Malawian president has said her country is considering repealing laws against homosexuality, regarded as a serious crime in many African countries.

Joyce Banda, who assumed the presidency of the southern African nation after the death in April of President Bingu wa Mutharika, made the announcement on Friday in her state of the nation address in Lilongwe, the capital.

"Indecency and unnatural acts laws shall be repealed," said the former vice-president, referring to legislation that criminalises same-sex relationships.

But Banda, the second woman president in Africa after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said repealing a law required a parliamentary vote.

It was unclear how much political support she would have for sweeping changes in the conservative nation where people who dare to live openly as homosexuals are ostracised and persecuted.

Speech hailed

Banda’s comments appeared to seek to appease "traditional development partners who were uncomfortable with our bad laws".

Malawian development partners, or donors, include European Union countries, where homosexuality is legal.

Banda's speech, which was hailed by human rights activists, follows international condemnation for the conviction in 2010 of two Malawian men who were arrested after celebrating their engagement.

The men, who were sentenced to a 14-year jail term, were charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency.

Then President Mutharika pardoned the couple on "humanitarian grounds only" while insisting they had "committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws".

Reacting to the president's comments, Undule Mwakasungula, a human rights activist, said: "The issue of homosexuality has been a contentious issue. Definitely it will raise controversy in parliament."

South Africa is the only African country with laws protecting gay rights, including recognising same-sex marriages. 

Source: Agencies