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Outcry after St John’s College teacher discloses that he is gay

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Neal Hovelmeier

Neal Hovelmeier, a St John’s College teacher in Harare has triggered a furore after coming out to students and parents as gay to pre-empt a newspaper story that would have outed him.

Neal Hovelmeier and headmaster Cavaliere Corrado Trinci wrote a letter revealing his homosexuality to parents after announcing it during assembly at the boys only school.

Neal Hovelmeier said he made the decision in the hope it would curb homophobic behaviour after some former pupils who had gained confidence after school to pursue their sexual orientation told him how they had “intolerance, intimidation and homophobia” while at St John’s.

The 6th form teacher’s admission sparked heated debate countrywide and on social media, which some critics saying the school should not have assembled pupils to make the disclosure.

In a Twitter polls asking participants if they would be happy with Neal Hovelmeier teaching their sons, over 6 500 or 52 percent voted ‘no’, compared to 36 percent who said ‘yes’ and 12 percent who were ‘undecided’.

“I don’t have a problem with him being gay. I just think that he didn’t have to assemble children and announce that he is gay,” Twitter user Kudzai Mutisi posted on the network. “Parents will take this as an attempt to influence their kids. After all, these kids look up to him.”

During a meeting at the school on Monday, angry parents demanded that all officials involved in the debacle quit – including headmaster Trinci, Hovelmeier, second deputy headmaster Andrew Sakala and Charles Msipa, chairman of the school’s board of governors.

As tempers flared, fistfights broke out among some parents, while others had to be restrained from assaulting school officials.

In a statement, Msipa took full responsibility over the matter, saying he had taken legal advise after the Daily News enquiry and had been advised to run ahead of the story.

Msipha said he had approved the release of the communication without board approval because the publication of the story appeared imminent.

“On a personal level, it is my respectful view that the college should continue to strive to provide a safe, caring, inclusive, diverse and tolerant environment and space for all persons regardless of race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities,” Msipa added.

Zimbabwe is a deeply conservative country, with Christianity the dominant religion, and homosexuality is generally frowned upon. Former President Robert Mugabe once described gays as “worse than pigs and dogs”.

His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa who has been careful not to upset Western countries as he struggles with a legitimacy question over his rule after a disputed July 30 election  has avoided expressing a personal opinion, only saying he is guided by the Constitution whenever the question arises.

African News Agency

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BUSINESS

Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers

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Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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NEWS

Chinamasa calls U.S. ambassador ‘thug’ as anti-government protests loom

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Chinamasa

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government.

Without providing evidence, ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that U.S. ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, was involved in subversive activities to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chinamasa’s comments echo the Robert Mugabe era, where the ZANU-PF government regularly accused the United States and Britain of seeking to dislodge it from power.

“He (Nichols) continues to engage in acts of undermining this republic and if he does so, if he continues engaging in acts of mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders,” Chinamasa said.
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”

The U.S. embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to Chinamasa’s comments. Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African nation after activists called for demonstrations on July 31 against government corruption, which they blame for deepening the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Last month, the government summoned Nichols after a senior White House official said Zimbabwe was among “foreign adversaries” using the civil unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd to interfere in U.S. affairs.

The U.S., Britain, E.U. embassies and the United Nations have all criticised Zimbabwe for the arrest of journalists and political challengers.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the West were promising when Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, but have soured over the government’s human rights record.

Patrick Chinamasa urged party supporters to defend themselves from protesters and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed post-election demonstrations in August 2018 and the January 2019 protests over a steep fuel price hike.“No, this time no. Use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves,” Chinamasa said. Organisers say this week’s protests will be peaceful. Reuters

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HEALTH

Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Agriculture Minister Dies

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Perrence-Shiri-Dead

Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perence Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has died, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Perence Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement. He did not say how Shiri died.

But domestic media said Shiri, 65, succumbed to complications from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,817 and killed 40 in Zimbabwe.

A liberation war veteran,Perrence Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.

The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Perence Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.Reuters

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