Gay lovebirds Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza on Saturday made history in Malawi when they spiced their festive season with an open gay engagement ceremony, the first recorded public activity in the country’s history.
The ceremony was held at Mankhoma Lodge in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre, and was witnessed by hundreds of bewildered patrons.
Clad in traditional matching outfits, the bride and groom had their wonderful day under two tents elected in the lodge grounds. The whole place turned into a beehive of activity as people pushed and shoved each other in a quest to get a glimpse of Tiwonge and Steven during such a rare occasion.
Some people stared in wonder as others threw a flood of questions at the couple. But the couple ignored them and went about their business according to the programme of the event.
Tiwonge, the bride, was the major centre of attraction as his female make-up and dressing interested many patrons. He sat unperturbed by the pregnant atmosphere, sitting coolly next to his prospective husband he intends to marry in 2010.
However, what should have been a special moment for the two turned into outright agony as homophobic people went about confusing the whole process. They were not as supportive as happens during heterosexual relationships. In addition, there was some power interruption.
The bride openly wept and broke down, while the crowd became apparently uncontrollable.
“I spent K18, 000 (US$110) for this chinkhoswe (engagement) but look at what is happening. Nobody seems to take this whole thing seriously or giving us something. We have been here since 1:30 pm and this is after 4:00pm and nothing, in terms of exchanging gifts and cash, is happening,” sobbed Tiwonge.
“Ndisanyozeke ine. Siine olaula (Don’t ridicule me; I haven’t done the unusual,” said Tionge, who said he works at the Lodge.
The Director of Ceremonies tried to comfort him by saying: “Aunt Tiwonge, Musalire. Zinthu zikhala bwino. Kungotinso magetsi azima. Anthuwanso sakufuna kukhazikika kuti tiyambe mwambo. (Don’t cry Aunt Tiwonge. Everything will be alright. If only the people cooperated and power retunrd we would have finished everything.”
Steven said he realized that he was gay when he met Tiwonge.
“We met at church where we both congregate and have been together for five months now. I have never been interested in women, neither has Chimbalanga, and we stay together at Chileka Roundabout,” said Steven.
Steven, who remained quite during the entire ceremony, claimed his parents were supportive of him, as witnessed by the fact that they attended the ceremony.
Some lodge officials confirmed Tiwonge is their employee and that he also claims to be a woman.
The officials said Tiwonge approached them on his engagement and that they offered the venue for free.
“Our electricity units run out and we had to replenish. We would not sabotage the function, otherwise we would not even have allowed them to get engaged here if we had sinister motives,” said one of the workers at the lodge.
Homosexuality, referred to under ‘Offenses against morality’ in the Penal Code sections 153 and 156, is illegal in Malawi and carries a maximum sentence of five to 14 years imprisonment, respectively, with or without corporal punishment.
Principal Secretary for HIV, AIDS and Nutrition in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr. Mary Shawa, recently called for the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the five against HIV and AIDS in the same manner government caters for commercial sex workers, even if it is not legally recognized in Malawi.
Currently, the HIV infection rate among Malawian gays is pegged at 25 per cent. A report by the Malawi Gay Rights Movement (Magrim), the representative body for gays and lesbians in Malawi, indicates that HIV prevalence rate among lesbians is at 27 per cent.
This means more women are infected than their male counterparts.