After nearly 40 years of despotic rule, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has finally stepped down, according to parliament speaker Jacob Mudenda. The 93-year-old dictator was perhaps the most virulently homophobic in Africa—condemning LGBT rights, persecuting gay people, and threatening them with death.
On Tuesday, with impeachment proceedings looming, Mugabe finally tendered his resignation as leader of his own Zanu-PF party.
Celebrations broke out in parliament, spreading to the streets of Harare, with thousands dancing, chanting and waving flags. With the military now seemingly in charge, its not clear who will lead Zimbabwe next. Mugabe had wanted to install his wife, Grace, but his former allies among war veterans threatened violence.
Throughout his reign Mugabe used gays as a scapegoat, claiming homosexuality was un-African and “degrades human dignity.”
“It’s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs,” he insisted in 1995. “If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must rededicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings… What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here.”
In 2013, Mugabe denounced Archbishop Desmond Tutu for supporting LGBT rights. That same year he said gay couples who don’t produce children should be beheaded. “If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads.”
After requesting more than a billion dollars in U.S. aid from the Obama administration, Mugabe said he wouldn’t take the money if it meant accepting marriage equality. “If aid is to be given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages, then let that aid stay where it is,” he declared. “We don’t want it. It is rotten aid, filthy aid, and we won’t have anything to do with it.”
Mugabe routinely parodied President Obama’s support for LGBT rights, saying “I shall travel to Washington, get down on my knee, and ask [Obama’s] hand in marriage.” He had indicated support for Donald Trump and hoped he would lift sanctions against Zimbabwe.
In addition to laws against male homosexual activity, the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act has been used to persecute LGBT people and activists, and has hampered efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. A 2006 law criminalizes any actions even perceived as homosexual, including two people of the same gender holding hands or hugging.
LGBT groups are known to be infiltrated by government agents, and homosexuals are often extorted, detained, beaten, and sometimes even raped by authorities. (Former President Canaan Banana was charged with sodomy in 1998 and served six months in prison.)
British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell attempted a citizen’s arrest of Mugabe in Brussels in 2001, but was beaten unconscious by Mugabe’s security guards.