Dear Uncle Binyavanga
It is the evening of Friday 28 June 2019. The Hatfield campus is shawled through with silence and night. A few story tellers and story lovers, cutting across race, creed, desires, gender and generations, are seated in a well-padded lounge listening to the first of your six part talk: We must free our imagination. It is a deeply disturbing talk because it is personal, political and resists thematic focus. Sir Pierre and I have listened to that first part together and we decided only a few days earlier that it would suit this evening’s closed meeting being held in honour of you.
On Saturday 29 September 2018 the annual SOWETO Pride was held at GOG Gardens in Soweto. Geoffrey Ogwaro and William Aseka from the SOGIE Unit of the Centre for Human Rights participated and took the opportunity to conduct informal information sessions with attendees and distribute brochures on the Equality Courts of South Africa. The SOGIE unit encourages persons discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to seek justice from the Equality Court as one of the uniquely different judicial institutions that tries to make access to justice easier for historically and socially marginalised groups. The Equality Courts are housed in most Magistrate Courts as well as some High Courts around South Africa. More information on Equality Courts can be accessed from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development website http://www.justice.gov.za/EQCact/eqc_faq.html
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
2 October 2018
Recently, as I was commuting on South Africa’s Gautrain, an urban passenger train transport system that connects several economic and residential hubs in the county’s cosmopolitan province of Gauteng, I came across a sign on the wall of the station that read: ‘The Gautrain celebrates diversity in South Africa and serves people of all races, nationalities, sexes, colours, religions, beliefs, genders, ages, sexual orientations, and disabilities. Valuing and respecting people’s differences on board the Gautrain is in the best interests of nation-building.’
Dear Pink Africa,
We have to act. We have to act fast. Lives, our lives are on the line. I have never felt greater urgency than I feel now. I have just returned from Amsterdam and I brought you some words, some dreams.
I was selected to participate in the Building Bridges Program from 31 July to 5 August 2018. Annually, the program seeks to connect activists with inspiration, needs with support, questions with answers, doubt with confirmations and to bring together stories from across the sphere of the protection and promotion of human rights of sexual and gender minorities globally. This year’s theme was ‘LGBT and Religion and how to overcome by building bridges with allies’. I joined 11 other African, Middle Eastern and Northern African activists in the world’s most dynamic rainbow city, Amsterdam.
Today Africa, at least parts of it, celebrates the legacy of Nelson Mandela. He was a ‘great’ anti-apartheid activist, lawyer and South Africa’s first post-apartheid president.
Here in South Africa, I have navigated through some multi-ethnic and multi-racial social spaces where the conversation of ‘Who is Nelson Mandela?’ came up. I have a growing sense of that there are mixed feelings about him, what he represents and the sustainability of his legacy. It is difficult to completely grasp the emotional context of the ‘phenomenon’ that is Nelson Mandela.
An “icon” is a word that should never be thrown around lightly. An icon is defined as a person or thing regarded as a representative or symbol of something, or someone is very successful or admired. For example, Lionel Messi could be considered an “icon” of football, Michael Jordan for basketball, Muhammed Ali for boxing. These people are the first things that come to mind when one thinks of the particular sport they are involved in. They are icons. Icons are around to inspire.
Roughly above a week ago, I saw the documentary film Strike a pose. It investigates the lives and personal journeys of the seven male dancers that rocked the stage with Madonna on her Blonde Ambition World Tour in 1990, 25 years after the tour. The film is as old as 2016. But I doubt that this is piece will ever stop being relevant to the queer and HIV discourse. Perhaps there is a parallel. Perhaps there is not. But I see that gay men still need a safe space to flourish. I still see that gay men need each other- sometimes even more than we care to admit.
It is not often that I identify with the race struggle. One does not become genuinely emotionally aware of it by reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, seeing Idris Elba’s rendition of the Madiba or the Sophia town play- although I believe, I came very close. ‘Race’ has not always my reality. I live here in South Africa but I do not pretend to understand it fully, yet. What I do share with this reality is the consciousness of a tedious journey of struggling towards acceptance. If this is anything to go by, the parallel realities of the several immutable features that attract pain and exclusion share the same ‘darkness’. These features, race inclusive, are gender and gender expression, sex and sexuality, disability at several levels, ethnicity and ancestry, social and political class, religious affiliations or the lack of it. There will really be no end to this list. But Freedom Day every year as the celebration of the first time that exclusion was formally stopped as regards the peoples’ right to vote is not only a symbol of so much but a parallel victory for every reality that smacks of discrimination and exclusion.
It’s not so often that I get to run my mind’s musings by you. This was worse when you were a slim black leather volume on a green plastic table in a quiet part of Port Harcourt. Now you are the world. You are the minds of countless dreamers, lovers, activists, writers and travellers that are quizzed and dare to quiz. What is this quiz, this mystery? Not knowing, not sharing, not seeing, not hearing and as such, neither bearing nor understanding.
Often, I think, prejudice is nourished not by hate but by distance. Of course, distance permits us perspective and some objectivity. But it is often to be blamed for skewed and blurry vision. More so, it is often difficult to understand that which is not engaged with. However, we do not all have the audacity or opportunity to engage even if we wanted to.
So we set out to bring the picture closer. The mysteries of wearing queer ‘shoes’ in Africa as Africans. The taste and textures of the throbbing and pangs . Let’s talk. Let’s write. Just us. Let’s study and listen so that seeing would be much clearer. Let’s walk, engage in no particular order but let’s resolve to attend to every chapter there is before we are done. The chapters on love and living, the places, scars, secrets , strengths, failures and victories, fears, faiths and realities of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual and non-binary selves.