Banana goes to the big house

Zimbabwe's former president is sentenced to jail for performing "unnatural acts" on his cook, bodyguard and gardener.

By Jack Boulware

Published June 2, 2000 7:33PM (EDT)

The government of Zimbabwe reiterated its stance that homosexuality is illegal this week when it sentenced the country's former president to prison on charges of sodomy and sexual assault.

The 64-year-old disgraced politician -- with the unfortunate name of Canaan Banana -- was convicted in 1999 on 11 counts, which included the carrying out of "unnatural acts" with male members of his presidential staff. Banana appealed the convictions, asserting they violated privacy rights granted by Zimbabwe's constitution, but to no avail. He is due to turn himself in to authorities for a yearlong incarceration.

Banana became prominent in Zimbabwean politics after the country's independence in 1980, and served as ceremonial president from that time until 1987, alongside then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, now the executive president.

During that time, according to court records, Banana abused his power to force himself sexually on male staff members. Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay said that Banana used "his immense superiority of status to beat down the resistance of a young and inexperienced" police bodyguard, whose description of Banana's sexual assaults Gubbay termed "a horrifying tale."

The judge added that the cook and gardener at Banana's official residence were afraid that if they rebuffed his advances, they would be arrested and killed.

According to the Associated Press, authorities arrested Banana after a deadly shooting involving one of his conquests. A police bodyguard snapped under the pressure of Banana's repeated sexual advances, and shot and killed a fellow policeman who had called him "Banana's wife." The bodyguard was sent to prison, and Banana ended up in court in a scandalous 1998 trial that rocked the country.

Zimbabwe's government maintains a harsh view of homosexuals. Mugabe has called them "lower than pigs and dogs." During Banana's trial, the country's five Supreme Court judges split their opinions on the matter. Should consensual sodomy by homosexuals continue to remain illegal? According to Gubbay, a majority of the judges accepted Africa's conservative attitudes toward homosexuality, and the court ruled that the law should stand.

After a two-year trial and his sentencing, Banana still insists the case against him was fueled by his political opponents. A Methodist minister and former diplomat, Banana mediated in factional fighting in the 1980s and in the Liberian civil war.

He has no plans to change his name at present.

Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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