We Must Free Our Imaginations

 

“We ‘feel free’ because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.” – Slavoj Zizek

2014 was a dramatic year for LGBTI Rights on the African continent. The ‘we must free our imaginations’ videos came after Binyavanga Wainaina came out in 2014 through an article that was the ‘lost chapter’ from his book One Day I Will Write About This Place. His coming out and subsequently these videos came after the homophobic bills against homosexuality and same-sex marriage were proposed in different African states. Wainaina’s response to the homophobia and irrational justification for the prosecution of queer people in different parts of the African continent was to come out and speak out against the prosecutions. His main message was about the need to free our imagination. He asks us to imagine a different world from the one we are living.

These videos about freeing our imagination were really the inspiration for me to start writing about queerness in South Africa. So I developed the Queer Consciousness website. We often feel so helpless in the face of hate speech and homophobic violence, and I thought maybe writing about it could be a small contribution to us thinking differently and critically about being queer on this continent. The message contained in these videos really challenge us as black people to imagine the kind of Africa we would like to live. It challenges us to see the ways in which colonisation still affects us and affects how we navigate the world. The fact that in many African states colonised by the British, there is still all kinds of laws against “unnatural” acts is just one of the ways we have remained chained by colonial powers and restrictions. These videos were a great inspiration to me, and I hope they will be to you as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Uganda, Miss Gay Ekasi – constructions of African beauty

                  Miss Gay

Written by Lwando Scott 

I was recently asked to be a judge at the Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant organised by the Desmond Tutu Aids Foundation. You can imagine my excitement when I was asked to be a judge at the pageant. The competition took place at the Delft Community Hall in Delft. After giving the crowd a Queen Elizabeth wave as I was introduced as one of the judges, I took my seat and waited for the contestants to come on stage in their casual wear. When I arrived at the competition I was under the impression that Mr Gay would be women in drag, as in dressed up as men to compete for Mr Gay and the Miss Gay would be men in drag. To my surprise both the Mr and Miss contestants were men. I suppose the Mr “Gay” and Miss “Gay” tittle should have been the first clue, but that will teach me to assume the gendering of gay pageants. Although after the pageant I couldn’t help but think about whether there are any Mr and Miss Lesbian pageants? I don’t ever remember attending one, or hearing that it’s taking place, which brings up a number of questions about gender in LGBTI pageants.

As soon as the competition began I realised that this was going to be a tough job, but I was ready and willing with my scoring sheets. The contestants strutted on stage trying to impress us in the second round with “wild life” themed outfits. The contestants came out in swimsuits and other “wild life” interpretations including what looked like goatskin. This round was followed by eveningwear, which was the last round the contestants could use to impress the judges. Throughout the competition the crowd was really not shy about whom they thought should win, and became more aggressive about it by getting closer to the stage towards the end of the completion.

After much debate and deliberation we, the judges, chose the top five Miss Gay and top three Mr Gay and after questions and answers we came to a conclusion of who should win.

The Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant is community centred. It is an annual celebration of young LGBTI people who are living their lives, the best way they know how, under extremely harsh social conditions. In the participants I saw young people who are brave, who challenge their communities gender expectations and defining for themselves what it means to live free. In the participants I saw a determined spirit that I hope burns on in other areas of their lives. I was inspired to be in the company of black LGBTI people who are marvelling in each other’s presence. The energy in that Community Hall can’t be described it had to be felt.

I am not new in the world of beauty pageants. My fascination with beauty pageants began in the mid 1990’s when I still a primary school going little boy. I used to watch Miss South Africa every year and then watch Miss Universe and then conclude the holy trinity of pageants with Miss World. I used to have a note pad and a pen and I would closely watch the scores and write them down so I could predict the winner. I became very good at predicting the winners because after watching religiously I picked up on the patterns of the competitions. I think maybe these were the first signs of my interest in social science.

As I grew older and began to have a more nuanced understanding of the world, I began to see beauty pageants in a different light. Pageants are not divorced from the racialized ideas of beauty. The politics of apartheid ensured that black women were excluded from entering the national beauty pageant but after apartheid fell Jackie Mofokeng was crowned the first black Miss South Africa in 1993. The following year Basetsana Khumalo (Makgalemele back then) was named Miss Africa 1994.

It is important to note that the black women who win Miss South Africa in the post-apartheid era are women who closely resemble white ideals of beauty. These ideals include slender figures, relaxed hair or hair extensions, etc. By saying this I am not condemning black women who choose to straighten their hair and wear weaves, but what I am saying is that beauty pageants seem to ONLY accept this style of black women to enter and win. This was largely replicated in the Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant, although the woman who won Miss Gay Ekasi had a shaved head, which was refreshing for the judges.

The racialized politics of beauty continue as we have seen with the crowning of Leah Kalanguka as Miss Uganda 2014/15 and the amount of abuse she has received because she is seen as “ugly.” On social media platforms Ugandans and other people have called Leah Kalanguka all kinds of derogatory names and have said that she does not deserve the crown because she is not beautiful. People often talk about beauty as if it is something that is “natural” but society is actively involved in the process of constructing beauty. The ways in which beauty is constructed in society, including African communities, does not take place outside of the notions of white supremacy. I would argue actually that current constructions of beauty are based on white supremacist foundations.

We live in a world where black people are obsessed with “yellow bone” beauty. I have written about the white supremacist foundations of the term “yellow bone” and I think calling Leah Kalanguka “ugly” is a manifestation of “yellow bone” narratives. I don’t think Miss Uganda 2014/15 is “ugly” she has dark skin and it is her dark skin that people are equating with ugliness. In a world of “yellow bone” beauty, where beauty is measured by proximity to whiteness, of course people will find her “ugly.” The statements made by people on social media platforms about Leah Kalanguka do not shock me. This is not a surprising at all. Actually, sadly, it’s quite expected.

This story about Miss Uganda speaks to the desperate need for black people to deprogram themselves of white supremacist notions of beauty. Although there are many platforms like magazines, books, websites, twitter accounts, Facebook pages that celebrate African beauty, the venomous colonial narratives of beauty persist. We live in postcolonial times on this continent, and post-apartheid in South Africa, and the possibilities of constructing African beauty according to our own ideals is infinite. As people who are working towards the realisation of an African Renaissance it would do us good to shed the limited conceptions of beauty, of love, of sexuality, of the good life, of success, of gender, of Africa-ness, left behind by colonialists.

Achille Mbembe articulates quite successfully the essence of what we should be striving for when he states “we need to reopen Africa to the circulation of ideas and mobility, against models of post colonial, internalised boundaries.” We need to break the narrow confines with which we work with to define African beauty and identities.

Jesus is destructive for black people

There are two times in my life that I started to think critically about Jesus and all that he represents. The first moment was when I was in school and my friend NomaA said to me that she thinks Jesus is horrible and hates black people. NomaA said that God hates black people because he gave black women ugly hair and they have to go to so much trouble to get their hair as silky as white women’s hair. NomaA said that if God loved black people he would have given black women straight, beautiful, flowing hair and not the type of hair that needs to much labour to make it beautiful. I remember this conversation because it was the first time someone had spoken so openly to me about dissatisfaction with God.

The second time my young mind had to critically think about Jesus (I use God and Jesus interchangeably, they are after all the same person) was when I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. You will remember Pecola in the book and the sadness of her yearning for blue eyes. Pecola, a black girl who prays to God to give her blue eyes so that she could also be beautiful. I remember reading the following passages and weeping:

“Each night without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that would take a long, long time.”

After praying very hard for a whole year for blue eyes, Pecola does not get her blue eyes. She then goes to see a Psychic Reader and who said:

“Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty… a little black girl who wanted to rise out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes. For the first time he (Psychic Reader) honestly wished he could work miracles.”

As you can imagine I’ve had other experiences that have made me question the concept of Jesus, but these two stand out because I was so young and both of these encounters have stayed with me. What also made these encounters special is that when I read about Pecola in The Bluest Eye, I immediately thought of NomaA and how she must have felt about black women’s hair.

Now I am a little older and I have sat through many Sociology classes that have enabled me unpack these events in retrospect. There is much to unpack from the statements made by my friend NomaA and by Pecola about the intersection of race, religion, gender, and beauty. In this piece I want to concentrate on religion, on God, on Jesus and why it is destructive for black people to believe in this construct.

The statement made by NomaA back in school about her black hair and Jesus not giving black people flowing white people hair was problematic because it relies on white supremacist concepts of beauty. What NomaA believed about Jesus on the other hand was correct to a large extent, because it is clear that if there was such a thing as a Jesus, then he really doesn’t like black people, women, disabled people, and LGBTI people. The important question then becomes why would black people want to worship a God that doesn’t seem to like them? Back in school both NomaA and I didn’t have the analytical tools to help us understand the way South African society was shaped and how race, God, and white supremacy are linked. Even though we didn’t have well developed analytical skills NomaA already felt that there was something wrong with the Jesus picture.

The character of Pecola was instrumental in helping me see the violence of Christianity on the black psyche. The way Pecola prays to white Jesus for blue eyes made me weep. I couldn’t (still can’t) get over the destructiveness of how she prayed for a whole year for pretty blue eyes, blue eyes she will never attain. Here is a black girl praying for blue eyes from a white God – it is the essence of white supremacy – black people asking to be saved by a white God by making them white. To think that black people continue praying to Jesus so that “they can be more like (white) Jesus.” You have to appreciate the wackiness of it all, that although black people have been “emancipated” from colonialism and in South Africa also from apartheid, they continue to be enslaved to a Jesus that was an instrument in their colonisation.

The question of Jesus is a pressing matter for black people’s liberation because the construct of white Jesus is one of the strongest ways black people are held in captivity. I have already written about the dangers of the concept of “The New Jerusalem” and “storing your wealth in heaven” while others, predominantly white others are enjoying wealth right here on earth. The concept of Jesus is the biggest scam on the African continent and the only people who do not seem to see this is black people. It is a scam because the very people who brought Jesus here do not give two shits about him. It is people who used to worship ancestors before the arrival of Europeans who are willing to die and sometimes kill for Jesus.

A friend of mine recently sent me a video from Stan The White Guy who has some interesting things to say about black people and about Jesus. Stan says a number of things that are true including:

“We use white supremacy and religion to mind fuck brown people.”

“If you believe in a God of your enemy, you are an idiot.”

“We gave you this God because we knew by worshiping a white God you will be worshipping us (white people).”

“You will never fight against us because subconsciously you will be fighting God.”

 Watch the video here.

The relationship between Jesus and white supremacy is destructive for us not to pay attention. The relationship black people have with Jesus is psychologically damaging for us not to critique it. We need to question the concept of Jesus and the things black people do in the name of God. The construct of white Jesus is part and parcel of  the systematic structure of white supremacy and it needs to be challenged and even if God is not willing, it needs to be overhauled. I would rather black people worship dead grandmothers and dead grandfathers a.k.a ancestors than to worship a white, blue eyed Jewish guy who was born from a virgin.

Written by Lwando Scott 

iLifa lezithutha lidliwa ngabahlakaniphileyo

Uyazi ngelinye ixesha andibaqondi kakuhle abantu bakuthi banjani. Yintoni lento yethu yoku kholelwa yonke into esuka kumntu othi “ndingumfundisi?” Kutheni abantu bakuthi bangakhe baphikisane nomntu onguMfundisi ozokuthi yena uyayazi inyani ukoqgitha abanye abantu. Sonke siyayazi into yokuba ibhayibhile yingcwadi eyabhalwa kudala, yayibhalelwe ukubonisa abantu indlela yokuphila ngoko. Ezamini ibhayibhile yayibhalwe ngazo zohlukile kwezi ntsuku siphila kuzo namhlanje.

Masikesithethe nge ndlela ibhayibile efikengayo eMzantsi Afrika. Ingcwadi yokuqala ye bhayibhile eyaguqulwa ngesi Xhosa yayi ngo 1833. Ngamanye amazwi akukho kudala ikhona ibhayibhile yesi Xhosa. Ithetha ukuthi lonto ibhayibile yesi Xhosa ineminyaka angaphantsi ku 200. Apha eMzantsi Africa ibhayibhile ifika nabantu abamhlophe besuka phesheya besithi bangama “Protestant” (andiyazi yintoni iProtestant ngesi Xhosa) nama Roma. Abantu bakuthi baafundiswa nge bhayibhile kwathiwa mabalahle amasiko nezithethe zabo ngokuba azibabalwanga and azingqinelelani nemfundiso zebhayibhile. Abantu bakuthi bazilahla izithethe zabo abanye bengafuni uzilahla izithethe zabo. Namhlanje siphila elizweni elunguMxube abanye bayathandaza, abanye bayaxhela, abanye baxhela be thandaza, bazenza zonke mntasekhaya. Andithi ukuthandaza kungcono kunoxhela okanye ukuxhela kungcono kunokuthandaza, into endiyithethayo kukuba kutheni abantu bangakhe baphikisane nomfundisi xa eshumayela, okanye xa esithi abantu mabatye ingca, okanye xa esithi abantu maba sele i-petrol? Wenamntu ukhonzayo awuyiboni ingathi isnaks into yokuba uhamba usela i-petrol okanye ukutya ingca? Kutheni abantu bangavuli amahle babone ukuba ayikho lento ithethwa ngababa fundisi.

Kukho lento abantu ba kholelwa kuyo ye Jerusalem entsha. Masike sincokole ngale Jerusalem intsha bethuna. Indaba ye Jerusalem entsha isuka ebhayibhileni. iJerusalem entsha ezofunyanwa ngabo bathe ngokubephila emhlabeni bazinikela ku Yehova. Abantu abozofumana iJerusalem entsha ngabo bathe bavuma uYesu. Into abantu ingathi abayiqondi yinto yokuba iJerusalem yindawo ekhoyo KwaSirayeli apho abantu abamnyama bangafunwa khona. iJerusalem endala yile iselizweni elicinezela amaPalestina. AmaPalestina namhlanje acinezelwe nje ngabantu abamnyama babecinizelekile nge ntsuku zo calucalulo apha eMzantsi Afrika.

Abantu ingathi abayibali into yokuba le Jerusalem intsha bathethangayo izayo abanye abantu, ngakumbi abantu abamhlophe, bayitya apha emhlabeni iJerusalem entsha. Njengokuba abantu bakuthi besithi balindele iJerusalem entsha, abanye abantu badla iJerusalem apha eMzantsi Afrika. Abantu bakuthi bayithatheli phezulu indaba ye bhayibile nezinto ekufuneka bazenze ba bakuzofumana indawo ezulwini. Ithi kaloku ibhayibhile abantu mabangagcini ubutyebi babo emhlabeni, mabagcine ubutyebi babo ezulwini. Into endixakayo yinto yokuba sithi bantu bamnyama eMzantsi Afrika abangenabo ubutyebi emhlabeni, siyalamba, and silamba nje abantu basebambelele kwi Jerusalem entsha ngeloxesha abanye abantu bakha ubutyebi emhlabeni, bakha ubutyebi obuzodliwa sisizukulwana sesizukulwana.

Masivukeni emaqandeni abolileyo! Masiyibone lendaba ye Jerusalem entsha iyasibophelela. Lendaba ye Jerusalem entsha yenza abantu bangazilwelwi iimfanelo zabo apha emhlabeni ngokuba abantu banethemba le Jerusalem entsha. Bayavuya kakhulu abantu abamhlophe abantu xabethetha nge Jerusalem entsha ngokuba ithetha ukuthi lonto abantu ababufuni ubutyebi basemhlabeni, ubutyebi obuse zandleni zabantu abamhlophe nanamhlanje. Lendaba ye Jerusalem entsha idodobalisa ingqondo zabantu. Abantu abayiboni ukuba le ndaba ye Jerusalem entsa iyasibophelela. Inzima le ndaba ye Jerusalem entsha ngokuba abantu abazanayo lendaba ye Jerusalem entsha, abantu abamhlophe ngamanye amagama, abayikhathelelanga le Jerusalem entsha, ngabantu bakuthi abathe phithi yi Jerusalem entsha ezayo.

Kukho i-joke yayithandwa ngu Archbishop Desmond Tutu ethi abantu abamhlophe beza e-Afrika bephethe ibhayibhile abantu abamnyama benomhlaba. Bathi abantu abamhlophe makuthandazwe, nabantu abamnyama bacimela kwathandazwa. Ekuvuleni kwabantu amehlo abantu abamhlophe ba nomhlaba, abantu abamnyama bane bhayibhile. Uyithetha nje ngento ehlekisayo u Desmond Tutu kodwa le joke yakhe igcigciza inyani. Abantu bakuthi ngabo ngoku abazimiseleyo nge cawa. Lento yethu yokuthanda ibhayibhile ifikele kwinqanaba lokuba singazazi nobuba singobani. Isibhidile into ye cawa ne bhayibile kuba ngoku asikwazi noyibona into yokuba siyabhanxwa ngabantu ngale Jerusalem intsha.

Ndiyibonile mna indlela abantu ababopheleleke ngayo ngenxa yoku linda iJerusalem entsha ezayo. Mna ndithi masiyiphile apha emhlabeni iJerusalem entsha. Masiyitye ngoku sisaphila iJerusalem entsha. Mna ubomi bam ndibuphila nje ngomntu ongalindelange obunye. Lento yokulindela obunye ubomi obuzayo. Ikwenza ungonwabi ngoku usaphila. Lento yokulindela iJerusalem entsha yenza abantu bangazityhali ekuzameni ukwakha ubomi obuphucukileyo. Lendaba ye Jerusalem entsha yenza abantu bangazilweli imfanelo zabo kuba kaloku kukho le ntetho ithi abantu maba gcine ubutyebi babo ezulwini and mabalindele iJerusalem entsha.

Inzima into yokuba abantu kufuneka bagcine ubutyebi ezulwuni kodwa abefumndisi banemali apha emhlabeni. Abafundisi baqhuba iimoto ezinamagama, iimoto ezinamavili emqolo. Abafundisi bahlala kwizindlu ema sababs ngeloxesha abantu bebandla bayasokola, kodwa ngababantu basokolayo abafuneka bakhuphe imali ecaweni. Umfundisi k‘qala uphila ubomi base Jerusalem entsha phambi kwebandla lakhe. Iphi lonto umntu athi gcina ubutyebi bakho ezulwini athogqiba yena azithengele iBMW?

Lentetho ye Jerusalem entsha yenza abantu bangaphuhlisi ubomi babo ngoku be phila. Uyayiqonda phofu into yokuba abantu bakuthi babhubha benganazinto, abantu bakuthi bayafa bengashiyizinto, abawashiyi amafa azodliwa zizizukulwana. Ingathi kum abantu bakuthi abakayiqondi into yokuba uMzantsi Africa lilifa lethu sonke, funeka sonke singcamle ubomi obumnandi base Mzantsi Afrika. Into yoku ngcamla ubumnandi eMzantsi izokwenzeka xa sikholwelwa nyani ukuba ziimfanelo zethu iziqhamo zase Mzantsi Afrika. Izokwenzeka lonto xa siyiphila apha emhlabeni iJerusalem entsha. Ukuba asikayiboni into yokuba ilifa lethu bantu bamnyama kwelilizwe siphila kulo lidliwa ngaba-hlakaniphileyo, soze siphinde siyibone lento. Njengokuba silibeleke kukulala siphupha nge Jerusalem entsha, abanye abantu, ngakumbi abantu abamhlophe, bahleli bantya iJerusalem entsha apha emhlabeni. Into engazokwenzeka ebomini bam, andizomisa ubomi bam ndilindele iJerusalem entsha endingayaziyo, iJerusalem eyaza nabantu abamhlophe apha ekhaya, iJerusalem entsha ke phofu engakhathalelwanga ngabantu abaza nayo. Ndiyifuna apha eMzansti Afrika, ngoku ndisaphila iJerusalem entsha.

iGay, iLesbian, iBisexual – Xhosalisation of English

A few months ago I received an e-mail asking my advice about IsiXhosa equivalents of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender. IsiXhosa equivalents of these words do not exist, and I am not talking about derogatory terms. Growing up I had no language to talk about sexual identity; even the concept of having a “sexual identity” was a revelation in my late teens. Although visibly gay while growing up, there was no concrete articulation of my gayness as a sexual identity. I have often struggled with articulating sexual identity terms like gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) in my mother tongue.

I have had an on-going conversation with my close friends about the issue of not having a “language” to talk about LGBTI issues. The language we use to talk about LGBTI issues and the terms we use to classify sexual identity are English language words. When people use the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) in the vernacular people just add an “i” or “u” in front of the English word. So gay is then iGay (a gay) or uGay (he is gay), or iLesbian (a lesbian) or uyiLesbian (she is a lesbian). The same is done with all the other letters in L-G-B-T-I.

Now, although there are no specific terms, all of the terms in the L-G-B-T-I acronym can be described in the vernacular. Which is something people do when they talk about LGBTI people – they describe what gay people “do”. So if I am to answer the question – what is a gay man – in the vernacular, I would describe a gay man in the vernacular as “umntu oyindoda othandana namanye amadoda” which translates to “someone who likes or falls in love with other men” which means gay. There are multiple ways in the vernacular in which people say “gay” by describing what the term means – or what the person who is gay “does”. This is more or less the same process or application to the other letters in the L-G-B-T-I acronym.

Homophobes People have often raised the issue that because there are no equivalent specific terms in indigenous languages for L-G-B-T-I terms, homosexuality must be a Western import. This is a complicated point and needs to be addressed carefully. While it is true that the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transgender are all from the English language, what these terms name and describe is a phenomena that takes place in many cultures around the world. So although there are no equivalent words in the vernacular for gay, lesbian, or transgender, that doesn’t mean that, there are no gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals amongst Xhosa people. So saying that because we don’t have a specific word for “transgender” in the vernacular therefore transgender people do not exist is lazy logic that won’t move us forward in making sense of the world.

Equally important is keeping in mind that the words gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual are also “new” words in the English language. The word “gay” and the word “lesbian” only become a reference for homosexuality in the late 19th century and increasingly in the 20th century. These words are less than 200 years old. The word “transgender” is even more “new” as a word because it comes to life in late 20th century and increasingly becoming part of our daily vocabulary.

New words are introduced into a language as new human phenomenon is discovered. New words are introduced as cultures find ways to explain people’s behaviours. Life is constantly evolving. The problem with IsiXhosa and other indigenous languages is that there are not enough people who are writing and producing knowledge in the vernacular, which is one of the ways new words are coined. The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this piece in English discussing IsiXhosa language issues. It pains me to admit that as awesome as my Xhosa is –I can read, write, and speak- it’s not as good as my English. It takes me twice as much time (if not more) to write a Xhosa piece than it does an English piece. Glancing over at my bookshelf I can’t spot a single Xhosa book. I used to read more Xhosa books when I was younger, but that changed as I grew older and went to mixed school and was required to read English books.

The language issue is a national issue, or at least it should be treated as such. IsiXhosa like all other indigenous languages of South Africa are not evolving by additional words being added in the language. Instead we see what my friends and I call the Xhosalisation of English words (which is a phenomenon that needs dissecting). Xhosalisation takes place in different ways, one of the ways it happens is the placing of the prefix “i” or “u” on English words. There is also the creation of “new” words by amalgamating English words with IsiXhosa words like the word “Xhosalisation.” Xhosalisation of English is useful for immediate everyday conversation but I wonder about its sustainability.

It is impossible to talk about language in this country without talking about the effects of colonisation and apartheid on indigenous languages. These systems of oppression have negatively affected the organic development of indigenous languages in epic proportions. Unlike English and Afrikaans, there are no structures in this country to ensure that indigenous languages continue to evolve. Universities like Stellenbosch are bastion of the Afrikaans language and ensure that the language is moving with the times. There are no equivalent indigenous language institutions.

The post 1994 government has also failed to prioritise education and indigenous languages continue to be neglected. I think we need to think of ways in which we can articulate the struggles with gender inequality, sexual identity, and the changing culture in this country in indigenous languages. We need to be able to articulate the complexity of human sexuality in indigenous languages and maybe this will lead us in a direction where people gain a better understanding of sexual diversity.

It is a big problem that no academic work takes place in indigenous languages, as this is where ideas and new ways of being are articulated. This is not to say that people in the streets are not contributing towards the evolution of language, but it is knowledge producing centres that coin terms for human phenomenon and in the process helps us understand that human phenomenon. A few years ago for the first time at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University a PhD thesis was written and submitted in IsiXhosa. The sad reality is that even if you wanted to write a sociological PhD thesis in IsiXhosa you will struggle to find supervisors who would be able to read it. Not to mention the struggle you would encounter with trying to explain “deconstruction”, “queer theory”, or “intersectional analysis.”

There are ways in which we could try and improve the language situation in this country but that demands political will and that is sorely lacking. Universities in this country are in a good position to create language/cultural centres for indigenous languages. This could start a project of taking indigenous languages seriously and slowly introduce knowledge production in indigenous languages. Universities could collaborate with people who speak indigenous languages to learn more about the languages and the cultures behind them. At times it seems to me that the 9 indigenous languages of the 11 official languages in this country are only decorative. Imagine if all 9 of the indigenous languages had a language institute.

Also as people who speak indigenous languages, we should really seek ways in which we maintain indigenous languages in our everyday lives. Imagine a South Africa with IsiXhosa book clubs and IsiXhosa reading rooms at universities in the Western and Eastern Cape. Imagine a South Africa where students can study sociology in the vernacular. Having IsiXhosa centres could also serve as great instruments in diffusing the alienating white supremacist culture of former whites only universities in this country because black people will then feel part of institutions and not just needing to adapt to a white world. What we need is a vision of the kind-of South Africa we want to live in and work towards that vision. Creating language institutes will probably not be easy, but creating a healthy South Africa that is content with itself requires hard word and an on-going conversation about our difficult past and where we want to go. We also need to make piece with the fact that the great South Africa we want to create will be enjoyed by future generations. Just like we are enjoying a democratic South Africa that was created in part by many people who died in the process of creating it and never had a chance to experience it.

Queering Postcolonial Reality

Many of us who grow up intersex, lesbian, gay, or generally with a gender non-conforming way of being often have a difficult time in developing positive self image and self identity. Growing up is complicated further when you have to negotiate this non-gender conforming way of being and/or same-sex attraction with having an African identity. The now very famous adage “homosexuality is un-African” is a deeply held belief that has seeped into almost every segment of African society.

It has been repeated ad nauseam by different statesmen from different corners of the African continent people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Jahya Jemmeh of Gambia, the Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa. This axiom has come to hold as much power as bible scriptures. It is used at once to denounce the sexual immorality of Western society that is supposedly infiltrating Africa while at the same time promotes the sexual morality of Africans. Growing up in South Africa I was very aware of the supposed contradiction of African identity and homosexuality and how these two things couldn’t and shouldn’t intersect.

The sentiment of homosexuality as un-African is a postcolonial phenomenon. Anti-colonial movements never really addressed the question of homosexuality. The ANC was forced to deal with the issue of homosexuality towards the end of apartheid. We need a queering up of postcolonial understanding of Africa through problematizing the logic used to discriminate against homosexuality. The recent anti-homosexuality laws that have been enacted in Uganda and Nigeria and the passive response, which I read as consent, from African leaders, including South Africa, speak to the narrow and limited interpretation of postcolonial existence in postcolonial Africa.

What does it mean to be an African in postcolonial times, a time that some argue is not as “post” colonial as we would like to believe? What do we do with a postcolonial existence that does not look like the postcolonial world imagined when independence was won and democracy instituted? The ongoing battle over the “authenticity” of the African homosexual is really a battle of what does it mean to be African in the fraught postcolonial existence. Who are we and where are we situated in history? These are really big questions. It is not the task of this piece to address African existential questions. I want to take issue with the ways in which homosexual discrimination is constructed, and then talk about the possibilities for self-invention that are created by a free imagination.

The complexity of postcolonial life needs to be negotiated carefully, and moving away from simplifying human experience in African is paramount. There are three main arguments that are often evoked against homosexuality in Africa. Firstly there is a fictitious Africa that we are often told about where homosexuality never existed. Secondly, religion is used to substantiate the arguments against homosexuality. Popular scriptures are used like the famous Leviticus 18:22 to demonstrate how it is against god to have same-sex attraction. Lastly I interrogate how African homosexuals are misguidedly used to snub supposedly Western imperialism.

Postcolonial reality is burdened with complexity that will not be solved in the near future. Complexity that is baggage from colonialism, the partition of the continent, independence/democracy with “development” loans, which has all lead to unstable economies, poverty, and civil wars. People underestimate the deep and long lasting consequences that colonialism, and in South Africa apartheid, has had on African states.

One of the ways in which Africans deals with the heaviness of a colonial past that paints the African as savage, with no history, hyper sexual, and with no contribution to the development of the world – there is a creation of what Africa looked liked, what Africans used to do with their bodies prior to colonialism. This fictitious Africa is without same-sex attraction, same-sex love, and same-sex marriage. It is an Africa without any homoerotic tendencies. This fictitious Africa is a place where homosexuality doesn’t exist. In this artificial pre-colonial Africa, same-sex love has never existed. It is seen as learned from Western colonizers upon arrival.

This argument makes me wonder what does it mean to learn, adopt, and/or copy from Western countries? The structures of many African universities, physically and philosophically, are modeled after European universities. Shouldn’t they be outlawed as well? Albeit sometimes reformed, the parliamentary systems and “democracy” are all systems of governance adopted from the West. The very constitutions governing African states outlawing homosexuality as a Western construct are rough drafts from Western countries. The “homosexuality is copied from the west” excuse is an ignorant and inconsistent excuse to discriminate against homosexuals.

Anti-homosexuality arguments are draped with concern over the disappearance or pollution of African culture. The many ways in which African culture can be preserved for future generations does not include the execution of homosexuals. The best ways in which African culture and traditions can be preserved is by writing books that chronicle African life, we should be writing textbooks and novels in isiXhosa and isiZulu and other indigenous languages. We should be building language institutes and cultural centers whose main goal is to document and preserve culture. We should be making sure that schools in townships, in rural areas, in far flung areas are well equipped to teach students in the vernacular and to teach the history of the very culture in which society is trying to preserve.

Preservation of African culture, African traditions, and African ways of being means that you incentivize people who speak, read and/or write more than two, or three or four African languages. Create and subsidize publishing houses that publish work in indigenous languages. This will go much further and will actually help in preserving some essence of culture, at least in archival form. Indigenous languages are only glorified in the constitution, and South Africans love boasting to foreigners that they have eleven official languages. In reality South Africans mostly use one language, English, all the other ones are basically ornamental, unless of course you live in Stellenbosch.

Now if government leaders were interested in the preservation of African culture, languages would be a priority because we know that culture is lived through language. This is more so for African communities because many of our cultures have not been written down like most of Western culture. Our cultures are passed down mostly orally which means they live and breathe only as far as people speak and practice them. What I have outlined here are concrete steps towards the preservation of African culture and traditions. The creation of laws that seek to prohibit two people of the same-sex from loving and sexually pleasing each other will not do much for the preservation of African culture and traditions.

The issue here is not about African culture. If it were, other strategies of preserving the culture would need to be employed. Moving away from talking about a fantasy Africa is important because we need to be talking more about the Africa we want to live in, an Africa that Nelson Mandela hoped would be “at peace with itself.” An Africa at peace with itself will not be achieved by “correcting” African lesbians through rape or by imprisoning people that are suspected of being homosexuals.

In trying to understand the anti-homosexuality laws, discrimination, and violence I wonder how in the postcolonial narrative homosexuality is Western but Christianity is not branded the same. Christian fundamentalists do not even bother to engage with the arguments that Christianity is un-African. Africans who live according to the bible often act like they are better than people who don’t read the bible. It has been my experience that religious people are the most heartless and will maim people in the name of god.

When listening to the news, reading newspapers, or listening to friends talk, religion is always tip toed around. There is a double standard in our society on calling out religious fundamentalists about the ways in which they inflict pain, harass, and oppress people who are non-believers. African homosexuals have been heavily affected by the hatred of the church, and that’s what it is, hatred.

Religion is not unlinked to colonialism, and I would have imagined that as a society we would have reservations about religion, especially Christianity because it came to be a force on the African continent through missionaries. The missionaries saw the African way of life as barbaric, savage like, and in much need of civilising. The Christianity that is used to demonise homosexuality is the same Christianity that was used to demonise black people during apartheid. We often skirt around the horrible role that religion played in the construction of black Africans as other in colonialism and in apartheid South Africa.

The very people who orchestrated apartheid were reading the same bible that black South Africa were reading then, and continue to read. We are oblivious to the fact that the very notions that are used to lash out by the majority of black Africans on African homosexuals were used by white Europeans in rationalising colonisation of the African continent; indeed apartheid in South Africa.

When I think about colonisation, apartheid, and the bible I am reminded of Eugene De Kock’s confession that he really believed that he was carrying out the mission of God, that black Africans, particularly in the ANC were against God and the state and so should be killed. The bible that Eugene De Kock and many others in the South African Defence Force during apartheid carried the state issued bible with a message from P.W. Botha and it partly read: “The bible is an important part of your calling to duty. When you are overwhelmed with doubt, pain, or when you find yourself wavering, you must turn to this wonderful book of answers. …… It is my prayer that this bible will be your comfort so that you can fulfil your duty.” The “fulfil your duty” from P.W. Botha includes the mutilation of thousands of African bodies at the hands of the South African Defence Force written in a bible. The bible has now found new use, to oppress and to vilify people with divergent sexual orientations. So yes, I am extremely skeptical about the bible and I am vigilant on whom and how it is used to oppress. Religion can and has been used for the most evil of purposes. As Africans we need to be attentive indeed critical of religion because it is the very religion that was used to justify our enslavement.

The convoluted nature of postcolonial reality is revealed when draconian anti-homosexuality laws, which harken back at puritanical anti-sodomy laws, are being created by Africans to oppress fellow Africans in the name of a colonial Jesus. The messiness of postcolonial life is also revealed at burials where priests and church leaders preside over mutilated bodies of African lesbians in South Africa but fail to link the church’s hatred of homosexuality and the consent it generates for the murders of African lesbians. The Christian obsession with people’s sexuality and “how” homosexuals have sex knows no boundaries, to a point where gay pornographic videos are shown in church.

In the tirade against homosexuals many are oblivious or look the other way at African men and women who are not “gay” or “lesbian” but engage in what sociologist would call situational homosexual sex. This is the sex between people of the same-sex that would occur in prisons, in boarding school, in the mines, and in woman only spaces, not because these people necessarily identify as homosexual but the opportunity for same-sex sex presents itself. With this then I would echo Michelle Foucault’s assertion that people are not really affronted about homosexual sex per se but are unsettled by the audacity of people to actually love each other.

I advocate caution with the ways in which everything “African” is measured by “going against the West.” We need to interrogate the narrative that ALL that we are as Africans is what the West in not and vice versa. This is not to say that there aren’t differences between African cultures and Western cultures, there are, but we need to be vigilant of the simplistic rendering of acts, in this case sexual acts, as black and white. Human life is far more sophisticated than that. Human existence and world history provides a precarious and fraught colonial history that impacts on African life today. A history that is difficult to understand because it is ever shifting.

This reactionary business of always going in the opposite direction of the West, for the sake of moving in the opposite direction, just so we are not like them, is not helpful to the African Renaissance. It is not helpful in our journey of building a continent with people who are at peace with themselves. We cannot un-do colonialism; we cannot create legislation to govern people’s lives in 2014 with an invented pre-colonial existence. This is not to say that there was no pre-colonial African life, or that life should be ignored, on the contrary, we can write books about it. What I am suggesting is that, yes, we need to deal with the fact that what we are as Africans today is probably not what we would have been without colonization. But we also have to know and believe that even without the influence of colonization, what we were in 1652 we wouldn’t be the same people in 2014.

The insinuation that African homosexuals are only but a product of the West is really insulting and negates LGBTI people’s agency. It is misguided because the African homosexual has worked tirelessly to create a self without a model. The African homosexual has against horrendous odds claimed an identity that is demonized and relegated to the bottom of humanity. In spite of all of this, the African homosexual says I am here. It would seem to me that African homosexuals embody the spirit of the African Renaissance. They have taken the possibilities afforded by postcolonial reality and in South Africa by post-apartheid freedom and crafted a self, a sexual self.

Remember amongst many things taken from us by colonialism, it robbed us of a way to construct ourselves, but living in postcolonial times we have the opportunity to imagine and subsequently create the Africa and the African-self we envision. The African homosexual is probably one of the greatest examples of the prospects fashioned by living in postcolonial times, the opportunity for self-invention. Freed from the shackles of colonialism, the possibilities are endless and they include forming a sexual self that is different. There cannot put a limit placed on how we imagine a future Africa. We cannot cap the potential of human imagination in how people see themselves and their world and their future. So, instead of stoning, imprisoning, or maiming African homosexuals, I would advocate using them as examples of an uncapped imagination, of possibility, and freedom in a convoluted postcolonial reality.

When meeting white South Africans abroad

I have always found it awkward interacting with white South Africans when meeting them abroad. I always sense a discomfort and often a hesitation to interact on their part. I have also experienced white South Africans being overly familiar with me abroad although meeting for the first time. I am often open to interacting with South Africans abroad, but interactions with white South Africans have consistently proven to be uncomfortable. I have had positive, non-awkward interactions with white South Africans abroad, but they are the exception.

The most baffling interaction was recently when I was studying abroad, I met two white South Africans at the same time, we were at a “global studies” event. The white South African male lives in South Africa and was visiting abroad for a project he is involved in. The other South African, a white woman and lives abroad, and has not permanently lived in South Africa for something like 20 years.

When I met these two white South Africans on the same night at the same time, I had just arrived at the university, where I was doing a yearlong fellowship. They asked me how I was handling the transition. My answer was that I was doing well, and learning how to be in this new city and university. It wasn’t my first time abroad, and I was excited about the academic year, so I was not stressing. After a few chit chats, the woman then asked me if I knew where the African market was, or a place where I can get maize meal and other “African” foods from home in the new city. I was intrigued, but before I could answer the white man jumped in and spoke first. He chuckled in a ‘what do you mean’ manner and said, “what do you mean, why would he need an African market, he lives in the city of Cape Town?” I was stunned and sipped on my wine, and the white woman continued to talk about the African market. I got away from them as soon as I could.

Now, you can read this interaction in different ways. You can read it as a well-meaning white South African woman trying to help me find “African” food. You can also read her as someone who thinks I am a black South African and so I probably crave samp & beans. You can read the white man’s response as someone who sees me as a black Capetownian who lives in the city and has a cosmopolitan palate. But you can also read him as saying that I am a University of Cape Town attending middle-class black that does not eat samp & beans.

None of these readings really matter to me that much, because who knows their intentions. What I really had a problem with is the way in which both of these white South Africans think they know me and know what I want. They both decided which black South African I am, as if we come in these little packages, and then proceeded to treat me as such. I also found it comical how they both had a conversation about me, while I was there and could answer for myself, but in their our conversation I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And after that little back and forth between the two of them I wasn’t interested.

The white woman assumed that I would be deprived of food that I am used to eating like pap and other “African” foods. The white man looked at me and immediately assumed that because I am a black that lives in the city of Cape Town, there’s no way I eat “African” food. I was really struck by how these two white South Africans thought they knew me and what I would like thousands of kilometres away from South Africa. I was struck by the audacity of these two people to think that they know what I could possibly want. The arrogance of white South Africans knows no boundaries.

The white woman wanted me to be able to find “authentic” African food that would remind me of home, which is a nice suggestion, but then further interactions with her I sensed that she was too obsessed with African “authenticity.” The white man on the other hand was too dismissive of the possibility that I would want to go to the African market. I really didn’t think about trying to find an African market when I arrived. But I also didn’t reject the idea of it either. These white South Africans were both essentialist in their thinking, not taking into account that I could be an African market going black South African with a cosmopolitan lifestyle and palette living in the city of Cape Town. Why the restrictions? Why the compartmentalisation? Why the limited scope of definition? Can I define myself?

Later I thought about how actually that interaction was a true reflection of how white people think of black South Africans. It speaks to the limited, and simplistic ways black South Africans are seen by white South Africans and sometimes-other black South Africans. The compartmentalisation of black South Africans as pap eating and non-pap eating predicts the ways that white people interact with black people. In this interaction I was mostly upset that these two individuals thought they knew me. That they think they can predict what I need. Equally, I found it problematic that my African-ness is measured by the food I eat, because the white woman who asked me about the African market, I doubt if she asks young white South Africans if they want to go to the African market when she meets them.

I never made it to the African market. I did go to a wonderful South African restaurant. I don’t see the point of going to another country only to seek and eat South African food. I prefer to explore local cuisine and the local culture. When I am in Cape Town and it’s suburbs and townships, I visit local eateries serving local food all the time. I have nothing to prove with the food I eat, I just enjoy it. To paraphrase India Arie, I am not my food.

Written by Lwando Scott