Zambia has refused South African artist and socialite, Somizi Mhlongo entery into the country over his sexuality. Minister ofReligious Affairs and National Values, who is also a Reverend, Godfridah Sumaili says Somizi is not welcome in the country because he is openly gay. The minister says Zambia will not welcome people with “questionable” characters.

“Every country has laws. Here in Zambia, we have a constitution that guides citizens on morals and its Christian values. We do not condone gayism. It is a crime and inviting such people means we are slowly accepting the vice,” Said Rev. Sumaili as quoted by the state-owned Times of Zambia newspaper.

The minister was referring to the preamble of the Zambian constitution, which describes the country as a “Christian Nation.” Zambia was declared a “Christian Nation” in December 1992 by Zambia’s second president, the late Frederick Chiluba.

Before that, Zambia was a secular state under the 27-year rule of its founding president Kenneth Kaunda. Somizi was visiting on the invitation by PR Girl Media, an influential public relations firm run by women which is organising a fashion show to be held in Lusaka this month.

On 19 June, PR Girl Media announced Somizi’s invitation in a tweet.

“It is not a secret anymore, an invitation has been sent out to fashion icon Somizi to attend the Lusaka July. We are just as anxious as you are for a YES!” @PRGirlMedia.

At the time of access, the announcement had been retweeted seven times and liked 31 times. Within hours of the tweet being sent out, social media in Zambia was ablaze with a debate on homosexuality. The Zambian government did not hide its stance on the matter as Rev. Sumaili led others in opposing the invitation.

Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo has also backed the banning of Somizi from the country. “He recently got engaged to another man. Is that the sort of thing we can allow in this country? No, he isn’t welcome here,” said Kasolo in an interview with the state run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

But PR Girl Media has described the banning of Somizi as fake news. The PR agency posted on Twitter a newspaper cutting in which the Minister of Religious Affairs was quoted banning Somizi and the agency captioned the tweet with the words FAKE NEWS!!!

In an earlier statement, PR Girl Media urges its followers to wait for an official announcement over the Somizi issue. It reads:

“South African celebrity and TV personality Somizi has not yet confirmed to make an appearance at the upcoming Lusaka July event. While we appreciate your engagement and positive response to our social media post made by our team earlier today, we kindly urge you to wait the official announcement from PR Girl Media and Somizi.”

Yet, not all Zambians support the government’s decision to bar Somizi from the country. Award-winning Zambian writer Ingrid Nayame says denying Somizi entry into Zambia is against international human rights laws.

“Zambia is a signatory to International Treaties under International Human Rights Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is illegal to refuse entry into the country of anyone based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion or HIV status. The right to equality and non-discrimination are core principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and Human Right Treaties,” wrote Nayame on her Facebook page.

Citing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and one of those protocols that guarantee Somizi’s rights to enter Zambia, Nayame argues:

“The right to privacy is the protected freedom under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So what someone does in their bedroom has nothing to do with the State.”

Somizi joins a list of influential artists, politicians and religious leaders from abroad who have been denied entry into Zambia for various reasons. South Africa’s leader of the main opposition Mmusi Maimane was turned away at the airport in May 2017, as he was visiting to offer solidarity to UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who was in detention.

In the same year, Prophet Ubert Angel of Zimbabwe was also denied entry into the country. Similarly, in March 2018, popular South African dancer and socialite, Zodwa Wabantu was detained at the airport upon arrival in Zambia and sent back on another flight to South Africa after Rev. Sumaili said her dances are “immoral” and “unchristian.”

Zodwa is popular for dancing without underwear and she reportedly told South African media before departure for Zambia that she would dance without underwear despite opposition from Zambian authorities.

Even though Zambia has been a “Christian Nation” since 1992, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Valueswas only created in September 2016 by president Edgar Lungu to guide the nation on what are called religious and national values.