A gay Malawian couple who were recently released from prison following international campaigning, have announcing they are splitting up. Their decision has been attributed to homophobic pressure.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour after going through a traditional engagement ceremony. Global outrage and lobbying led the Secretary-General of the United Nations to intervene on their behalf and they were pardoned by the President of Malawi on 29 May.
But despite their release, Monjeza and Chimbalanga are still receiving death threats. The Malawian government is reported to have threatened to re-arrest them if they continue with their relationship.
Monjeza announced this week that he had split up with Chimbalanga.
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who was at the forefront of the campaign for the couple’s release, said that he respected their decision. He added, “Like Romeo and Juliet, their love has been destroyed by prejudice and hatred”.
The case provoked considerable debate in Malawi about same-sex love and sexual ethics. Many were taken by surprise by the level of the international reaction against the couple’s imprisonment. Equality activists, both inside and outside Africa, have welcomed the release of Monjeza and Chimbalanga as a significant campaigning success.
“Whatever their feelings for each other now, Steven and Tiwonge have done more for gay and transgender rights in Malawi than anyone else,” said Tatchell, “I salute them. They are lions of Africa. They have helped continue the unfinished African liberation struggle by pursuing freedom for gay, bisexual and transgender Africans.”
But he insisted that they had never set out to be political.
"Their engagement ceremony was not staged,” he said, “No one was coerced and no one pressured them to do it. They did it solely out of love for each other. It was their idea.”
Tatchell added that his support for the men was motivated by the same concerns that made him active in the 1970s and 1980s in support of Malawians campaigning against dictatorship.