WHEN Thembani Ndlovu (not his real name) of Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi suburb disclosed to his pastor that he was gay and HIV positive he never thought that would subsequently force his church authorities to suspend him indefinitely from participating in any church activity.
As if that was not enough when he got home from a church service, he was shocked to find all his belongings outside the yard. He says his mother told him she could not keep a gay person.
“My mother said this is a disgrace to me and the family. Worse I contracted HIV, she said the family is so poor and we can’t afford healthcare,” he said.
Faced with a bleak future Ndlovu found a haven at his aunt’s place and even when he broke the sad news his aunt embraced him.
“I was emotionally drained and even thought of committing suicide. But when I approached my aunt she was accommodative and understood my problem. She then offered me a place to stay. She became a shoulder to lean on,” he said.
His troubles did not stop there. The following week the Bishop at his church announced to the entire church that Ndlovu had been stopped from participating in any church activity because he was gay and God punished him with HIV.
“I was a known figure at church leading a church choir. As per norm at our church when someone committed sin he would be censured for six months or one year. Surprisingly I was told to stop for an indefinite period,” he said.
Following that he felt like an outcast and cut ties with the church.
“Most of the church congregants began to treat me with suspicion, as a result I had to leave the church and stay for some time without worshipping God. After three months my aunt invited me to her church,” he said.
Ndlovu said he felt at home at his aunt’s church.
“The church leadership welcomed me well and later on my aunt disclosed to the senior pastor that I am gay and HIV positive. After a week the senior pastor took me through counselling sessions. Finally that depression lifted off my heart and I’m now at peace,” he said.
Ndlovu’s aunt Thembi revealed that she was making inroads in as far as engaging Ndlovu’s mother.
“At first my sister did not want to talk to her son but I persisted and she has now forgiven him as she now phones her son and I hope with the help of God she will finally accept the issue at hand,” she said.
His friends have been a pillar of strength to Ndlovu.
“I have friends who are gays and bisexual and they have been very supportive to me. There are some members of society who have negative perceptions towards us but we brush that aside and strengthen each other,” he said.
Chairperson of Zimbabwe Pastors Empowerment Fraternal (ZIPEF) Bishop Zwelithini Moyo explained how ZIPEF handles the issue of gays and lesbians, HIV and Aids at their churches.
“We usually encourage pastors to handle matters to do with HIV and Aids as a confidential matter whereby the pastor does counselling to the affected and shares with him or her biblical inspirational messages and prays with him or her. Let me hasten to say we do not discourage them from taking ARVS. At times we invite a National Aids Council (Nac) official to educate our congregants about HIV and Aids or experts from non-governmental organisations that deal with people who are HIV positive,” Moyo said.
Turning to the issue of gays and lesbians he said:
“We also handle such matters as private issues because it is sensitive. We discovered that if we handle such matters in the pulpit it will cause resistance and stigmatisation. As such we (pastors) do the counselling at a personal level, pointing out that our constitution does allow same sex marriage. We keep such a matter as a confidential issue for example between me and the person affected. We do not stop someone from participating in church activities unless if someone is caught committing sodomy or a lady is caught having sex with another lady.”
A Childline official who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said:
“We engage the victim who could be a child or adult after which we engage his or her family so as to unify the victim with the family.”