortion and threats to intimidate persons based on their sexual orientation.


In January, a transgender activist was arrested after entering a female toilet. She was forced to strip and examined by doctors. She was charged with ‘criminal nuisance’ after spending two nights in jail, but the charges were dropped.

It was reported in May that a Budiriro councillor and a colleague had been charged with ‘sodomy’ after being found in a “compromising” position. A magistrate’s court denied the councillor’s request for bail, citing then President Mugabe’s homophobic rants to highlight the alleged seriousness of the charge. The pair were acquitted in July.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State reported that LGBT community leaders found that instances of state-sanctioned violence targeted at LGBT individuals were lower than in the previous administration. The report however mentions harassment, discrimination, blackmail because of criminalisation, and uninvestigated homophobic attacks.


In November, gay TV star Somizi Mhlongo cancelled a trip to Zimbabwe after the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe wrote to the government to ban his entry to the country. Mhlongo had been invited to the reopening of a restaurant in Harare.


The US Department of State report noted that local organisations stated that LGBT people were vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and blackmail, and felt unsafe and unwelcome in churches. Transgender people experienced discrimination when presenting documents which didn’t correspond with their identity. A local organisation noted a decline in the arrest and detention of LGBT community members but found that half of gay men had experienced being assaulted, and 64% had been disowned by their families. 27% of lesbians reported harassment, assault, or disownment.


Research published in 2019 found that 43% of LGBT people had experienced physical violence in their lifetime, with 23% reporting incidents in the previous year, while 39% had experienced sexual violence (18% in last year). Additionally, 63% had experienced verbal harassment related to their sexual orientation and gender identity (39% in the previous year).


With the inauguration of Robert Mugabe’s replacement, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in November 2017, LGBT activists were reported to be uncertain as to whether Mnangagwa’s Presidency would mark a departure from Mugabe’s deeply homophobic position (see below). However, in 2018 President Mnangagwa rejected calls to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity, claiming that it is his duty to obey the Constitution, under which it is “banned”.


The US Department of State report noted that some families subject LGBT relatives, particularly women, to ‘corrective rape’ and forced marriages to encourage heterosexuality. These crimes were rarely reported.

President Robert Mugabe, who was known for making deeply homophobic comments on numerous occasions, was ousted by his party in November. In 2015, Mugabe declared to the UN General Assembly that Zimbabwe rejects attempts to proscribe “new rights” contrary to its values, norms, traditions, and beliefs. “We are not gays!”, he asserted. In 2013, he stated that gays were “worse that dogs and pigs”, and threatened to behead them.

[Gays are] worse than dogs and pigs.

Former President, Robert Mugabe, 2013


Human Rights Watch’s World Report observed that in 2015: “Authorities continued to violate rights of LGBT people. A Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission report published in July showed continued hostility and systematic discrimination by police and politicians against LGBT people, driving many underground.”


Local LGBT organisation Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) faced severe discrimination and legal action throughout 2014. In February, after a lengthy court trial, the Harare Magistrates Court cleared the Chair of GALZ of running an “unregistered” organisation in contravention of the law. In March, police arrested two members of GALZ for organising a media training workshop without police clearance. In December, a group of intruders forced their way into the private year-end event of (GALZ), attacking, robbing, and leaving 35 attendees injured. However, in January, the High Court ruled that the 2012 raid on the offices of GALZ (see below) was unlawful.


In August, police officers raided the offices of GALZ and confiscated documents, after the group was allegedly preparing to launch a report on the abuse suffered by LGBT people in Zimbabwe. The police assault some of those present during the raid.


Local Organisations

Purple Hand Africa

an organisation based in Zimbabwe which aims to humanise LGBT narratives and build a more inclusive society.

Trans Smart Trust

an organisation which focusses on the wellbeing of transgender and intersex people in Zimbabwe.

Related Countries


Zambia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.


Malawi criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment with corporal punishment.


Namibia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. The sentence available under the law is not clear.

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