Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has refused to support protecting gay rights in a new constitution.

A new constitution is being drawn up under a power-sharing deal and gay groups in the country have called for recognition and protection in it.

Mr Mugabe was quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper today as saying: “That issue is not debatable, it’s not up for discussion.

“Those who engage in homosexual behaviour are just crazy. It’s just madness. Insanity. We can’t do it or the dead will turn in their graves.”

Zimbabwe’s prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai agreed with the president. He said: “Women make up 52 per cent of the population… There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?”

Mr Mugabe has previously described gay people as worse than “dogs and pigs” and claimed that homosexuality is “un-African” and a “white man’s disease.”

Sodomy is illegal in Zimbabwe, although gay couples are rarely prosecuted and gay groups are usually allowed to continue operating.

However, the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) has warned that gays live in fear and are driven underground.

Despite the fact that lesbians are not criminalised, the group says they may be even more at risk than gay men because of traditional ideas of women’s sexuality.

If gays were protected under the new constitution, this would overturn laws against homosexuality.

Chesterfield Samba, the director of GALZ, told BBC News he was trying to clarify the remarks from the two politicians.

He said that if the remarks were as reported, they would be “very worrying”.