Transgender activist wins historic lawsuit against Zim government

Rikki Nathanson
Transgender woman Rikki Nathanson won a historic lawsuit against the Zimbabwe government for discrimination after she was arrested by police for using the women’s bathroom in 2014.

The judgment, handed down by Judge Francis Bere in the Bulawayo High Court, awarded Nathanson ZWL$400,000 in damages, the first time that a Zimbabwe court has ruled in a manner that affirms the transgender or non-binary status of an individual.

“For three days, the plaintiff in this case was not only deprived of her liberty, but was subjected to forced anatomical examination in the most crude and naked manner by adventurous members of the police,” said a scathing Judge Bere.

“As if that was not enough, she was then subjected to further invasive examination by two doctors at two different medical institutions all because of her transgender status, something that she did not invite upon herself”.

Nathanson, 63, was “detained” by a group of men from the Zanu PF youth after she had stepped inside a women’s bathroom at the Palace Hotel in Bulawayo. She was taken to the police, arrested and forced to undergo a humiliating physical examination at a local hospital, where she was charged with “criminal nuisance” after it was confirmed she is biologically male.

“One cannot avoid concluding that the conduct of the police in arresting and detaining the plaintiff was quite outrageous because clearly, they abused their discretion in arresting her. The prosecution of the plaintiff was both thoughtless and malicious,” affirmed Judge Bere.

The defendants include former Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo, former Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, former Bulawayo Central Police Commander Chief Inspector Enock Masimba and the individual who called the police, Farai Mteliso, who were ordered to pay interest on the
damages until they are paid in full and must carry the costs in the case.

“This has been a long, emotional roller-coaster for me. I have waited almost five years for this moment. I am elated. This incredibly life-changing decision is not only for me but for others. It is a great moment for transgender persons in Zimbabwe and beyond,” said Nathanson, who now lives in the USA.