Homosexuality is legal in South Africa and was decriminalised in Mozambique in 2015. Everywhere else, male homosexual acts are illegal in all countries of the region; lesbian acts exist in a grey area in some countries.

Countries in the region are extremely conservative in their attitudes towards gay men and lesbians, and homosexuality is rarely discussed in public, not least because in traditional African societies, gay sexual relationships are a cultural taboo. When it does appear as a public issue, it's rarely to express tolerance or solidarity. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has made numerous vociferous diatribes against homosexuals, while back in 2001, then-Namibia president Sam Nujoma famously said, 'Those who are practising homosexuality in Namibia are destroying the nation. Homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in our society.'

Antigay attitudes appear particularly entrenched also in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia and Malawi, while things are a little more relaxed in Botswana (where employment laws forbid workplace discrimination or dismissal on the basis of a person's sexual orientation), although homosexual acts remain illegal.

South Africa’s constitution is one of the few in Africa that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and there are active gay and lesbian communities and scenes in Cape Town, Jo’burg, Pretoria and Durban. Cape Town is without doubt the focal point, and the most openly gay city on the continent.

Homosexuality has been decriminalised in Mozambique and there is a small but growing gay-and-lesbian scene in Maputo, although cultural attitudes sometimes lag behind the legal situation.

Open displays of affection are generally frowned upon in Southern Africa, whatever your orientation. Please be sensitive to local sensibilities.

Resources

South African resources:

Exit (www.exit.co.za) South Africa’s longest-running gay newspaper.

Gay Pages (www.gaypagessa.co.za) Bimonthly glossy magazine.

OUTright For gay males; available at CNA and other chain bookstores nationwide.

South Africa tourism (www.southafrica.net) Lists gay and lesbian events.