Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has rejected calls by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to enshrine gay rights in a new constitution.

Mr Chinamasa told the BBC that gay rights could not be “smuggled” into the constitution because most Zimbabweans opposed it.

Earlier, Mr Tsvangirai told the BBC that gay rights were a “human right” that should be respected.

Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Chinamasa are from rival parties in a fractious coalition.

Their parties – the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Zanu-PF respectively – are drafting a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum ahead of elections next year.

Homosexual is currently illegal in Zimbabwe, as in most African countries where many people view gay rights as un-Christian and un-African.

Last year, Mr Tsvangirai said “the ancestors would turn in their graves” if gay rights became enshrined in a new constitution.

We all know what people said about gay rights – it’s a total no; an almost 100% no”

Patrick Chinamasa Justice minister

But Mr Tsvangirai signalled a shift in policy in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

“It’s a very controversial subject in my part of the world. My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody,” Mr Tsvangirai said.

“To me, it’s a human right.”

In his reaction, Mr Chinamasa said Zimbabweans had firmly rejected gay rights when they were consulted on a new constitution during the government’s outreach programme.

“We all know what people said about gay rights – it’s a total no; an almost 100% no,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

Mr Chinamasa said Mr Tsvangirai made the comments for “propaganda” purposes, contradicting the position he had adopted in the cabinet.

“We can’t smuggle [into the constitution] the views of a prime minister who wants to please a certain audience basically, I suppose, to mobilise resources for his party.”

“I know personally he doesn’t believe it. He has said so many times in the cabinet,” Mr Chinamasa told Network Africa.

The election due next year will be the first since the MDC and Zanu-PF – led by President Robert Mugabe – formed a unity government after polls in 2008.

Those elections were marred by widespread violence and rigging, with Mr Tsvangirai boycotting a run-off vote.

The coalition – formed under pressure from regional leaders – has stabilised the country, but tension has been rising ahead of next year’s vote.

The two parties are yet to agree on political and security reforms to guarantee a free and fair poll.