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‘You are not free until all LGBTQIA+ people are free’



Published May 29, 2022


By Dimakatso Mokwena

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“I cannot be free as a black man, if I am not free as a gay man.” These were the words of antiapartheid and LGBTQIA+ rights activist, the late Simon Nkoli, at the first South African pride march on October 13, 1990.

During the march, as shown in producer and actress Dr Bev Ditsie’s documentary, Simon and I, homophobic diatribes were directed at the marchers. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then, much has changed, and a lot has also remained the same.

South Africa became a constitutional democracy in 1994 and, 12 years later, became the first African country to legalise same-sex marriages, and the fifth country in the world to do so. Today only seven countries on the continent, out of 54 countries, have decriminalised homosexuality.

This is despite the fact that homosexuality was acceptable on the continent before European missionaries made their way to African countries, using the Bible as a weapon to criminalise homosexuality. Africans fell for it hook, line and sinker, so much so that talking about LGBTQIA+ rights in certain parts of the continent is a criminal offence.

Moreover, in countries like Mauritania, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, where sharia law is applied, homosexuality is punishable by death.

Historically, queens who ruled villages on the continent would have wives, and men would also have sex with other men during army training in the mountains. I argue that some of those queens and soldiers were either lesbian or gay, and perhaps even bisexual. When the white people arrived on the continent, they criminalised homosexuality to suit their incorrect agenda of a homophobic God, despite the biblical contradiction that insists God is love.

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You cannot tamper with biology, as genes can be passed from one generation to another. In genealogy, one can trace homosexuality back to the early years of humankind. In my novel, when the main character, Peace, who has been chosen by his ancestors to one day ascend the throne and lead his village during a time of change, comes out to his family as gay, his family’s reaction extends to calling homosexuality un-African, an abomination, and that it is a result of witchcraft.

Indeed, many gay people today have many stories to tell about how their own families sought to take them to traditional healers to “heal” them of homosexuality. This is a sub-theme that features prominently in my novel.

Despite homosexuality still being described by the right-wing as un-African, as a Christian who does not engage in ancestral veneration, I am always fascinated by how many gay guys heed the calling to be traditional healers.

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As far as I am concerned, a calling is the greatest compliment your ancestors can bestow upon anyone because it shows they believe in your ability to bring about healing in this sick world we live in. If my fellow African gay brothers from up north, including from east and west African countries, who I follow on Instagram, freely express homosexual innuendos in their Instagram stories, and if such innuendos are anything to go by, Africa is moving towards a stage of tolerance, albeit at a snail’s pace.

I carefully chose the word tolerance because even in South Africa, where the Bill of Rights embraces homosexuality, queer rights are only as good as the paper they are written on.

Such rights are yet to be felt by ordinary LGBTQIA+ people who do not live in gated communities; the ordinary Matome, Sibusiso, Luyolo, Lufuno and Xiluva, in the townships and villages.

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* Mokwena is the author of “Here Comes The Gay King”, available from July 1.