Malawi: Couple sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour for getting engaged

Today, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, whom the media calls “Malawi’s first openly gay couple” even though Tiwonge identifies as a woman and her partner as her husband, were given a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts. The judge said he wanted to protect the public from “people like you”. They have been detained in prison and repeatedly denied bail since they were arrested on 28 December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony.

Their treatment has been internationally condemned – although the British government, Malawi’s largest donor, hasn’t withdrawn aid despite expressing its “dismay” – and the case has sparked debate over homosexuality and trans issues in Malawi, a conservative country where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism and President Bingu wa Mutharika has dismissed homosexuality as alien.

Gender DynamiX, a South African trans group, has produced the following video of the South African protest against the conviction of the couple which also addresses the problem of identifying them as a “gay” couple, despite Tiwonge’s expressed female gender identity:

(The direct link to the video is // as far as I’m aware, there is no transcription)


Saturday: The following is a transcript of the video made by Kate, a regular TFW reader, and I cannot thank her enough for generously taking the time and trouble to make this transcript. Thanks Kate!

Opening title:

protest – cape town

transgender woman and her partner in malawi is convicted to 14 years imprisonment for attempting to get engaged.

20 may 2010

Opening scene: Crowd protesting noisily

“Hi, I’m Tebogo Nkoana from Gender DynamiX South Africa. I’m standing outside the Department of Home Affairs in Cape Town. Today we are protesting with other activists against the conviction that was made to one transgender woman in Malawi who attempted to be in a relationship… I mean to get engaged with her partner in Malawi. So we’re protesting against that , asking… or appealing to our government that they must please accept them or give them the refugee status in our country because of the expressed problems in their country.”

Crowd sing and clap in background.

“It’s an incredibly important demonstration because the people here are not only gay and lesbian and transgendered and intersexed activists but they are people from various political angles, human rights and what’s holding everyone together is people’s human rights”

Crowd sing loudly in background.

“Tiwonge and Steven are a couple in Malawi that were convicted to 14 years imprisonment today. They attempted to get engaged at a private function at Tiwonge’s workplace. Tiwonge is a male-bodied person who identifies as female and has lived as a female all her life. However, the media, and organisations all over the world, is treating this as a couple who are homosexual. They were also convicted as a homosexual couple who does unnatural acts against nature”

Crowd chants “sign it” (petition) and claps. Whistles in crowd.

“I acknowledge receipt and I will hand it over [to the Prime Minister?] tomorrow”

Crowd claps and whistles.

“It is…it’s your prerogative, it’s no-one else’s, you know. And if you’re happy with what you are, why…why must the next person, like, you know, outcast you for what you want to be, you know. So…it’s not like if you’re going to stay in their house that they’re going to outcast you, so…”

“Of course, it’s very problematic for us in Africa to do transgender activism. Information about gender identity is not as available as it is in the West. It is very clear that the couple in Malawi is a couple which the one is a transgender woman and the other is a heterosexual-identifying…em…partner. Em…but I suppose the…the…the protest today is important in the sense that it’s not really necessary for us to separate things out…em…because it is a human rights violation when somebody has to go to jail for 14 years because they just attempted to have a private function to get engaged to one another, two consenting adults.”

Closing title:

The judge justified his harsh sentence by saying “the case has left a scar on Malawi’s morality,”

gender dynamix rejects the conviction of Transgender woman Tiwomnge and her partner Steven and urges the SA government to end their silence concerning these human rights infringements

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