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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel to Zimbabwe

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel to Zimbabwe

We are occasionally asked, "What are Zimbabwe's attitudes towards to LGBT community", or "Is Zimbabwe suitable for LGBT travellers?" This is our understanding of the issue.

Laws concerning LGBT isues in Zimbabwe

At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe's new government inherited common law provisions against sodomy. Despite this there remained an active gay scene in large urban areas and the law was seldom enforced.

In 1990 the LGBT rights group, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) was formed, with one of it main goals being to assist people with HIV and AIDS. By then, the virus had spread widely across the whole of Zimbabwean society.

The apparent tolerance towards the LGBT community lasted until 1995, when President Mugabe is said to have come across a stall set up by GALZ at a book fair in Harare. This led to some extreme comments from the president, and ushered in a period of active government campaigns against homosexual men and women.

Among these, in 1996, was the arrest of Zimbabwe's first president, a Methodist minister named Canaan Banana, on charges of sodomy and indecent assault. The trial was very public and Canaan was eventually found guilty, but his wife later maintained that, whilst Canaan was gay, the charges had been politically motivated. Canaan had been in the same ZANU party as Mugabe. but had taken a much more conciliatory approach to former enemies. and Mugabe had ousted him from power.
Meanwhile, Mugabe's homophobic rhetoric continued unabated. In 2006, as Zimbabwe was becoming increasingly dysfunctional, the government passed a "sexual deviancy" law that criminalised any actions "perceived as homosexual" - in theory making it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands or kiss. Penalties included fines and up to ten years in prison. The irony of this is that in conservative, rural areas of Zimbabwe it has long been the norm for friends to wander around hand in hand without a second thought, and without this behaviour having any sexual connotations at all.

Whilst most of the government's actions in the last 20 years or so have been aimed at the homosexual community, the subject of female homosexuality and other non-straight identities is still viewed negatively, an attitude that is often reinforced by the Zimbabwean press.

Current politics around LGBT issues in Zimbabwe

Things have relaxed a lot since Robert Mugabe was ousted from power in 2017, although Zimbabwe's current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has made it clear that changing the countries laws on same-sex activity is not on his agenda. It's "not my duty to campaign for this", he told CNN in January 2018.

However, he has also refrained from any of the fiery anti-LGBT rhetoric of his predecessor, and his desire for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth suggests that he's likely to take a more liberal stance. This in turn gives a glimmer of hope for future reform, though we'd expect any changes to happen slowly.

LGBT travellers in Zimbabwe

Reading the above, Zimbabwe can seem an unwelcoming country for LGBT travellers, although for the most part we've found Mugabe's stance to be little more than an appeal to a rural, traditional base of supporters.

Even as the country was going downhill in the last decade or so of Mugabe's rule, tourists were universally welcomed by politicians of all hues. As far as we know no tourists to Zimbabwe has ever been charged under any of the country's homophobic laws.

We have been arranging trips to Zimbabwe for over 20 years, during which time none of our travellers, including those who identify as LGBT, have encountered any problems with regards to their sexuality. Travellers sexual preferences and gender identity are their own business, and nobody we've met, or heard about, in the country has ever shown any interest in prying into this aspect of our travellers lives.

While the law and private attitudes may not be supportive of same-sex couples, our clear expectation is that provided our travellers avoid public displays of affection, they should not receive any negative attention. Indeed, overt public displays of affection by any couple - gay or straight - risk causing upset and offence, particularly in more rural conservative areas, so we would extend this advice to all of our travellers.

We routinely inform safari camps and hotels whether couples require double or twin beds. To date we have had no problems with such requests, regardless of the configuration of genders. Camp staff are increasingly exposed to a diversity of people from around the world, and while some members of staff may be more conservative in their beliefs than others, it is almost unheard of for anyone to act in a way that isn't tolerant or professional.

Further sources of advice

We hope that this advice is helpful, and gives you a good background on LGBT travel in Zimbabwe, but please do call us if you would like to discuss the issue in more detail. In addition, the following may help:

Our top picks for holidays to Zimbabwe

We'll always tailor-make your Safari for you. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you.

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Nyala Safari

10 days • 3 locations

A superb luxury safari in iconic Hwange and Mana Pools national parks, staying in a pair of the finest safari camps in Zimbabwe, with a grand finale at Victoria Falls

US$10,150 - US$15,050 per person

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Ground Hornbill Safari

9 days • 3 locations

This Zimbabwean odyssey explores Hwange National Park from two small camps, renowned for their great guiding, before ending with insights into cultural history, a little luxury and first-class rhino tracking in the Matobo Hills.

US$5,270 - US$8,560 per person

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Buffalo Safari

9 days • 3 locations

Combining Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools and Hwange national parks with stays at intimate six-tent safari camps offering excellent walking, canoeing and game drives. Superb wildlife viewing and a real wilderness-focused experience.

US$8,040 - US$11,910 per person

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Grysbok Safari

9 days • 3 locations

Discover three of Zimbabwe’s iconic destinations in style, flying between Hwange, Mana Pools and Lake Kariba on this varied safari adventure staying at authentic yet luxurious camps.

US$8,990 - US$14,380 per person

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Pied Kingfisher Safari

9 days • 3 locations

A luxury safari combining three of Zimbabwe's top highlights. The trip uses some of the finest safari camps in Zimbabwe and is perfect for a family or small group.

US$7,000 - US$10,780 per person

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Klipspringer Safari

8 days • 3 locations

An outstanding-value Zimbabwe safari exploring Victoria Falls and two contrasting locations in western Zimbabwe – Hwange and the Matobo Hills – giving you a real feel for Zimbabwe, its people and wildlife.

US$2,890 - US$3,570 per person

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Lion Safari

7 days • 2 locations

The classic Expert Africa Zimbabwe safari. Combining two of our favourite independent camps, each run by celebrated guides, exciting game drives, world-class walks and canoeing in premier wildlife watching destinations.

US$6,950 - US$9,830 per person

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Bat Hawk Safari

7 days • 2 locations

Explore two areas revered by safari enthusiasts with some of Africa’s best walking and some superb guiding – even by Zimbabwe’s high standards – for a varied and wonderfully immersive wilderness experience.

US$7,880 - US$9,130 per person

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Great Egret Safari

12 days • 4 locations

This wonderfully varied adventure combines Botswana's Okavango Delta and a live-aboard houseboat safari on the Chobe River, with big game in Zimbabwe's dry Hwange National Park and the stupendous Victoria Falls.

US$9,250 - US$17,160 per person

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Side-striped Jackal Safari

6 days • 2 locations

Get an in-depth experience of Zimbabwe’s colossal Hwange National Park, staying at two experience-focused camps with excellent guiding in contrasting areas. An adventurous safari for the real enthusiast.

US$3,480 - US$5,460 per person

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