In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mozambique, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people have taken to the airwaves to educate listeners about issues affecting them.
Using a platform that has the most reach in Africa — and with little more than a cellphone — Patou Izai started broadcasting a weekly radio programme, Jeuniafrica, which is dedicated to the LGBTI community.
Although the DRC’s laws do not criminalise homosexuality, religion and tradition in the country are intolerant of LGBTI people.
Bob Yala, the programme’s project co-ordinator, says: “In DRC, the law does not criminalise homosexuality but it does not give special protection either. Talking about LGBTI rights in Congolese society is not easy.”
Jeuniafrica is a show intended to “arouse thinking through debate, creating a space for exchange and dialogue”.
“You know, in French, there is a saying: ‘To talk is to act’,” adds Yala.
Gathering content for the show proved difficult initially — many people hold conservative views about LGBTI people.
Izai says this was not the only hindrance: “We wanted the first Jeuniafrica show to go online on May 17 , the day on which the International Day Against Homophobia is commemorated.
“So we spoke to some LGBTI activists here but got some really negative feedback.
“They told us that they feared that airing such a show would only increase the stigma LGBTI people here face. But we decided to do it anyway because we were convinced the opposite would be true,” he says.
Their gamble paid off.
“With the first show, which was available online at SoundCloud, we were very nervous because we did not know how it would be received. But, in the end, there was no real reason for our fears.
“Yes, some people made homophobic comments on social media platforms, but there were also many people sending private messages, asking questions to understand things a little more.
“This was when we realised that there was a real need for this kind of information,” says Izai.
The show has since moved from its online platform to one of the country’s more popular radio stations, RTZS1 FM.
Leader Kanyika works with the Children’s Radio Foundation, which has been supporting Izai and Yala.
Kanyika says having the show broadcast to a national audience “was a great relief — especially after the months of planning pressures”.
The Mozambique LGBTI organisation, Lambda, has also teamed up with commercial radio stations to have their show, Café Purpura, broadcast.
The magazine show features discussions with experts in various fields as well as the personal stories of LGBTI people.
Carina Capitine, Lambda’s communication officer, explains: “The main idea behind Café Purpura is for people to tell their own stories. They’re not always positive stories but they are essential because the general public doesn’t really have an understanding of what life is like for LGBTI people.”
As is the case in the DRC, there is very little discussion about LGBTI issues on Mozambican media platforms.
Capitine adds: “We have seen some changes over the past year or so, so it is getting better.
“But it’s still not the kind of quality we would like to see. Especially because when LGBTI people are represented in media here, they are mostly reduced to stereotypes. No one is really discussing the everyday lives of LGBTI people.”
The show is broadcast on three of the country’s top radio stations, which have the highest numbers of listeners in three different regions. Capitine says the weekly radio programme forms part of the organisation’s broader communications campaigns.
She adds: “I do believe that this programme has changed the lives of LGBTI people in Mozambique because people are now seeing themselves represented. The show is also our way of getting a conversation started around issues facing LGBTI people — and this can only bring about change.”
According to a recent report that collated survey data gathered from 10 Southern African countries, South Africa and Mozambique were the most tolerant of LGBTI people, with 67% and 56% respectively of people interviewed saying that they “would not mind a homosexual neighbour”.
The report, Canaries in the Coal Mines — An Analysis of Spaces for LGBTI Activism in Southern Africa was commissioned by The Other Foundation to “assess the depth and nature of social exclusion of LGBTI people across Southern Africa and better understand how LGBTI groups are organising to transform that reality”.
People in 10 countries in Southern Africa were surveyed — in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This was, in part, as a result of “there being public discourse on the subject rather than silence. What [the more tolerant countries] have in common is a more sympathetic or neutral media (which is often because of sensitisation training by LGBTI organisations and their allies); effective strategic advocacy by LGBTI organisations through the judicial, legislative or executive systems; and the mobilisation of effective alliances with other human rights actors and with state agencies,” according to the report.
In the DRC, there’s still a long way to go before Izai and Yala will know whether their bold-faced determination will lead to a more tolerant country for Congolese LGBTI people.
Yala says: “Our dream is to help create a better world, where differences of each other are accepted — and we believe that this is possible. But to get there, there is a lot of work to do.”
Carl Collison is The Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian