Conditions of Queer Life in Namibia

While the concrete life stories show the everyday situation of queer people in Namibia, in this part of the website we want to take a look at the legal, social and religious conditions of queer life in Namibia.

Homophobic laws date back to 1920

Homosexuality itself is not illegal in Namibia. However, so-called “sodomy”, which is exclusively understood as anal intercourse between men, is forbidden.[1] The law dates back to colonial times, to 1920 to be precise, and was part of the Roman-Dutch Common Law of South Africa. It was taken over with independence in 1990, but since then no man has been convicted on its grounds.[2]
In 2016, the UN repeatedly recommended legalizing same-sex relationships in Namibia and a repeal of the sodomy law, but the Namibian government replied that this was not necessary because there were no persecutions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as long as they do not “do their things” publicly but privately. [3] A similar statement had already been made in 2011.[4]

Studies often refer only to sources since colonization. However, how sexual diversity and gender identities were dealt with in pre-colonial times has mostly been forgotten. The connection between proselytizing, colonialism, cis-heteronormativity and today’s often Eurocentric moral evaluation of the handling of queer forms of life in formerly colonized countries is one of the topics of my further research. If you know any written sources or stories that could help me to investigate this question, please let me know.

Tabooing homosexuality and its social impact

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in Namibia. There is a broad rejection by politics and society. Often the rejection is justified by the Christian faith, an alleged unnaturalness or “no use” of same-sex relationships for the reproduction of society. For many queer people in Namibia, an outing is unthinkable through social rejection. In addition to the fear of hatred and assault, there are also existential worries, which include expulsion from the parental home or the loss of the job.

Lack of protection against discrimination

There is no explicit protection against discrimination for queer people in Namibia. Sexuality and one’s own gender identification are not mentioned in the constitution. Article 10 (2) states: No persons may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status. 

Also, in the “Labour Act of 2007” there is no protection against discrimination in the workplace due to sexual orientation. In the previous version of the Labour Act of 1992, discrimination based on sexual orientation was still mentioned as unlawful but was dropped in the current version. For comparison:

Labour Act 1992, Part 8 (2a):
“…that any person has discriminated or is about to discriminate in an unfair manner, or is so discriminating against him or her on the grounds of his or her sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed, social or economic status, political opinion or marital status or his or her sexual orientation, family responsibilities or disability, in relation to his or her employment or occupation”

Labour Act 2007, point 5 (2):
“A person must not discriminate in any employment practice, directly or indirectly, against any individual on one or more of the following grounds – (a) race, colour, or ethnic origin; (b) sex, marital status or family responsibilities; (c) religion, creed or political opinion; (d) social or economic status; (e) degree of physical or mental disability; (f) AIDS or HIV status; or (g) previous, current or future pregnancy.”

After all, in the 2016 updated form of the “Patient Charter” of the Namibian Ministry of Health it is made clear that every patient has the right to safe and effective health care and must be treated with dignity, respect and mercy, “irrespective of status, religion, political belief, race, colour, gender and sexuality.”[5]

It is interesting that the Ministry of Health has opted for the term “gender” instead of “sex” and thus also opens to all people for whom the so-called biological sex assigned at birth does not coincide with their gender identity.

“Corrective rapes”

There are also sexual assaults in Namibia against queer people, especially so-called “corrective rapes”, to which lesbian women are mostly exposed, on the grounds that they could be “cured” in this way. In the past, there had been about 3,000 cases per year.[6] In the play “Prime Colours”, which had its premiere in Windhoek in 2014, a gay man is experiencing such a rape.

The role of Sam Nujoma

In the eyes of some queer people in Namibia, especially one person has fueled queer hostility in society: the founding president and “Father of the Nation” Sam Nujoma. Sam Nujoma is held in high esteem by many Namibians because of his struggle during the war for independence. In 2001 he called for homosexuals to be arrested, imprisoned and deported back to Europe. Namibia would not accept any “homosexuals and no lesbians”.[7] Interesting about this otherwise simply terrible statement is that Nujoma, like other African statesmen in leadership positions, seems to assume that homosexuality is something “European, Western”, but not “African” at all.

Political and social impacts of homophobia in Namibia

Queer hostility even influences how prisoners are treated in Namibia. At the beginning of the 2000s, cases were made public according to which prison staff refused condoms – that were supposed to contain the high HIV rate in the country – to the inmates as this could encourage the prisoners to the forbidden “sodomy”.[8]

In 2014, Namibia also refused to accept homosexual refugees from Uganda on the grounds that there was no right of asylum due to homosexuality in Namibia and never would be.[9]
By the way, in this case, Namibia does not differ from “Western, European” states, which often think themselves morally higher. There is a debate on the extent to which sexual orientation and its persecution should be recognized as causes of flight in Germany, too. A press release issued by the “Queer Refugees Network Leipzig” on 15th May 2019 shows that two homosexual Cameroonians have once again received a negative asylum decision “on incredible reasons“.

Precedent case

Since 2017 the Namibian Supreme Court has been dealing with a possible precedent case. A Namibian-South African homosexual couple married in South Africa in 2015, jointly adopted a son and is fighting for the recognition as a family and of its marriage and the adoption in Namibia now. The court decision is eagerly awaited because it could introduce a fundamental change regarding same-sex marriages in Namibia.[10]

For further information check out:

On 28th April 2019, the same-sex couple released their first jointly recorded song under the name “Sounds of Liberation”, which they dedicate to their adopted son. Link to the song:

Role of the church

As mentioned before the Christian faith is often used as an explanation for the rejection of queer forms of love. Nevertheless, in 2016 the Nederduits-Gereformeerde Kerk (NG Kerk), one of many churches in Namibia, surprised with the emphasis on the equality of all people before God, independent of their sexual orientation and an apology to all homosexuals who have not been treated in this way in the past.[11] The extent to which this has helped queer people in Namibia is certainly debatable, but at least it shows that something is moving.
It seems necessary to distinguish between faith and religion as an institution since both do not have to be congruent. Whether and if so which conflicts affected people experience between their sexuality/gender identity and their faith or religion in Namibia, you can read in the individual life stories. In the course of my research, I will try to find out how other religions and faith communities of Namibia deal with this topic.