Zethu Matebeni of UCT speaks at the 12th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Dialogue Series – “Gender in Dialogue”. Zethu responds to Mama Graça Machel’s statement on the ‘lack of outrage in society’ over violence against women. Instead Zethu speaks to the many outrages she feels around women, around lesbians, and transgender people who are murdered and mutilated. Thank you to Zethu for speaking out and speaking out so powerfully.
The Chicago “LGBTI Solidarity in Africa Weekend” is a joint effort of several organizations, including the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, CLASP – Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program, the Gay Liberation Network, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries - South Africa, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Logan Square, and Truth Wins Out. Endorsed by World Can’t Wait-Chicago.
From Pambazuka News, Henry Makori calls for an end to the persecution of LGBTI people across Africa which goes beyond laws to a fierce intolerance by society at large.
President Yoweri Museveni has done it. Against widespread expectation raised by his earlier pledge, the Ugandan leader turned around this week and signed into law the contentious Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed last December by a parliament his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), controls. The bill had been opposed locally and internationally for a record four years, since its introduction to the legislature in 2009.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Museveni’s executive action came in the week Pambazuka News has devoted to a special issue on the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LBGTI) struggles in Africa. Our decision to dedicate a special issue to this subject was informed by the alarming reality that throughout Africa, colonial era laws that criminalised ‘unnatural acts’ are now being reinforced by independent governments, pushed by powerful lobbies, under the pretext that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and harmful: this despite the fact that the existence of LGBTI persons in Africa since time immemorial is well documented. Colonial legislators would have had no reason to criminalise homosexuality if it is the Europeans who introduced it to the continent.
Beyond repression through harsh laws, there is fierce LGBTI intolerance throughout Africa. Even in countries where the constitution proclaims non-discrimination on whatever grounds, politicians, the priestly class and other self-styled moral police are undeterred in inciting their followers against gays. Homosexual persons have been attacked and killed or injured. Many have been forced into hiding, ostracised by their families, denied employment, have been unable to rent a house, etc. In South Africa the horrific phenomenon of ‘corrective rape’ before killing has been perpetrated by men against lesbians as an alleged ‘cure’ of their sexual orientation. It is impossible to remain silent in the face of this epidemic of hate and violence against innocent people.
And now with the stroke of a pen at a ceremony witnessed by state officials and journalists on Monday, President Museveni has left no one in any doubt about his personal approval of the flaming hate and violence meted to LGBTI persons in Uganda and Africa. Quite poignantly, Museveni’s Uganda is the home of David Kato, the iconic gay rights defender who was brutally murdered on 26 January , 2011. One can only imagine the gleeful smiles on the faces of Kato’s killers and other homophobes. The new law has surely emboldened them.
Uganda’s sweeping Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 is draconian, no question about that. Among other provisions, a person convicted of the offence of homosexuality, which includes touching, faces life in prison. Conviction for same sex marriage earns one life imprisonment. Attempted homosexuality attracts seven years behind bars.
A Ugandan occupying premises where a homosexual affair takes place could be jailed for five years. Directors of media houses and organisations, property owners or bloggers convicted of promoting homosexuality will be jailed for up to seven years. Ugandans abroad can be charged with homosexuality and extradited to face the law at home.
Reading through the new law, one can not escape the impression that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions was unfolding in Uganda solely because of homosexuality, hence the need for such a ruthless legislative action to save the nation. But where is the evidence?
Explaining his decision to assent to the bill, President Museveni did not point to a national catastrophe but instead cast himself as the paragon of African culture and anti-imperialism. It is a tired line of reasoning. ‘It seems the topic of homosexuals was provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa,’ he said. Museveni further accused Western organisations of ‘recruiting normal people’ ‘to get money’.
Very well, Mr President. ‘Normal people’ are being recruited into homosexuality for money. Who has complained? What problem does that cause Uganda? Prior to the new law, it was already a crime to be gay in Uganda, the penalty being seven years in prison. Are Ugandan prisons teeming with homosexuals and their foreign recruiters? How many people from the West has Uganda prosecuted for recruiting children into homosexuality?
Scientists from within and outside the country, ‘after exhaustive studies’, had found that no one could be homosexual ‘purely by nature,’ Museveni claimed. Yet the president cited a study done on identical twins in Sweden (Sweden is not part of the West, right?) that showed that 34 percent 5 – 39 percent were homosexual on account of nature and 66 percent were homosexual on account of nurture.
The ‘Scientific statement from the Ministry of Health on homosexuality’, dated 10 February , on which Museveni claimed to have based his decision makes interesting reading. It deserves quoting at length.
‘Homosexual behaviour has existed throughout human history, including Africa’, the statement, signed by 11 top government-appointed Ugandan scientists, affirms. ‘Homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man. However, most African cultures controlled sexual practices be they heterosexual or homosexual and never allowed exhibitionist sexual behaviour.’
‘Studies in sexology have shown that sexual phenomena exist on a normal distribution continuum like most human attributes e.g. height – most people are in the middle but others may be taller or shorter. Thus also in sexuality there are spectrum of sexual behaviors. Some people are less fixed in one form of sexuality than others. Thus sexuality is a far more flexible human quality than used to be assumed in the past, demonstrating the biological variability within the human race.’
Significantly, the experts state that, ‘Homosexuality is sexual behaviour (not a disorder) involving sexual attraction to people of the same sex. It is not clear whether this differing physiological response exists at birth or [is] developed after homosexual experience later in life. The conclusion from the current body of scientific evidence is that there is no single gene responsible for homosexuality and there is no anatomical or physiological data that can fully explain its occurrence…In summary, homosexuality has no clear cut cause; several factors are involved which differ from individual to individual. It is not a disease that has a treatment.’
There you have it. But Museveni is not only opposed to homosexuality. At the signing ceremony on Monday, he fulminated against oral sex and public displays of affection, pontificating that ‘Africans are flabbergasted by exhibitionism of sexual acts’. He then advised the nation on the appropriate ‘Ugandan’ way to get intimate. Etc, etc…One could simply dismiss the President of Uganda as being obsessed with sex! Except that his views now have grave implications for gay people’s enjoyment of the fundamental right to personal dignity and the freedoms of expression, belief and association enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda and in international conventions to which Uganda is a state party.
Museveni’s puritanical and anti-imperialist posturing fools no one, of course. First, the truth is that there are – and there have always been – homosexual persons in Uganda, Africa and elsewhere in the world, existing quite independently of Western or other influences – a sexual minority which Museveni’s own experts affirm. Why he and his ilk refuse to accept this reality is beyond reason.
Second, even if homosexuality was a Western influence, so what? What qualifies Museveni and other African elites to determine which cultural borrowings are good or bad, where the matter concerns individual private choices that harm no one?
Third, isn’t it astounding that, in a continent witnessing so much bloodletting caused by fundamentalist groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab who claim to oppose Western influences, parliaments can pass – and presidents assent to – draconian laws on the same grounds?
And fourth, LGBTI persons pose no threat to anyone whatsoever by the mere fact of being gay. A person’s sexual orientation can never be criminal. Punitive laws targeting LGBTI persons are therefore entirely unjust. What problem in society is an anti-gay law supposed to cure? How, for example, would Ugandans benefit from the imprisonment for life, or even the violent death, of a hundred gays?
WHAT HOMOPHOBES ARE UP TO
If homosexuality threatens no one and is a natural phenomenon, why are gays being hunted down everywhere in Africa? One, there is fear of difference, arising from ignorance. There are many persons who have spent all their lives believing in exclusive heterosexuality and who have no knowledge about the existence of other sexual orientations. Their narrow view of sexuality, often based on religion, cannot countenance difference. Two, as veteran Uganda journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo writes, politicians use homophobia as a tool to divert public attention from pressing national issues, or to win support in conservative societies. Three, ultimately the war on homosexuality is about maintaining male dominance in society. Certain articles in this special issue ably argue this point.
And four, there is imperialism, which homophobes claim to be fighting. Behind the anti-gay crusade in Uganda – and many African countries – lurks a powerful American evangelical lobby out to ostensibly protect Christian values and traditional family life in Africa – yet another evidence of the colonial notion of the white man’s burden. Museveni’s wife Janet, who is also a Cabinet minister and an NRM member of parliament, is an ardent evangelical. In the 21st century, Western do-gooders must still paint Africa as the dark continent to justify continued imperialist intervention, in this case disguised as missionary work.
A month before the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill was drafted, three American evangelicals had held a conference in the country on homosexuality. Thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and politicians listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how ‘the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ‘to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.’
Uganda’s anti-gay law follows a similar one signed by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan early last month, to the great jubilation of the Catholic bishops there. These two developments have certainly poured fresh petrol onto the fire of homophobia raging across Africa. There will surely be more attacks on gay people and more egregious violations of their rights with impunity. Harsher legislation or more aggressive enforcement will be demanded in countries where the so-called anti-sodomy laws already exist since the colonial times. Already in Kenya a group of members of parliament have launched a caucus against homosexuality, vowing to ensure strict enforcement of existing laws.
JOIN THE STRUGGLE
It is not all gloom, though. Despite widespread repression, the struggle for LGBTI rights as human rights is gathering pace in Africa as homosexual identifying persons refuse to be silenced. Throngs of enlightened Africans from every village and town should pour out in solidarity. You do not need to be gay to defend the rights of gays to live as free persons, anymore than you need to be a child or parent to champion children’s rights, or disabled to fight stigma and discrimination of disabled persons. Moreover, many heterosexual persons in Africa are going to suffer harassment under the harsh anti-gay laws, as eminent Kenyan scholar Prof Calestous Juma experienced.
In South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped launch Africa’s first gay political party in January called the Democratic Religious Alliance Against Minority Antagonism (DRAAMA). The new party will champion minority human-rights issues the current ruling party, ANC, has failed to address since coming to power twenty years ago. Archbishop Tutu, an indefatigable LGBTI campaigner, has previously stated that he would not go to heaven if God is homophobic. ‘I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven… No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to hell… I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,’ he said.
Archbishop Tutu is not alone. Weeks ago, the Southern Cross, a weekly published by the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, carried a bold editorial condemning homophobic laws in Africa and calling upon the church to speak out in the defence of LGBTI rights. The paper deplored the fact that ‘the church has been silent, in some cases even quietly complicit, in the discourse on new homophobic laws.’
‘The Church cannot sponsor the criminalisation of matters of private morality, and much less the advocacy of human rights. Prejudice and the persecution of homosexuals are in defiance of Catholic doctrine,’ the editorial stated. ‘While the Church’s teachings prevent her from standing with homosexuals on many issues, especially same-sex marriage, she has an obligation, mandated by Christ, to be in solidarity with all those who are unjustly marginalised and persecuted.’
‘African bishops especially ought to speak out, as loudly as they do on same-sex marriage, against the discriminatory legislation and violence directed at homosexuals, many of whom are fellow Catholics. Where is the prophetic voice of the church in condemning the general homophobia in society?’
In Kenya, Rev John Makokha responded to this challenge ten years ago by establishing Other Sheep-Africa, a faith-based organisation to fight religious homophobia. Last year, the organisation won in the ‘Dini’ (Religion/Faith) Category of the Kenya Upinde Awards for promoting dialogue on faith, gender, sex and sexuality. Upinde Awards are organised annually by the yet to be registered National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
The virulent homophobic campaign sweeping Africa must be stopped. It is unacceptable that innocent citizens of independent African nations who should enjoy equal rights and protection under the law are targeted for criminal prosecution or wanton violence, merely because of their sexual orientation. Africans need to understand that homosexual persons are normal human beings who experience their sexuality differently. Any laws, policies, attitudes and practices that criminalise or stoke hate against adults engaging in consensual same sex sexual relationships are irredeemably unjust. Every reasonable person should resist them. Vigorously.
* Henry Makori is an editor with Pambazuka News.
All Wits Art Museum Photographs by Germaine de Larch —
Remembering and celebrating the life of Sally Gross, our beloved friend, comrade, teacher, philosopher – a great soul who is missed by many and remembered for her role in so many struggles. Sally was a comrade in the anti-apartheid struggle, part of the ANC in exile, she was part of the Palestinian struggle and she made history writing intersex rights into South African legislation and thereby making ours the first country with a Constitution that protects intersex people’s rights……Gabrielle Le Roux
From Pambazuka News, “Museveni and reconstruction of homophobic colonial legacy in Africa: Which way progressives?” Horace Campbell on the passing of ‘legizlations of hate” in Uganda and Nigeria exposes the historical roots of right wing American Christian fundamentalists which goes back to lynching of Black Americans, a Eurgenic agenda support of Apartheid and demonisation of Haitians and the 1804 independence.
As the legalization of hate towards same-gender loving persons gains traction in parts of Africa, it is the task of Pan African progressives and decent humans everywhere to expose this orchestrated destructive cultural war. This assault, fomented by some of the most conservative and racist Christian fundamentalists in America, is an attempt to reconstruct the divisive homophobic colonial legacy in Africa. This wave of extremism is in the same category as the activities of some of the most conservative Muslim fundamentalists who attempt to sponsor the imposition of archaic religious laws on Africans. In the midst of the confusion and moral façade under which these religious fanatics operate, the progressive Pan Africanist must speak up decisively. Two weeks ago Pambazuka News carried a splendid issue opposing this wave of hate and I want to join in opposing this legislation of hatred and intolerance. More than thirteen years ago when the Black Radical Congress was still a vibrant political force in the USA it had issued the statement, ‘African Leaders Hide Political Woes Behind Homophobia.’ 
On February 20, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also dubbed as ‘Jail the Gays Bill,’ criminalizing same-sex relationships with up to life imprisonment. This Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 (previously called the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ in the media due to the originally proposed death penalty clauses), was originally passed by the Parliament of Uganda on 20 December 2013. Because of the international outcry over the death penalty proposal in the bill, this death penalty clause was dropped in favour of life in prison. One day after Museveni signed this bill into law, a Ugandan newspaper published a list of what it called the country’s 200 top homosexuals, outing some people who previously had not identified themselves as gay. This came only weeks after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a similar bill that would punish same-gender loving persons with up to 14 years in prison.
After signing the bill, Museveni referred to gays as ‘disgusting’ human beings, while suggesting that his action was intended ‘to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.’ Museveni echoed an irony when he categorically stated that ‘we do not want anybody to impose their views on us.’ Janet and Yoweri Museveni have been supporters of the most conservative Christian fundamentalists in the USA and they have not been shy about their loyalty to these social elements in North America.  That Museveni was ready and willing to sign the original version of the bill was a reflection of the politics of retrogression in Uganda. That he equivocated with a statement about seeking scientific evidence on the sources of homosexuality was a demonstration of his insecurity and opportunism. This opportunism has been the trademark of Museveni since the days in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when he posed as the most radical anti-imperialist of the elements of the Dar es Salaam School. Ultimately, Museveni calculated that his alliance and loyalty to conservative Christian fundamentalists was more important than any kind of reasoning that he may have had with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was crafted with the help and influence of some white supremacist, right wing Christian fundamentalists from the USA.  Prominent among these extremists was Scott Lively. Lively has since been charged for crimes against humanity in US court for his role in engineering the Uganda Anti-Gay Bill. 
The activities of American fundamentalists and individuals who influenced Ugandan leaders and helped craft the country’s anti-gay bills have been chronicled by researcher Kapya John Kaoma in the publications titled, ‘Colonizing African Values’.  (See also, by the same author, ‘Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia’.)  As noted by Kaoma, pioneers of the present wave of homophobia in Africa are ‘U.S. Christian Right figures including the internationally prominent Baptist pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren; Scott Lively, the anti-gay, Holocaust revisionist; and Lou Engle, head of the revivalist group, The Call, and a leader in the right-wing New Apostolic Reformation movement…. [T]hey are contributing to the atmosphere of intolerance that is resulting in ‘instances of harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’”
This atmosphere of hate, discrimination, harassment, persecution and lynching was perfected by the white supremacist bred in a country – USA – that for nearly a century enshrined in its constitution and justified the notion that the black personhood is only 3/5th of a normal human being. It is against the backdrop of this inherent dehumanization associated with the legalization of hate that African progressives must stand up and speak out against the wave of anti-gay laws blowing across the continent from Zimbabwe to Cameroon, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.
Rights of same gender loving persons are human rights that are inextricably linked with the rights of every person in society. Yoweri Museveni’s claim on the anti-imperialist mantle comes from the silence of the progressive Pan-Africanist Left in Africa. Inside Uganda, Kizza Besigye, (a leader of the opposition) attacked the new laws signed by Museveni. He disputed the claim that homosexuality was ‘foreign’ and said the issue was being used to divert attention from domestic problems. Three years ago the Ugandan scholar, Sylvia Tamala, published the book ‘African Sexualities: A Reader’.  This ground breaking reader is still not widely known, and it will be important for many to read such works to engage this debate. What is significant is the stunning silence of well-known radicals in Uganda and East Africa on this criminalization of Africa’s LGBT community. Where are the scholars of the Dar es Salaam school on this issue?
South Africa has a progressive constitution that guarantees all people’s rights. But anywhere leaders are insecure they turn to bigotry, hate and the politics of exclusion to gain popularity. The most outrageous was Robert Mugabe who called homosexuals ‘pigs and dogs.’ And yet, many progressives still see Mugabe as a great revolutionary. More than ten years ago when I wrote on ‘Homophobia in Zimbabwe and the Politics of Intolerance,’  some sections of the global Pan African movement objected and continued to praise Mugabe as anti-imperialist. In Nairobi, at a public meeting in 2011, young radicals from Bunge la Mwananchi (people’s parliament) were vociferous in their proclamation of intolerance to same-gender loving persons even while they were loudly opposing all other forms of oppression in Kenya.
Progressives in Africa must resist the ostensible moral appeal of the religious extremists and be humble enough to admit that there are some complex phenomena about human sexuality that require the critical questioning of popularly biased sentiments. There has to be an in-depth anthropological interrogation of generalizations and assumptions in present day Africa, as well as the probing of pre-colonial African societies and practices that were overshadowed by colonial laws and ordinances. Precolonial African societies were not homogenous but rather complex, diverse, and multidimensional. In the book, ‘Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society’,  anthropologist Ifi Amadiume sheds light on the fluidity of sexuality in a precolonial Ibo society. This conceptualization of flexible gender relations was a real breakthrough and more work needs to be done to expose the myths that there were no same-gender relationships in Africa before colonialism. Other works of anthropology have responded to Amadiume and have investigated the reality of sexuality in some precolonial African societies (see for example, ‘Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities’). 
Across Africa, the Western hegemons imposed their religion, languages, cultures and laws while demonizing or outlawing pre-existing practices. Most ‘educated’ Africans eventually internalized the Western ways, including the laws and religions that were bequeathed by colonialism. Societies such as Nigeria and Uganda were not an exception, and that is why same sex relationship was already not recognized by these countries’ constitutions which themselves are a colonial legacy. Thus, the promulgation of the anti-gay laws amounts to a reconstruction or reinforcement of a Western colonial legacy.
Many of the right wing American Christian fundamentalists that are financing and lobbying for the anti-gay laws in Africa are known for their eugenic agenda and were heavily in support of apartheid and destabilization in Africa during the Cold War. Some of them, including televangelist Pat Robertson, have not only opposed civil rights for Blacks in America but are also advocates of American exceptionalism and imperialism. It was the same Pat Robertson who at the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 said that there was the earthquake in Haiti because the people had signed a ‘pact to the devil.’ This was his understanding of the Haitian revolution which overthrew slavery and colonialism in 1804.
These conservative forces and their corporate backers are still working hard in America to reduce voting rights for blacks and browns, assault women’s and minorities’ rights, increase military budgets at the expense of funding for healthcare and education, as well as oppose programs and policies that benefit low wage workers and the exploited in the USA. They tend to be losing the culture war against the rising multi-racial tide in America, hence their intensification of the struggle in Africa. As one analyst puts it: ‘The U.S. culture wars are still not understood in African circles.’
While some tendencies within African Christianity share charismatic beliefs with U.S. Christian Right campaigners, the African Church in general is more social-justice-oriented and concerned about the exploited and the disenfranchised. Social justice and human rights advocates must expose the U.S. Christian Right’s opposition to social justice initiatives in the United States—and their historic alignment with White supremacist and repressive regimes in Africa.
Pan-Africanists and progressives cannot sit on the fence at this decisive moment. They must choose to be either in alliance with conservative forces opposed to social justice and equality or join forces with those who want equal rights and social justice for all Wole Soyinka has spoken out against these laws – which he referred to as ‘legislative zealotry.’  In continuation of the tradition of their late father, the sons of Fela Kuti the Afrobeat maestro – Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti – have both made decisive statements against the anti-gay laws.  Author Chimamanda Adichie has done same.  It’s time for many more progressive Africans to take a stand.
Also see the Pambazuka Special issue : The Struggle for Homosexual Rights in Africa
On Africa Today with Walter Turner, Phumzile Mtetwa and Val Kalende discuss resistance strategies around the recent legislation from Uganda and Nigeria criminalising LGBTIQ people in those countries.
Via Inkanyiso – Zanele Muholi “Of Love and Loss” An exhibition
African groups call for the African Union to urgently respond to gender and sexuality rights violations in Africa, and
particularly to anti-gay laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria
As African civil society organisations whose members live and work to improve the lives of all Africans, we condemn in the strongest terms, the disturbing increase in sexuality and gender-related rights violations and abuses, especially those aimed at women and gender non-conforming people, and people in same sex relations including lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying African people.
Specifically, we condemn the signing of the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act, both of which were passed into law this year by Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, respectively. We also strongly condemn the Anti-Pornography Law, which was passed in Uganda last year.
In defence of African people whom these laws target, we seek recourse through the African Union (AU) and its organs.
We also call on the AU Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to make a public statement condemning both the Nigerian and Ugandan laws, and providing African citizens with a roadmap for how the AU Commission plans to address laws that violate gender and sexuality-related rights amongst member states.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalises homosexuality—defining it as “same sex or gender sexual acts”—with punishment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Those who are found guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” also face up to seven years in prison. Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Act places limitations on ‘appropriate’ dress code for women, specifically banning miniskirts and any other clothing deemed to “cause sexual excitement”.
The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act goes further than its stated purpose by criminalizing the registration of ‘gay clubs, societies and organisations and banning the public show of a same sex ‘amorous’ relationship either directly or indirectly, carrying a ten year prison sentence for such acts.
These laws have already forced people from their schools, work and homes out of fear and due to their safety being threatened. The levels of violence, threats, and abusive and hate speech have escalated dramatically as homophobic laws have been put in place. We note with alarm that in both Uganda and Nigeria, the passage of these laws have been accompanied by acts of murder, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity. The climate of fear and hate was further escalated in Uganda by the publication of a list of “200 Top Homosexuals” in Red Pepper Newspaper, with the headline “Exposed”, immediately following President Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. This constitutes a gross violation of media ethics and of human rights, both of which, we argue, are punishable under Ugandan law.
States have an obligation to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of gender or sexuality. States have a responsibility to protect the rights of all who live in their borders. States should not be creating the conditions in which violence by non-state actors are justified or encouraged. Nor should the state set itself up as a threat to its own citizens and block them from living with basic levels of freedom as both Uganda and Nigeria have done.
We reject arguments made by the heads of state of both Uganda and Nigeria, that consensual same-sex relations are “unAfrican”, and we condemn in the strongest terms the comments of political, religious and cultural leaders who have used similar rhetoric to incite hatred against persons perceived to be homosexual.
We celebrate and echo the strong voices of African leaders who have rejected these claims and who continue to condemn discrimination, violence and human rights violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We align ourselves with all Africans who have spoken out in the face of these unjust laws and who have continued to call for respect for diversity and for all Africans to embrace the African idea of Ubuntu –our shared humanity.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated in respect of the Nigerian law, “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.” Former President of Mozambique, Joaqium Chissano, in an open letter to African leaders said, “I encourage leaders to take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms…This simply means granting every one the freedom and the means to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”
Given its mandate as the human rights organ of the African Union, we call upon the African Union Commission, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to condemn all homophobic and anti-gay laws that have either been passed, or are being proposed, throughout Africa, and further respond urgently to the increasingly violent acts that precede and follow these laws.
– Statement by African civil society organisations listed below.
Lucinda van den Heever, Sonke Gender Justice : (+27) 72 994 3138
Kene Esom, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights : (+27) 11 242 6801
Sheena Magenya, Coalition of African Lesbians : (+27) 11 403 0004/7
List of signing organisations:
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHER)
Africa Regional Civil Society Platform on Health
AIDS Accountability International
Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA)
Gay and Lesbian Network (Pietermaritzburg)
HOPEM (Men For Change) Mozambique
Signing organisations (continued):
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Out in Africa
SANAC Women’s Sector
Sonke Gender Justice
South African Council of Churches Youth Forum
World AIDS Campaign
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
Background for Editors
Provision of the laws
While there are close to 40 African countries that criminalise consensual sexual conducts between persons of the same sex, the new laws enacted by Nigeria and Uganda goes further by criminalising peoples’ sexual orientation and identities regardless of sexual conduct. They also include such egregious provisions.
The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act [A1] includes:
• a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union,
• a ten-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony.
• The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’
The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act: [A2]
• introduces a series of crimes listed as “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive;
• criminalises lesbianism for the first time;
• makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts;
• makes homosexual acts punishable with life in prison.
“Gays in Africa Need Our Support” by Melanie Judge, calls on the South African government to produce a counter narrative to the “homosexuality is unAfrican” being peddled by religious and cultural fundamentalists across the continent.
Certain groups are creating opportunities for LGBTI people to escape Africa, but if the causes of the hate are not addressed, nothing will change, writes Melanie Judge.
The recent passing of the Anti Homosexuality Act (AHA) in Uganda and the South African government’s mealy-mouthed reaction to it demand attention.
South Africa sponsored and is leading the first ever UN resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. South Africa also boasts a constitution that explicitly affirms equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. Yet our government cannot muster the political stealth to speak against (rather than just about) homophobia when it really counts – as is the case now.
Shortly after the act’s passing, the government stated that “South Africa takes note of the recent developments regarding the situation of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons (LGBTI) worldwide… (and) will, through existing diplomatic channels, be seeking clarification on these developments from many capitals around the world”.
What’s to clarify? This indicates a deep reluctance to name recent events in Uganda and to take a position on them.
It also implies, through the seeking of clarification, that there is some legitimate rationale for criminalisation of members of that country’s population because of their sexual or gender identity.
The SA Human Rights Commission took a bolder position and “strongly rejects the notion that the freedom to live and love without fear of violence and regardless of one’s sexual orientation is part of a rights framework from Western countries. The struggle for these and other freedoms has been at the heart of liberation struggles throughout (Africa)”.
The ANC blocked a motion in Parliament against the AHA, reflecting its ambivalence to speak out. On the contrary, the former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano’s open letter to African leaders is an example of the kind of leadership present persecutions demand.
The AHA and other legislation of its kind give state legitimacy to violence against people on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The AHA will prompt the forced migration of some LGBTI people.
The AHA feeds a narrative that positions citizens with non-conforming sexualities and genders as outsiders to the dominant culture of the nation. This is linked to the false notion that homosexuality is unAfrican and homophobia isn’t.
In its self-appointed leadership role on LGBTI equality internationally, the government should readily offer a counter-narrative to those who peddle prejudice in the name of “Africanness”.
Homophobia in Africa represents a set of complex and intersecting issues – deeply routed in the continent’s colonial past. Violent inscriptions of race, sexuality, ethnicity and gender took place under colonialism and are linked to present-day norms around sexuality. These historical continuities, and how sexuality is racialised, are mostly entirely absent in discussions on homophobia.
Drawing on the “savages-victims-saviours” construct of law professor Makau Mutua, the West has a keen interest in homophobia that is often framed within these sets of relations. Lurking within much of the public discourse on homophobia in Africa is the notion of the civilising mission of Eurocentric culture (and its human rights frameworks) that will save African culture, and its victims, from its barbarism and its savagery.
One example of this is a recently launched online fundraising effort initiated in the US. It is a “Rescue Fund to Help LGBT People Escape Africa” and is aimed at “Gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people persecuted and trapped in African countries that criminalise their sexuality”. The campaign states that “by contributing to this rescue fund you will help me (the initiator of the fund) to save more gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people from Africa (sic) escape terrifying persecution”.
An online counter shows the money is flowing in. If one donates to “save” an LGBTI person in Africa, one is granted a status recognition originally titled as “ultimate saviour”. There are also “prizes” for donors such as “Nelson Mandela coins” for “passport providers”.
Promoting an “escape” from Africa to “greener” US pastures, without simultaneously addressing the underlying conditions that force this migration, is dangerous and opportunistic. Dislocated from Africa-based struggles for social justice, these feel-good interventions offer no long-term solution to the systemic issues that drive homophobia. At best they are palliative and patronising, at worst they reinforce the victimhood of Africans and the saviour status of Westerners. This is part of the logic that keeps the “homosexuality is unAfrican” discourse in play.
Other more pernicious saviours are those US religious conservatives who have actively promoted homophobic ideologies across the world and are now pushing such legislation in the US. There is much to be done to challenge these religious groupings and leaders on their home soils, to expose their active undermining of sexual and gender rights.
State-sponsored homophobia serves to keep certain power relations intact. Battles over power and identity are increasingly being played out on the bodies of LGBTI people.
These battles relate to, among others: contestations around what it means to be “authentically” African; citizens’ pressuring for democracy, inclusion and leadership accountability; basic needs being met in a context of global inequality wherein rich elites govern over the poor; and women increasingly asserting their sexual rights.
In this context, South Africa’s tiptoe diplomacy on homophobia in Africa exposes the troubling underbelly of current leadership on democracy and human rights. Whilst Jon Qwelane remains ambassador to Uganda, in the face of his imminent high court appearance for homophobic hate speech, perhaps the government’s tread is more firm-footed than it might appear.
* Melanie Judge is an LGBTI activist.
MESSAGE FROM THE OFFICE OF THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL
DATE: MONDAY, 3 MARCH 2014
STATEMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND PERTAINING TO ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY LEGISLATION IN AFRICA
The University of the Witwatersrand notes with dismay and concern recent legislation in Nigeria and Uganda that criminalises women and men who express themselves through relationships other than those defined as heterosexual. It also decries the targeted violence that has accompanied this legislation in these and other countries.
While academic debates may focus on the extent to which human sexuality is a result of nature or nurture, or whether it is inherent to Western or African culture, the reality is that diversity in terms of sexual orientation is part of the recorded history of virtually all societies.
Tolerance and acceptance of such diversity has not been easily secured, but those nations that have afforded equal rights to sexual minorities alongside a multitude of other diverse identities can justifiably claim the benefits of an equitable and just environment for their citizens who live in, and actively contribute to an inclusive and productive state.
The University of the Witwatersrand values diversity and believes that its student and staff body should reflect a multiplicity of race, gender, socio-economic background, urban and rural geographic origin, culture, ethnicity, disability, religion, national origin and sexual orientation. Indeed it believes that everyone has a role to play in furthering human development and that diversity can only enhance learning and the generation human knowledge. Such principles are the foundation of university policies and are underpinned by values enshrined within the constitution of South Africa.
It is the University’s view that recent legislation in Africa and elsewhere that seeks to criminalise sexual minorities, runs counter to these values and in addition contravenes key articles contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is apparent that these legislations are driven, not by a desire to address true criminality but rather are projected by an incomplete understanding of human sexuality compounded by an orchestrated campaign of hate towards vulnerable groups. South Africans understand only too well the damaging legacy that hate founded on institutionalised prejudice can deliver and that while the seeds of hate are easy to sow, they can take generations to uproot once they have spread and taken hold.
Leadership carries with it a huge responsibility, not least of which is protection of minority rights from the ebb and flow of opinion amongst the “moral majority”. The University (that counts amongst its staff and students, thinkers from across the continent of Africa), stands with other academic institutions in urging leaders to reflect carefully on what they have allowed to pass and points out that history will judge harshly those who are responsible for imprisoning others as a result of whom they love. We strongly urge that these laws be rescinded and encourage others who value the sanctity of Universal Human Rights to call for the same.
President Yoweri Museveni has done it. Against widespread expectation raised by his earlier pledge, the Ugandan leader turned around this week and signed into law the contentious Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed last December by a parliament his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), controls. The bill had been opposed locally and internationally for a record four years, since its introduction to the legislature in 2009. It is a remarkable coincidence that Museveni’s executive action came in the week Pambazuka News has devoted to a special issue on the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LBGTI) struggles in Africa. Our decision to dedicate a special issue to this subject was informed by the alarming reality that throughout Africa, colonial era laws that criminalised ‘unnatural acts’ are now being reinforced by independent governments, pushed by powerful lobbies, under the pretext that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and harmful: this despite the fact that the existence of LGBTI persons in Africa since time immemorial is well documented. Colonial legislators would have had no reason to criminalise homosexuality if it is the Europeans who introduced it to the continent. Beyond repression through harsh laws, there is fierce LGBTI intolerance throughout Africa. Even in countries where the constitution proclaims non-discrimination on whatever grounds, politicians, the priestly class and other self-styled moral police are undeterred in inciting their followers against gays. Homosexual persons have been attacked and killed or injured. Many have been forced into hiding, ostracised by their families, denied employment, have been unable to rent a house, etc. In South Africa the horrific phenomenon of ‘corrective rape’ before killing has been perpetrated by men against lesbians as an alleged ‘cure’ of their sexual orientation. It is impossible to remain silent in the face of this epidemic of hate and violence against innocent people.
A dangerous new imperialism is on the rise in Africa and the Caribbean. It comes wearing a rainbow flag and dressed in pink. The recent wave of anti-gay laws on the African Continent and a two month visit to Jamaica where LGBT activists and homosexuals are in a battle for self-definition have helped to crystalize this suspicion. To be clear I am a Black, gay Jamaican male who has loved and lived for over 30 years in America. I identify myself thusly so you can understand that this is not a conclusion I come to easily. It comes from observing keenly the struggle for Gay Rights in America, Africa and the Caribbean for the past 30 years.
Coming out will not be easy or even an option for everyone, but if you do decide to come out, I wish you luck! Visibility definitely matters. The truth is, I never wanted to have a conversation about who I have sex with, but because the government and the population is having that conversation, I too am forced to. The simple fact at the end of the day is: I am human. I am Nigerian. I am gay. Now my social experiment may or may not work. What I do know is that I must try. I will attempt to change minds, tackle homophobia and let Nigerians see a real life gay person: one introduction at a time.
Nigerian gay rights activist, Bisi Alimi, who had to leave the country in 2007 out of fear for his life, spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on his feelings about the law and the fate of the Nigerian LGBT community.
18 Jan 14
Kill them. This sentiment has been expressed about homosexuals in Nigeria, both in the streets and in the media, especially since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act came into operation on January 7, 2014 – again, and again. And again.
Yet Smith fails to articulate the self-determination demonstrated on the part of LGBTQI Africans as proof against an imagined Africa where all people think negatively about queer and trans people. Even in Uganda, on the very day of the passing of the anti-homosexuality bill, queer and trans Ugandans, and their allies, are asserting their disapproval through a global media campaign aptly titled, #IAmGoingNowhere, according to Hakima Abbas, co-editor (along with Sokari Ekine) of the Queer African Reader. That there are those placing their lives on the line, today, should be ample enough proof that not all Africans are homophobic. It should also remind us to resist the urge to cast our critical gaze upon other geographical spaces before we cast it upon ourselves.
If Kenya is not Uganda or Nigeria, why are we at the brink of legislating laws that further criminalise same sex sexualities? Kenya will soon follow Uganda and Nigeria in enacting new anti-gay laws, my crystal ball predicts. And it might be sooner than you expect. According to several media reports on radio and TV, several lobby groups, politicians and religious associations, have come out publicly to call for stricter – read, extreme – laws against homosexuality in the country. Unfortunately, 90% of Kenyans support their decision if a Pew Research on attitudes towards homosexuality in Kenya is anything to go by. In December 2013, I highlighted 10 African countries that were going the Nigeria and Uganda way in proposing, debating, enacting and assenting new laws that targeted same sex sexualities among men and women.
Follow @holaafrica @bisialimi @denisnkioka @keguro_macharia @blacklooks
While South Africa and the world were mourning the death of Madiba, a young lesbian was murdered in Ratanda, Johannesburg. Maleshwane Emely Radebe was murdered on the 7th December 2013 aged 32. She was stabbed to death alongside her girlfriend who managed to escape and survived with stab wounds to her face, arm and thigh. Maleshwane was buried on the 14th December.
She is Survived by her mother, 3 nieces and 2 children born by the nieces. She also has uncles, aunts, and many friends who loved her dearly.
In 1993, the year of the germinal UN conference in Vienna, the first President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, affirmed that all freedoms (and hence oppressions) are interdependent. This speaks critically to intersectionality, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression, and its intersections with privilege. Intersectionality influenced South Africa’s groundbreaking Constitutional equality clause, which guarantees the rights of all peoples.
Vienna was a groundbreaking intersectional moment too, affirming human rights as a universal standard and emphasising the indivisible, interdependent nature of human rights, specifically in response to the historic divide between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand.
Intersectionality shows how categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexuality and other forms of identity interact in myriad ways, contributing to systematic societal inequity. Classic conceptions of oppression in society, such as racism, sexism and homophobia interrelate, creating a web of subjugation.
While we are familiar with victims suffering violence, we often forget that witnesses suffer vicarious trauma, and that most perpetrators are themselves survivors of violence, including gender-based violence, that violence and discrimination often stems from insecurity and fear, rather than a lustful nature, no mirth intended.
Of less concern are the labels or issues we are still forced to deal with, like widespread gender-based violence that has not diminished over decades of feminist activisms and progressive legislation and policies. Of greater import are the approaches taken, the imperialist or colonial gaze, how we conceptualise issues, how these lenses shape/d activisms.
This includes the narrow LGBTQQI discourse, European letters completely ignorant of and sidestepping ancient same sex practices on all continents, including woman to woman marriage across Africa. Ifi Amadiume and the late Audre Lorde famously argued whether these women had romantic-sexual relations, Audre’s argument, or whether it was entirely about property relations and ensuring succession, Ifi’s contention. This ancient practice was almost entirely eradicated by colonial Christianity, yet it still persists, especially in rural areas, across East, Central and West Africa.
Of equal concern is the classification, led by the global North, of the rape of lesbians, ostensibly due to their sexuality, as a “hate crime”. This divorces so-called “curative” or “corrective” rape from its rootedness in gender-based violence and an analysis and challenge of Patriarchy, effectively deradicalising a revolutionary moment.
The presumption by feminist scholars and activists, especially those entrenched and aptly rewarded in euro-formed discourses, of the primordialism of patriarchy is another point of vexation to those of us from ancient indigenous societies that still remain matrilineal and women-centred, despite centuries of colonial and capitalist depredations. Matrilineal societies, still existing across the continents of the world, tend to be socially and gender egalitarian, with deep-rooted conflict resolution practices and hence less violent. The matriarchal Iroquois of North America’s precolonial Great Peace of the Haudenosee are said to have gifted the United States with the foundations of their Constitution. What can we learn from these nonviolent egalitarian peoples, their complex histories and ways of being? In as much as we study the League of Nations and the social welfarism of Scandinavia. Even as we smartly don the business suits, modern offspring of military uniforms, so necessary for our advocacy and scholarly endeavours, do we hear Audre Lorde’s admonishment of the complexities of employing the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?
The silofication of our discourse and struggle speaks to a weakness of the global imagination. We need to indigenise our struggles. We need to use language that is familiar to local peoples the world over, so that tyrannical patriarchal leaders cannot say our practices are un-African or un-Russian, because they are indeed indigenous and we have been doing it since time began. With indigenous knowledge we can more effectively resist the flood of fundamentalist Christians from North America and Europe recolonizing our continents, aided by despots more interested in scapegoating marginalised communities than in addressing issues of socio-economic justice.
We need to note that violences are structural-cultural, and due to Patriarchy, women are at the centre of this war on our bodies and minds. While we focus on choice, autonomy, desire and pleasure, we need to remember that we need socio-economic-cultural rights to be truly free.
As the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, brutally slain by Apartheid securocrats during the 1970s said in a speech in my Mother City of Cape Town: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” And we all know Bob Marley’s song, “none but ourselves can free our minds…”
Bernedette Muthien, scholar, a poet, and an activist. She co-founded and directs Engender, an NGO which works in the intersectional areas of genders, human rights, justice and peace. Over 20 years, on all six continents, she produced 170 publications and conference presentations, some of which have been translated from English into other languages, including Dutch, Flemish, French, German, and Italian. Follow her @BerneMuthien
In 2012 there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House Chamber.
In South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to digress from arbitrary norms.
It is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012. Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she photographs.
What I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your own through your imagination. The same goes for Zanele’s photographs.
From the beginning the impetus for Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60 black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason ‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.
In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma* Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community. The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond
Zanele’s work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces. Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question “What do you see when you look at me? ……?????????
Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video
by Kopano Sibeko
“It’s amazing how the death of someone can also be a blessing” shares Thembela ‘Terra’ Dick. She walks me on a tale of how her sister, Thembi Ngubane’s memorial service was the day her life really started.
“Thembi” was an AIDS activist who was diagnosed with the Hi-virus at the age of 14, so at her memorial service I was courageous enough to speak out, because she had always motivated me to come out and be open about my sexuality and stop hiding as a “boy” she sighs .
Thembela sounds a bit skeptical I can tell by the tone of her voice, and I quiclky pick up that she doesn’t know whether to be grateful that her sister passed on or that the thought of how her life has shaped up is a bit discomforting considering how far she’s come since then. However shares with me that her speech at the service where she officially came out about her lesbianism created an interest in Richard Mills and Jo Menel from Street Talk, a media production company that was documenting the memorial that day.
She utters that “they approached me and asked if I could be a Researcher for my sister’s story and they offered me training which also afforded me the chance to learn about the visual media.” She currently holds a position as a researcher, a filmmaker, a director and she also does some editing. She stresses that she can’t do this on her own but she gets the support from her colleagues.
Terra tells me that she is a very persuasive person and that it is easy for people to trust her, so those are the traits that she uses to communicate with people of different cultures, age groups and races because StreetTalk is about stories in the township and putting people together, “I deal with two types of filming, those are profiling and group discussions” she said. Then she explains that in the meantime there are only covering the Western Cape. In the midst of our telephonic interview I also get an awakening that her voice is pretty gentle and akwardly convincing so it makes sense that people could easily warm up to her.
Though her life might seem picture perfect with her doing what she’s passionate about, but Terra tells me that she didn’t complete her matric and she knows that one day that reality will catch up with her “I wanna go back to school, I need to know the basics of these technicalities”. She admits that she has to know how to talk and be knowledgable about what she does “I only see a future in film” she insists.
After a few minutes of silence, I ask her to tell me more about her family and where she comes from, “I was born in Gugulethu township, Cape Town, but I was raised in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape”. She tells me that she is a child of Buyiswa Komeni Mtshakazi and Mbambeleli Mtshakazi, who were not so actively involved in her childhood as she grew up with her siblings and that the absense of her mom in her life made her bitter “I refused to go for almost 3 months to see my mother, I was angry at her and after a while I discovered that she was HIV positive” she confesses.
I could easily sense her discomfortness resurface, though she assures me that she is comfortable and transparent “it’s time we stopped hiding, we need to be there and support our family members who are HIV positive” she confesses.
Thembela also opens up to me about how the virus has become so much a part of her life “it has become a silent relative” she shares with me that five people in her immediate family are living with the virus and she encourages the society at large that they need to do away with the mentalty of not using a condom .
She tells me that she was lucky to have met Zanele Muholi who has been so supportive “Zanele has been great, though sometimes she doesn’t show how much she cares, but she does and she motivates me” she giggles. She also mentions that she’s an emotional person and all this can be too much for her to handle at times.
In the reality of it all it suddenly hits me that Terra featured in Muholi’s Faces & Phases and also in a 4 mins intimacy video. In the latter she was part-taking in unprotected sex, so I asked her if that is not hypocritical of her to preach that people should use condoms while she is not, her response was “my girlfriend and I have been together for sometime now and we get tested almost every after three months and when we did that video we both knew each others statuses” she explains calmly.
I also voice out the fact that most people that don’t know the beauty of art will say that, that clip is not any different from pornography she says “sex is not a taboo and it’s also not porn especially if you’re doing it with you’re partner.”
She laughs gently as she explains to me that, that video was not even planned. She recalls that it was on Human Rights day in 2012 and Muholi took our intimacy photos for Being series which forms part of lesbian safer sex education. She photographed Terra and her lover Lithakazi Nomngcongo and she explains that they were standing, but later on pose on the mattress which heated the moment.
“I was very close to my girlfriend and it just happened, so I even forgot that Muholi was there” she laughs with excitement. She also adds that Muholi didn’t stop them so they also didn’t care, because they were focused on what they were doing . However she tells me that Muholi asked if they wouldn’t mind if s/he exhibits their video” I asked my girlfriend, she said she doesn’t mind and I thought why not?”.
“I want to make the best of my life, this is a memory I’ve created” she adds while giggling. She slowly moves away from the topic and tells me that she is learning photography and that she is currently filming two documenataries called ‘Lesbian Love‘ and another one called ‘Terra the Les’ it’s about her personal life telling the story about her family members who are HIV positive.
Via Shadow and Act – The story of Saartjie Baartman [Parts 1 & 2]The film is in French with subtitles but unfortunately I havent had much success in watching it. I would love to hear from anyone who has seen the film meanwhile a review by Tamara Obenson is published below. The comments on the original post are interesting and express some of my concerns – ie three hours later how angry will I feel? Is this yet another exploitation of Saartjie Baartman?
So there I was waiting for the subway train after my screening of Venus Noire (Black Venus), and what did I see plastered almost all over one of those ubiquitous tunnel newsstands? Covers for various magazines, many unabashedly featuring the barely covered-up plump bottoms of predominantly black women in seductive poses – 2 dimensional images of voiceless bodies, objectified, exotified, envied, denigrated, and more; depending on the viewer.
And with that picture, Obvious Guy asks, so, really, has much changed in the 200 years since Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman found herself victim of the same kind of mixed gaze? Of course, there’s the perceived independence, and even false sense of power and control some might claim those in the present-day wield over their spectators (an illusory brand of feminism as I’ve heard others suggest), and they aren’t introduced in cages by a man carrying a whip (well, actually, some are), and Saartjie’s experiences were more direct and literal; but, frankly, the similarities can’t be ignored. I even considered that Saartjie’s torment was strictly race-based, and a result of its time; but I was able to dismiss that notion in realizing that there still certainly exists a racial “otherness” that precedes and influences the various gazes I mentioned above. For example, I still (unfortunately) hear stories about enthralled white women asking black women if they can touch their hair, ignorant of the sensation the request itself provokes.
The film opens in 1815, France, some time after Saartjie’s death, as a French academic, addressing what look like his peers, with a physical mold of Saartjie’s body on display, makes his scientific and historic case for why her “species” is inferior to theirs. The lengthy opening lecture is met with applause from his audience of all white men. The matter-of-fact nature of the entire sequence is revelatory in that it shows just how ignorant, yet assured of themselves these leaders of the world were, and helps explain their callous treatment of their perceived inferiors – a trend that continued long after they themselves perished.
Following that opening sequence, we travel back in time, 5 years, to 1810, London, some time after Baartman had been taken from Cape Town, with promises of wealth, via exhibition, in Europe. And so the tragic tale of the “freak show attraction” known as the Hottentot Venus began…
Like those women on the magazine covers, Saartjie is mostly mute throughout the film, her body language representative of her thoughts, and clearly, she isn’t exactly cherishing the spectacle that’s being made of her physical self – much of it some will find difficult to watch, as it should be. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure of that, with numerous scenes running quite lengthy – possibly 10 minutes or more in some cases.
Given the style in which the film is made, it felt almost like a documentary. Kechiche does little to distract from the narrative; the performances from the entire cast are realistic (you believe them), including Yahima Torres (as Baartman), Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Marthouret, Michel Gionti, and Jean-Christophe Bouvet; there’s virtually no soundtrack (any music heard occurs naturally within the scene); the mostly hand-held camera moves but, oddly, you forget that it’s there – partly due to the stark nature of the physical settings, and also of the subject matter itself; you may feel guilty enough to look away, but you can’t.
In reading some early reviews of the film before I saw it, I expected to be turned off by what some seemed to suggest would be gratuitous on the part of the director. But I didn’t feel what they felt, and I do wonder if the reactions to Venus Noire will be similar to a film like Precious (a story about a character whose physical self was also arguably a character in its own right), in that they will be separated along color lines. I could certainly make sense of a white film critic being made uncomfortable by the inhumane treatment Saartjie endured; her captors are white. And as I’ve already suggested, one can’t help but see connections to the present-day race- and sex-based prejudices that still exist. There’s a reason (amongst many) that films that center on whites-as-saviors-of-”others” continue to be produced. They like to see themselves in that light. Rarely do we see stories told that detail the inhumanities whites have dished out intently and indiscriminately on the darker-skinned “others” across the world, without retribution. In a way, it’s like a revision of history.
But no one comes to save Saartjie here; she lives a brutal life, and dies just as punishingly, with the film not necessarily making it clear who we are supposed to point our fingers to, for blame.
Continue reading here
From inkanyiso by by Lerato Dumse
On the 1st of August 2013, a 17 year old self identifying transgender (youth) was one of the approximately 23 suicides reported daily in South Africa with 230 serious attempts. He hanged himself. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (sadag), “hanging is the most employed method of suicide.”
This was not his first attempt. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) estimates that 20-50 percent of those who succeed are not first timers. Diagnosed with having depression, he was part of the 60 percent of people with depression who commit suicide in South Africa.
His biggest angst was being born with a female body. He had expressed his need to feel comfortable with his body. Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital was to provide his life changing surgery, but they had turned him away repeatedly appointment after appointment since May 2013. With only his blood being drawn for tests, he died with the process having not started.
On Friday, 9th Aug. 2013 I attended his funeral in KwaThema township, Ekurhuleni. While many celebrated National Woman’s Day in South Africa, a mother was burying her child.
However, unlike most LGBTI funerals which are often crowded and loud, his was small, intimate and full of tears. Described as someone who was always smiling as well making others smile, enjoyed building his muscles and lover of fashion.
Part of the Mother’s letter read was a message to the community at large.
“Let’s stay strong in the Lord and his mighty power, love our children and raise them in a way that will add value to their lives. Parents, don’t move from your places no matter the circumstances, you will wear the heavenly crown for a job well done.”
Suicide among lgbti youth, states that researchers have found that suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) youth is comparatively higher than among the general population.
The are lesbian and gay organizations in his township, however 88 kilometers separate him from an organization that deals with transgender issues Transgender and Intersex Africa.
Clinical social worker Caitlin Ryan from Family Acceptance Project (California State University, San Francisco) conducted the first of its kind study of the effects of family acceptance and rejection on health, mental health and well being of lgbt youth, including suicide, HIV and homelessness. Part of their findings was that, “parental acceptance, and even neutrality, with regard to a child’s sexual orientation can bring down the attempted suicide rate.”
Some advocates support Intervention implemented at the stage when a person is already suicidal (such as crisis hotlines). While others say Programs should be directed at increasing LGBT youth’s access to factors found to be “protective” against suicide (such as social support networks or mentors).
Attempted and Suicide have large numbers, claiming so many victims. We always hear about it, yet it is such a silent and taboo issue. As communities we have very little understanding, knowledge and education on the subject.
NB: *Please note that the exact names of the late person are reserved for privacy but most of all to respect the family and relatives at this time of sadness.
From Inkanyiso a documentary of Mo(u)rning by Zanele Muholi
Where: Thokoza township, Johannesburg
What: Three (3) days after Duduzile Zozo’s burial
How many: 24 participants excluding taxi drivers.
Who: Mostly black lesbians and gays…
Camera used: Canon 6D with zoom lens EF-S 85 mm lens 1:1.8
As we continue to live and survive in troubled times as black lesbians in South Africa and within the continent, where rampant hate crimes and brutal killings of same gender loving women is rife. This ongoing project is an activist/artist’s radical response to that violence.
The passage in which we bleed
The passage where we are/ were born
The passage through which we become (wo)men?
The erotic passage meant to be aroused, is raped
The passage we love is hated and called names
The sacred passage is ever persecuted
I continue to bleed each time I read about rampant ‘curative rapes’ in my ‘democratic’ South Africa.
I bleed every time queer bodies are violated and refused citizenship due gender expression and sexual orientation within the African continent.
I constantly bleed when I hear about brutal murders of black lesbians in our townships and
I’m scarred and scared as I don’t know whose body will be next to be buried.
I bleed because our human rights are ripped.
I cry and bleed as mothers, lovers, friends, relatives lose their beloved ones,
let alone the children that become orphans because of trans/queerphobic violence.
We bleed, our life cycles invaded, we bleed against the will of our bodies and beings.
Each patterned piece in this series represents a ‘curative rape’ survivor or a victim of hate crime,
the physical and spiritual blood that is shed from our bodies.
Date: 3rd Feb. 2013
Location: Michel Bizot, Paris. FRANCE
Camera used: Nikon. COOLPIX S100
Exposure time: 1/25
Medium: Menstrual blood on A4 paper and serviette
Titled: Each photo is time titled when the photo was captured.
These photos of my menstruation were in Feb. 2013 when I was in Paris.
It was a very cold day, snowing outside and I woke up bleeding with bad period pains. I decided to remain indoors for the whole day and visualized my menstruation.
Like I did before when I started photographing my menstrual blood.
I thought to myself how can I explain this to someone who might have different notions about being “butch” bleeding and suffering from menstrual pains. I turned the pain into a project. Later archived the pain.
Ok. On a good day I use Always with wings.
Sometimes I use white serviette to produce better menstrual paintings with.
I go for 5 days straight with heavy flow on day 4.
I started my menstruation when I was eleven (11), which means that I’d have graduated with 4 degrees if one was praised for bleeding.
I’ve been bleeding and suffering from menstrual pains for more than 25 years. I left out some years because I just block it out of my head.
In 1994 a gynecologist prescribed NovaSure contraceptive pills to stabilize the pains and also to help with my hormonal imbalance. Later on they got better and then I stopped taking them.
Early this year a butch friend recommended Mybulin coz she use it. It worked for 2 months and now it does not anymore.
This is project is not about that… but what it became
Read previous and see motifs exhibited at Blank projects in 2011 titled Isilumo Siyaluma (2006 – 2011)
What I said later… At the height of hate crimes and queercide in South Africa.