Gay Pride: The politics disruption



“No Justice. No Pride.” describe themselves as “collective of organizers and activists” from DC, Washington comprising of “black, brown, queer, trans, gender nonconforming, bisexual, indigenous, two-spirit, formerly incarcerated, disabled, white allies and together” they “recognize that there can be no pride for some without liberation for all.”

The disruption of the Capital Pride Parade in DC, Washington has made headlines in many LGBTI corners around the world. During the disruption, activists were calling for a more political Pride parade, chanting “No Justice, No Pride” as they disrupted the Capital Pride parade. In recent years a number LGBTI Pride parades have experienced disruptions by activists calling for a different kind of politics in Pride marches. There was the disruption of Johannesburg Pride in 2012, there was the creation of Alternative Pride in Cape Town – which marched in the Cape Town Pride in protest of the non-inclusive nature of Cape Town Pride, in 2016 there was the disruption of Toronto Pride by Black Lives Matter activists, insisting that Toronto Pride was anti-black, there was the disruption of Phoenix Pride by a group of gay immigrant-rights activists in 2017, and there was also the disruption of Celebrate Israel Parade by activists from Jewish Voice for Peace in 2017.

Now, Pride disruptions are not new, they have occurred at almost every Pride cycle, the only difference now is that they are getting more publicity. It is perhaps the political climate we find ourselves in, – signified by the election of President Trump in 2016, and the continued murder of black men in the United States by white policeman with no accountability, no justice – that these disruptions are being taken seriously to the point of making the news.

Now as a South African queer person, who is involved in Pride politics in South Africa, the disruptions come as no surprise. In the past I have written about politics of Pride in Cape Town, and in a forth coming special issue of the academic journal Agenda on intersectionality, I have written about the disruption of Johannesburg Pride in 2012. I am interested in the politics of disruption because as a South African I am well versed in the politics of disruption, and my interest in the recent disruptions of Pride Parades is an interest in what disruptions are able to achieve. In light of these disruptions, it is worth thinking seriously about the politics of disruption.

In the past three years South African universities have experienced much disruption. What started with a group of black students calling for the removal of the statue of John Cecil Rhodes in the middle of campus at the University of Cape Town grew to be a national student movement comprising of student disruptions at different universities all over the country. The #RhodesMustFall movement was the catalyst for other #Fall movements, including the recent #FeesMustFall where students have been demanding free education.

What I want to highlight here is the on-going disruptions of university life. The University of Cape Town closed early in 2016 because it couldn’t function because of the #FeesMustFall disruptions. The #RhodesMustFall and then #FeesMustFall movements have spurned another movement, #DecoloniseEducation. The student movements have used the methods of disruption to be heard. The methods have been incremental in cases, where there was a march, and then the occupation of buildings, the occupation of classrooms – making it impossible to learn and teach, the closing of entry ways to university grounds, some of the tactics have lead to the destruction of university property. This has lead me, and many South Africans, to think hard about the politics of disruption. Disruption can be described as: to break apart, to cause a rupture, to throw into disorder, to prevent something – a process or a system.

What the student disruptions have done is halt the “everydayness of university life”, to say it is not business as usual. One of the biggest complaints about “change” inside South African universities is how the bureaucratic process – which often includes committee set-up upon committee set-up – is at best sluggish at addressing “change.” The disruptions at the universities have necessitated a new direction, because that’s what disruptions do; when they succeed they make you stop and think of a new way forward.

Of course disruptions are nothing “new” in the South African contexts, anti-apartheid methods involved all kinds of disruptions to fight the apartheid state. So disruptions have been part of South African politics, and with the “new” student movements the politics of disruption continues, and now also Pride parades are grappling with disruptions in 2017. I am interested in what disruptions do? How we think about them and most importantly what are the possibilities created by disruptions?

Bringing the conversation back to the Pride parade disruptions; there seems to be a similar threat running through many of the Pride Parade disruptions. Whether the disruptions took place in DC Washington, or Sea Point, Cape Town, or Toronto, Canada, or Rosebank, Johannesburg, the activists involved in the disruptions are all dissatisfied with the current politics, or lack therefore, of Pride. The activists that have spear headed disruption campaigns demand that Pride be more than just a party on floats. Now, although the demands on Pride parade organisers are slightly different in each particular case of disruption, there are many commonalities. The demands that are being made seem to be centred around:

The One In Nine Campaign activists disrupt Johannesburg Pride in 2012 in Rosebank. 

  • That Pride has become apolitical. That Pride is only interested in having a party, for white middle class gay and lesbian people devoid of any politics.
  • That Pride has gone to the market, where pride organisers are only interested in revenue generation through sponsorship. The corporatisation of Pride has been a topic of discussion for many writers including, India Ross, who in the Financial Times dubbed Gay Pride – Gay Christmas, Danielle Kurtzleben who wrote a piece of how corporations are profiting from Pride Parades, and of course Alexander Chasin’s Selling Out: the gay and lesbian movement goes to market.
  • That Pride does not engage social issues affecting other people within the LGBTI umbrella, people that are not middle-class and white and male and cis. Pride does not centre issues such as racism, gender inequality, Transgender Rights, Immigration Rights, and economic inequality. In the Cape Town context specifically, Cape Town Pride has been critiqued for being exclusive, negating black and coloured LGBTI communities that reside in the Greater Cape Town area.
  • Particularly in the context of the Israeli and Palestine conflict, Pride, in the Jewish state has been criticised for being a vehicle of Pinkwashing the Human Rights violation in the West Bank. For more on this, Sarah Schulman provides some food for thought.

What is interesting to me with these Pride disruptions is the reactions to these disruptions. Now, I want to speak specifically to the South African context, because it is a context I am living in and therefore interested in, but also because it is a context I am well versed in because of my proximity. The reactions from people within the LGBTI movement to the disruption of Pride parades have been divergent. The disruptions of Johannesburg Pride and Cape Town Pride have caused what one might call Pride Wars, where essentially there are two camps, those who support ideas about a more inclusive and political Pride and those who see nothing wrong with the current structure of Pride.

In the South African context, these two groups are shaped by race, geographical location, economic status, gender, ability, gender identity, and gender performance. In Cape Town Pride, the people who want Cape Town Pride unchanged, who want to keep the organising of the Pride exclusive, they are cis-gendered white men living middle class lives and reside in suburbs of the city. Black and coloured LGBTI people, and some white, mostly female activists are demanding a new direction for Pride, one that is political, one that is inclusive of the different races, genders, and accommodates people who are the working-poor.

Recently, I had a conversation on Facebook about the politics of Pride, and why Cape Town Pride is problematic, and how there is no transparency in how the Cape Town Pride is operated. When prompted on what are the issues are, I responded:

“There is an outright refusal to engage opinions about Pride that differ to the people who are seating on the Pride Board. There is a continued neglect of different ideas of what Cape Town Pride should and/or could be. My friends and I (and other people) have attended some of those Pride meetings in past years to volunteer. The Pride meetings we attended were not about generating ideas about Pride, but how we can help the already existing structures of Pride. We don’t want to just be marshals; we want to be involved in the conceptualising of Pride, where it takes place, theme choosing, the geography of the march, etc. so that we make sure it accommodates more than just white people from Sea Point.

In 2015 a group of activists came up with “Alternative Inclusive Pride” and they asked for inclusivity and openness when it comes to Pride.

There are many unanswered questions about Pride. There is NO transparency.
• Who seats on the Board? Who CAN seat on the board?
• When does the Board vote?
• Who can vote?
• Why are Cape Town Pride meetings not publicly announced so all who are interested can attend? Not just “come and volunteer” meetings when all decisions have already been taken about Pride.

Some of the critiques against Cape Town Pride is that decisions about Pride are taken behind closed doors, and there is no accounting for the said decisions. One of the long-standing issues is the location of Pride. Must Pride always be in Sea Point/Greenpoint? The answer to this question is not so important, but the discussion that leads to that answer is what is important. It cannot be taken for granted that Pride must be in Greenpoint. As if all of Cape Town’s LGBTI people live in the immediate areas.

We can’t pretend that apartheid legacy is not with us. We can’t pretend that there are no structural issues that impede working-poor LGBTI people to attend costly Pride events. We can’t address these issues if we are not at the important meetings.”

Interestingly, my response above was in a thread on my social media account about a recent study that found that racism is endemic amongst gay men. What was interesting was the headline of the article that read, “shocking study finds racism endemic amongst gay men.” My response to the headline was ‘shocking for whom’? I doubt if the Black Lives Matter activists who disrupted Toronto pride would be shocked, I doubt if the One In Nine campaign women who orchestrated the disruption of Johannesburg Pride would be shocked, and I know for a fact that my friends and I and other LGBTI people of colour were not shocked by the results of the study because we all have experienced the racism first hand at gay establishments.

These spaces are marketed as “gay bar”, but really should be marketed as “white gay bar.” The “shocked” headline reads a bit disingenuous because LGBTI people of colour have been decrying the racism within the LGBTI spaces for a long time. There are so many blog posts and op-eds about the racism experienced by people of colour on dating websites and dating apps. Some of these written pieces can be found here, and here, and here.

The fact that this study is “shocking” points to a political problem within LGBTI spaces, a problem of not taking seriously the issues raised by non-white, non-cis, non-male LGBTI people. So the study that reveals the racism, and the subsequent “shock” the study prompts from mostly white LGBTI people, enables one to understand why there are Pride parade disruptions. The ignoring of the demands of certain demographics within the LGBTI movement has become so chronic that it necessitates the disruption of Pride to bring these issues to the fore. The question becomes, of course, how do we move forward after the disruptions.

Well, I imagine there are multiple ways of moving forward, chief amongst those is to have open discussions about the Values of Pride, and be committed to creating a Pride that represents LGBTI people and their concerns as whole as much as possible. Before all of that can take place, Pride organisers need to have a politics, a politics that understands the context in which Pride is taking place.

To be able to understand the context, that is the city – the province – the country, that Pride is taking place means genuinely involving local organisations, local activists, and local lay people in the organising of Pride. When a Pride organising committee consists of only cis-gendered white men, and one black person – for posturing – that committee is off to a really bad start. Having one person of colour in a Pride organising committee does not inclusivity make.

Part of the solution of Pride politics lies in the understanding of intersectionality, and adopting a frame of Pride organising that is not blind to intersectional politics. I have made this argument elsewhere discussing the disruption of Johannesburg Pride, and I will re-enforce the argument here. What Pride needs is an acute understanding of intersectionality. This seems self-explanatory but as we have seen with the continued disruptions of Pride and the continued hostility from Pride organisers, understanding of intersectional politics is lacking.

I use intersectionality in the same vein as Kimberle Crenshaw conceived it; in that it helps us understand that our lives are affected by our social position and our identities. The relative smoothness or the difficulty with which we move in society is because of our identities and social position. We each have multiple social identities, and these social identities intersect with each other to give us unique experiences in the world.

For example, a black gay man and a white gay man although both are men and probably can share stories about experiencing homophobia, they experience the world in different ways because of race. The difference in racial experience intersects with their maleness, and their gayness with divergent results. The racial experiences of these two men translate to having radically different ideas/experiences/feelings about their sexuality and their manhood. This is made more complex if you consider other issues like socio-economic background of the two men, their educational background, their gender performance and expression, and the list goes on. In South Africa this is complicated further by the history of apartheid where economic inequality is distributed along racial lines, and is also gendered.

Why is this important for Pride? Well, it is important for Pride because the Pride disruptions have been centred around the silences on issues affecting different demographics under the LGBTI umbrella. It is important because as Kath Weston once wrote “gender is about race is about class is about sexuality is about age is about nationality is about an entire range of social relations” and the implication is that we can’t bypass these issues in LGBTI Pride if we are serious about inclusivity which are part of the Values of Pride.

Pride organisers don’t seem to care about racism affecting LGBTI people of colour; I mean there’s even a study proving that gay men are racist. Pride organisers don’t seem to care about the working-poor LGBTI people; high non-negotiable entrance fees to Pride events that poor LGBTI people can’t afford demonstrate this. It is when pride organisers understand that South Africa is a post-colonial state with post-colonial issues that we can move forward.

It important that Pride organisers keep in mind that apartheid legacies such as apartheid geography still exist, and so when the decisions are being made about where the Pride parade should be, those decisions should take into account that other LGBTI people do not live in the city centre – and they don’t live in the city centre because of history.

Taking all of this into account, how apartheid legacy shapes South Africa, how gender injustice shapes our society, and how economic inequality is at the core of why Cape Town Pride is mostly white, we begin to see why Pride is experiencing disruptions. It is only when the importance of inclusivity within Pride, the recognition and engagement with “other” people’s struggles along with their sexual identities, will we see and experience a more united Pride.


The politics of Pride – Cape Town

“Gender is about race is about class is about sexuality is about age is about nationality is about an entire range of social relations.” – Kath Weston

In this quote Weston captures the intersection of social and identity struggles and how these struggles pull and push on each other. The intersection of struggles is no more evident than in the South African LGBTIQ community, where race, class, gender and sexuality intersect and produce a complex set of relations between people.

During Cape Town Pride this year, 2015, there were two schedules that were put out. There was the official Pride that was organised by the Cape Town Pride organisation. There was also an Alternative Pride schedule that was organised by members of LGBTIQ community in Cape Town who felt unrepresented and ignored by the official Pride organisers. Leading up to Pride there were numerous meetings that were held with the organisers of Cape Town Pride but these meeting never yielded any agreements about the events on the Pride schedule. Cape Town based LGBTIQ activists, NGO organisations and other individuals requested an inclusive Pride, where all within the LGBTIQ community can be represented in Pride events. The efforts to create a more inclusive Pride fell on deaf ears. The Alternative Pride schedule was created because of a lack of diversity and a lack of consideration for marginalised LGBTIQ people within the Cape Town LGBTIQ community.

I attended one of the official Cape Town Pride meetings after they had sent out an e-mail requesting volunteers. The meeting was help at 6 Spin Street in the Cape Town city centre. The organisers of Cape Town Pride chaired the meeting and they solicited ideas about pride events, but rejected most of the ideas because of “budgets” constraints. We were then asked to sign up for volunteer hours to help with Pride but then never heard from the organisers again. During the meeting, it sounded like the Pride was already fixed and that there was no real input needed, even volunteers weren’t seriously wanted. It felt like a smoke and mirrors exercise, not really geared at engaging the people, and I didn’t appreciate the waste of my time.

Looking at the 2015 Cape Town Pride schedule, the schedule had 9 days of events and out of these 9 events only 2 were free. The rest of them you had to pay a fee in order to access the events. If I decided that I wanted to go to all of the events on the Cape Town Pride schedule, it would cost me R850. Now the important question becomes, who can pay to get into these events? Who are these events geared towards? Are these Cape Town Pride events representative of the L-G-B-T-I-Q communities in Cape Town? What is missing in these events? What is a Millionaire Gala that costs R450 per head? I think the answers to these questions will reveal much about the politics of the organisers of Cape Town Pride.


As mentioned there was an Alternative Pride schedule, which was a direct response to the lack of representation of the diversity of the LGBTIQ community by Cape Town Pride. Some of the events organised under the Alternative Pride schedule were free, and when they did charge it was not ridiculously expensive, so many could attend the events. I attended a number of the events and found that they spoke to the experiences of many LGBTIQ South Africans. The Alternative Cape Town Pride schedule included events that were located outside of the Cape Town city centre, like Gugulethu. The Alternative Cape Town Pride events were organised in a really short space of time, but they were a huge success. While attending some of the events I couldn’t help but imagine how impactful and inclusive they would make Cape Town Pride.


The Pride Parade is usually one of the last events on the pride calendar and this year was no exception. The LGBTIQ activists, NGO’s, and individuals who were opposed to the way that Cape Town Pride is organised planned a protest. The details of the pride protest were ironed out at the “Talk Pride To The People” event that was part of the Alternative Pride Schedule. In this meeting activists spoke of the non-accommodating and non-inclusive stance taken by Cape Town Pride organisers. The activists also spoke about how there shouldn’t be just a “stay away” from Pride, that it must be protested, people must show up, and reject the bullying tendencies of the Pride organisers.

The protest took take place during the Pride parade. The protesters consisted of people from different NGO’s in Cape Town, individuals, and LGBTIQ activists. There was so much solidarity during the protest amongst protesters from different LGBTIQ communities fighting for inclusion. The Pride protest was filled with songs, the beating of African drums, and chanting, calling for the recognition of black, of poor, of disabled, of transgendered, and of sex worker LGBTIQ struggles. Cape Town Pride organisers seem to lack an understanding of the way struggles are connected. There’s a refusal to comprehend that organising Pride in a socially and economically divided city like Cape Town, you have to consider how the events accommodate people who are not middle class, who are not men, who are not white, and who don’t live in the Cape Town city centre.

“Pride is a celebration” is one of the arguments used by Pride organisers for the lack of politics in South African Pride parades. How Pride events situated in South Africa can be devoid of politics is mind-boggling. Many LGBTIQ South Africans are still fighting for the right to exist. Many black gender non-conforming LGBTIQ are targets of violent assaults and murder. Transgendered individuals are fighting for access to social services, access to health services, and the creation of laws that allow people to live their lives in their preferred sex and gender identities. Not to mention the everyday bullying, and taunts, and the indignities that LGBTIQ people struggle against because of institutionalised homophobia in this country. Under these conditions how do we embrace Pride parades that are devoid of politics? Under these circumstances how can LGBTIQ communities be asked to only “celebrate” Pride?

It is clear that the Pride protests in South Africa target the depoliticization and subsequent commercialisation of Pride, and the resulting exclusion of certain groups of people. This is not unique to Cape Town; Johannesburg has had its fair share of Pride protests. Both Cape Town and Johannesburg Pride events have been mired in complex politics of representation. Although there had been a number of protests during Johannesburg Pride in the past, it was the disruption of Pride by the One in Nine Campaign protesters in October 2012 that really placed a spotlight on the problems with Pride in Johannesburg. The disruption of Joburg Pride in 2012 started a conversation within the LGBTI community about the politics of pride and the meaning of pride in the context of South Africa. This is an on going conversation and it remains a touchy subject because the issues that caused division have not been solved, chief amongst them the representation of “black” struggles within Pride.

When the One in Nine protesters disrupted Johannesburg Pride they were asking for a minute of silence from the organizers of Pride to honour members of the LGBTI community, particularly gender non-conforming black women who have been murdered because of their disruption of normative gender expectations. They were demanding Johannesburg Pride and its organizers to focus more on LGBTIQ politics in the country and less on the commercialised aspects that had become a priority for Johannesburg Pride. Johannesburg Pride organisers and the pride goers responded to the call for silence from One in Nine with hostility and assault.

You might be wondering what exactly are LGBTIQ NGO’s, activists and individuals demanding from Cape Town Pride? What would an inclusive Pride look like? If Cape Town Pride is going to be inclusive it will have to consider the following points very seriously:

  • Cape Town Pride does not seem to care about poor LGBTIQ people in Cape Town and so does not make attempts to include such people in the Cape Town Pride schedule.
    • The events surrounding Pride and the after Pride enclosed festivities are expensive and this excludes people who can’t afford.
    • Cape Town Pride does not exist in a vacuum, it can’t just ignore LGBTIQ people who are poor by just saying “if you can’t afford, don’t come.”
    • Because of the history of colonialism and then apartheid economic classes are racialized in South Africa, which means that the majority of people who can’t afford to access the paid sections of Cape Town Pride are predominantly black. This means that black people are mostly excluded from Cape Town Pride events.
  • Cape Town Pride does not organise events that include LGBTIQ people who have children. The schedule does not attempt to have family friendly events.
  • Cape Town Pride does not engage with feminist politics and lesbian feminist politics, in fact Cape Town Pride does not engage in any kind of politics. It’s just a “celebration.”
    • The struggles of black gender non-conforming peoples within the LGBTIQ community needs to be taken up and seriously engaged with. There is something seriously wrong with the politics of Cape Town Pride when we have people in LGBTIQ communities assaulted and murdered and the response during Pride is silence and “celebration.”
  • Cape Town Pride does not engage transgendered issues, and this needs to change. The T in LGBTIQ seems to be decorative only. There’s a negation of transgendered people’s experiences and their needs.
  • Cape Town Pride shouldn’t place financial gains before political struggles.
  • Cape Town Pride needs to include LGBTIQ communities in organising Pride. It’s understood that Pride programming will never fully satisfy everyone, but there has to be an open process that tries to be as inclusive as possible.

The creation of a better South Africa, of a more democratic South Africa, of an inclusive South Africa is the responsibility of all of us. Cape Town Pride is not exempt from this. Cape Town Pride needs to consider the different communities in the alphabet soup – LGBTIQ – when designing the Pride schedule. The 2015 Cape Town Pride schedule caters to the needs of middle class white gay men. If Cape Town Pride is for middle class gay white men, then it should be termed as such, and rebrand, and not give the illusion that it caters to the whole LGBTIQ community. Cape Town Pride should also remember that Pride has its roots in protest. But most crucially Cape Town Pride must remember that the situation of the African queer necessitates that Pride be political.

Reflections: The Quiet Violence of Dreams

“Growing up is a treacherous activity. You never see it coming.” – Mmabatho

For my birthday last year, a good friend of mine gave me K Sello Duiker’s The Quiet Violence of Dreams. I had never read the book and my friend insisted that I read it, so he bought it for me. I often like to relate how books come to me because the journey of the book into my tiny library is often telling about the book itself. So there is a story about the book before I even get to the story in the book. Just before I started reading this book, I saw it was listed on “100 African reads” and so I was excited to start reading it.

The tittle is captivating, The Quiet Violence of Dreams, and it absolutely captures the essence of K Sello Duiker’s work. Mental health is one of the least talked about issue in black South African communities, and this book places it centre stage. Growing up people with mental illness were often referred to as people who were bewitched, and often they received no real treatment. Even today people with metal illness roam the streets of South African townships without any real medical assistance. This book shows up how people without mental illness are so ill equipped to deal with people who have mental illness.

We often think we know the line between good and bad, normal and abnormal, crazy and sane, but reality is a bit more complex than these binaries. When Tshepo, the protagonist, is admitted to a mental institution in Cape Town he makes this observation, which I thought was very telling:

“In here everyone knows that there are more crazy people out there, and that most of them are politicians, lawyers, judges, accountants & bankers. It seems only a matter of chance that we are in here and they are out there.”

Tshepo is spot on here about the unpredictability of life and how only so much is up to us and the rest we are left at the whims of the universe (whatever form the universe is represented in your life). The unpredictability of life and options being left to chance is revealed later in the book when we learn about the traumatic incident that Tshepo went through when he was a child living at home and the subsequent troubled relationship he has with his father.

I never knew Duiker personally, but reading this book I am inclined to believe that he was a feminist or believed in feminist philosophy. Through the character of Mmabatho we see the sometimes heart wrenching difficulty women have navigating relationships with men in a patriarchal society like ours. I treasured the moments Mmabatho had in dialogue with herself about her tumultuous relationships with men; it’s captured when she says:

“I’ve been carrying residual depression from failed relationships for too long… I’ve been kidding myself that I could tame love, that I could meet a man on my terms when it suits me. I’ve been reading too many magazines, listening to too much pop psychology and experts who only seem to have succeeded in leading me further into confusion…. And the sad thing is he will never know. He will never know the amount of preparation it takes to be a woman, the degree of caution. He will never know how I struggle with myself, with other women. To him I will be just another woman bawling her eyes out because women do that… A woman has to go far to look for herself.”


Cape Town and its racial, spatial, class, gender, and sexuality complexities are a prominent feature in the novel, and brilliantly so. Tshepo even has a theory of Cape Town and it’s damning. His theory of Cape Town would support some of the recent accusations that Cape Town is racist and does not work for people who live in the Cape Flats and Gugulethu. The articles were published here, here, and here. When Tshepo, who is black, gets to know Chris, who is coloured, you see the residue of apartheid in the way they interact with each other. You see the boxes that South Africans put each other in, and how we don’t know much about each other, and seemingly don’t care to. Chris’s reading of Tshepo is comical and enlightening when he describes him:

“He’s a little spoiled, one of those darkies who went to larney schools and learned to talk to them (whites). He also dresses like them (whites). Doesn’t wear All Star tackies like the others (blacks), never eats white bread – you know how they (whites) are about health – and sometimes listens to 5fm.”

Although the forces of darkness eventually swallow the relationship between Chris and Tshepo, when Chris does the unthinkable to Tshepo, it is this relationship that we first experience the homosexual tendencies of Tsepo. Tshepo falls in love with Chris but never really lets Chris know. Reading the two pages dedicated exclusively to the way Tshepo feels about Chris, it stirred emotions in me, of when I used to fall for my straight friends growing up and not knowing what’s going on and how to channel those feelings. The realisation that you are in love is at once exhilarating and bewildering. Tshepo describes his crush on Chris:

“There is determination about his eyes, like someone madly chasing the sun even though it only wants to set peacefully. There is a do-or-die resolve about him. It is devastating to look at him. I just want to run towards him and be swallowed whole by his sensual presence. I want to disappear forever in his eyes.”

I am always in favour of stories depicting black men falling in love with other black men. It’s a narrative that is lacking in South African literature and it’s always such a pleasure to read such stories. Many have lamented that black men loving other black men is a revolutionary act, and I am inclined to agree.

One of the striking characteristics about Tshepo is how he lies to everyone. Almost everything in his life is concealed from the people who are his friends and acquaintances. I suppose he feels he can’t trust anyone with the truth, his truth, and so he is compelled to lie even about small things that do not really necessitate lying. This made me think of the culture of lying in this country and how pervasive it is, from the highest people in government to lay people on the streets. Even when telling the truth will not cause damage or embarrassment, people choose to lie.

Tshepo’s journey leads him to work as a sex worker at a male “massage parlour” in the gay district. Ironically (or maybe not ironic at all) it is during his stint as a sex worker that Tshepo discovers himself. This is where he explores his own sexuality, and how to be somewhat comfortable with that sexuality in the world. Through working at the underground escort agency he learns much about people and their different journeys through interacting with them as co-workers and as clients. One such interaction is with Afrikaans speaking West, a fellow escort employee who becomes a close friend, and says he became a sex worker because he “wasn’t prepared to be a casualty of mediocre.” And he describes mediocre as marrying, having children and then getting a divorce. Another arresting interaction is with a client called Peter, who says to Tsepo:

“The truth is I have become lazy, complacent. It’s an English South African thing… Back in the old days I learned that hating Afrikaans was a convenient way of suggesting you are condemning the government without having to do anything about it. It was cop-out because while the Boers took the blame we, generally, took advantage.”

K Sello Duiker really captures the intersection of race, class, sexuality that permeate South African’s experiences in this marvellous novel. He captures the hardness of South African society and the violent nature of restricting people’s identities and choices. He particularly captures the hardships that even “larney” middle class black people experience navigating the die-hard beliefs and stereotypes about blacks from apartheid years.

Towards the end of the book, the protagonist Tshepo says, “perhaps I sense that I will die young…. Death is begging at my heels in my dreams.” This is poignant only because K Sello Duiker committed suicide in 2005, and reading this book I was struck by the “life imitating art” sense of that passage. In that sense I can’t but agree with Siphiwo Mahala who described K Sello Duiker saying “Duiker is to literature what Steve Biko was to politics, both having died at the tender age of thirty but leaving indelible footprints in our collective memory.” And I would add, although under different circumstances, both of them somewhat professed their deaths.

What I take from this novel and what this novel represents for me is captured in the interaction between Tshepo and West after making love for the first time and going for a swim after. West says to Tshepo as they lie in the dark in different beds in the same room somewhere in Stellenbosch “you must go where love leads you, even when you are going towards trouble.” Imagine a South Africa where we all did that.

Lwando Scott

Inserting your Blackness

Being black in Cape Town can seem potentially lonely and alienating. When I walk into a restaurant, bar, or club in the Cape Town city centre I often notice one or two other black faces. Unless you choose to visit what is widely known to be one of the predominantly “black” institutions in Cape Town, a sea of happy white faces will confront you.

It is not uncommon to go out to one of the beaches in Clifton and only see white bodies spread on the sand. It is also not uncommon to visit a museum or the opening of art exhibitions and only see a handful of black people in the crowd. Many black Capetonians choose not to frequent spaces that used to be “white only” under apartheid. Consequently these spaces continue to be whites only spaces. There continues to be a separation between what people consider black spaces and white spaces. The same is true for spaces that are considered black; very few white people choose to frequent such spaces.

There are many reasons why black people do not inhabit these predominantly white spaces. Fear of being discriminated against (it still often happens), being mistreated, receiving bad service, and generally being made to feel as if you do not belong or as if you are invisible are some of the reasons often cited by black people for not occupying predominantly white spaces. Many city centre establishments are also more expensive and because of economic apartheid many black people are economically excluded from such spaces. And generally the more expensive the establishment, the more unwelcoming it will treat black patrons. I have listened to black friends and acquaintances complain about some of their negative experiences at different locations in the city of Cape Town. I have never heard my white friends complain of similar experiences. These are all valid reasons not to go to predominantly white spaces. It can be painful and emotionally charged to be confronted by this kind of exclusion and prejudice, which makes them hard to deal with.

But no one said the struggle for justice and equality will be easy. That is why I contend that despite the danger of experiencing racism, maltreat, and bad service in spaces dominated by whites black people should insert themselves into predominantly white spaces. We need to fight for and assert the freedom promised by our Constitution. Although it might not always be comfortable black people need to insert their bodies into these spaces. Black people need to be more aggressive about physically owning spaces in Cape Town. Black people need to be vocal about mistreatment, and not just shrug it off as “another day in the city.”

The presence of black people often makes white patrons and white owners ‘uncomfortable’ in institutions that are used to having an almost exclusively white clientele. This is especially true if there is a critical mass of black patrons and not only the odd black face making white patrons feel good about embracing diversity. But this is not the black person’s problem to deal with. Black people need to resist being chased away from establishments by subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ‘you don’t belong here’ gestures. Black people need to be more vocal about mistreatment at these establishments and call institutions out for their bigoted ways. There are so many channels, both formal and informal, black people can challenge predominantly white institutions for their racism.

By insisting that black people insert themselves into predominantly white spaces, I am not underestimating the trauma and the indignity of racism. After experiencing mistreatment it is perhaps an instinctive need to protect yourself that make people threaten to never go back there again.

I think black people should not shy away from confronting these emotionally charged and possibly humiliating problems head on. Instead they must let the establishment know what they are doing is wrong; raise hell if it is warranted, but promise to come back. They must put an establishment to terms and demand an improvement in service. They should threaten such establishments with exposure in the printed and social media. They should threaten to approach the Human Rights Commission and take up the racial discrimination.

Threatening never to come back lets the establishment off the hook, especially if you are not going to take the matter to social media or lodge a formal complaint. Black people often let establishments and people in establishments get away with racism and mistreating black patrons because black people often don’t want to start trouble. The fear of a little bit of trouble will always prevent people from voicing their grievances and blacks need to rid of themselves of that fear.

Establishments must realise that the people have the power to call them out on their racism. Mistreatment and racism at predominantly white establishments is an unfortunate legacy we have inherited from apartheid, but here it is, we need to have strategies to deal with it and ultimately change it. This change will not happen while black people let white establishments mistreat them and then say nothing or just threaten never to return. Black people need to hold white institutions accountable.

It is very easy to say, why don’t black people just go to black spaces where they won’t experience any racism or mistreatment. It is easy to have this separatist way of thinking and doing things, but this is exactly what apartheid was about. We are living in a new era now, one where we should all be busy with the project of rebuilding a non-racist, non-sexists, and non-homophobic society, and having separate spaces for black and white people goes against these ideals.

South Africa is 20 years into its democracy and we should really be working harder to integrate South African society and to smash both the overt as well as the subtle forms of racism (the latter often being invisible to many white people) that still permeate our city. Also, black people who live in Cape Town should be able to experience ALL of Cape Town, not just the places in which black people are tolerated. All who live in this city, not just a few, must experience the beauty of Cape Town and its establishments. It is terribly unjust how people from different parts of the world are made to feel at home in Cape Town, while the locals, who make this city work, can’t enjoy the city. It is not unheard of to meet black locals who say that they were born in Cape Town but they have never been on Table Mountain or they have never been to Robin Island and express wanting to go. This is all linked to people feeling like they can’t enjoy some of these Cape Town institutions because they are often treated like they don’t belong to the city.

This upcoming summer and beyond, I challenge black people to insert themselves into the predominantly white spaces that they are yearning to visit. Black people should resist the intimidation by white institutions and insist on their black presence be felt all over this city. To black people all over Cape Town, this is your city.

 Own it!

Written by Lwando Scott 

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 

Reflections: In Search of Happiness


Author: Sonswabiso Ngcowa

Written by Lwando Scott 

“This novel is dedicated to all young people who feel and know that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. Your love is as beautiful as love can be. One day all people will understand and respect love, however it comes.This time will come. Sometimes it is here.”

In Search of Happiness gripped me from the dedication page. The dedication is an affirming beginning and sets out the tone for the book. A book about self-discovery, family, loss, and ultimately love. Sonwabiso Ngcowa’s In Search of Happiness succeeds because of its accessibility, the book that can be read by teenagers and adults. It succeeds because it is a story about a black young woman, Nanase, and her journey from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape. It succeeds because it is about discovering that you can find love in places you never thought it could be. This book succeeds because it centres the life of a young black woman who falls in love with another young black woman. This book succeeds because it centralises a love story that is often not seen as a love story in this country.

While many may still consider LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) lives a taboo subject, Sonwabiso dares to go there. LGBTI South Africans are often depicted as people without friends, without brothers and sisters, without parents. They are rarely seen as parents themselves. Sonwabiso’s lead character, Nanase, is a young woman with friends, a grandmother that she loves, she has a mother and father, and she has siblings. Nanase’s story helps society see LGBTI people as part of social circles and coming from families and that homophobia doesn’t just hurt the individual but entire families.

There is something very real about Nanase’s journey of discovering her attraction to another woman when she moves to Masiphumelele, Cape Town. Although there is a sense of ambivalence in Nanase while she is in the Eastern Cape about her sexual identity, it is not until she moves to Masiphumelele and she meets Agnes that she fully comprehends what’s going on inside her. In Agnes she finds someone she can experience and experiment her feelings with that she had bottled up inside her.

Every chapter tittle in the book is in English but is accompanied by a Xhosa translation. I like this infusion of vernacular language in English texts; maybe we are moving into a time where English fiction will be heavily infused with the vernacular. That is after all how many South Africans speak. Sonwabiso captures the way people in the Eastern Cape view Cape Town. In the Eastern Cape, Cape Town is seen and talked about as the place of dreams, a place where people go and realize their dreams hence the popular phrase “iKapa lodumo” which translates to “the Cape of Fame.” Of course, like most people from the Eastern Cape, Nanase soon finds out that iKapa lodumo is not exactly what it is cracked up to be because it comes with it’s own set of challenges.

When Nanase comes out to her parents it is predictably a very tough conversation and is handled poorly by her parents. She comes out of the experience feeling confused and bewildered and it struck me how family and friends – straight people in general – make coming out all about them and ignore the emotional turmoil of the person coming out. Coming out is a very peculiar experience in the township because unlike in Western society, people don’t often talk about sex/sexuality regardless of orientation. So like Nanase, most LGBTI identified young people in townships struggle with a way to package what is going on in their lives in a way that won’t be read as disrespectful and foreign. Sonwabiso handles the coming out conversation in a relatable manner and I think we need more South African literature that deal with the messiness of coming in the South African context. If we can even call it “coming out.”

Sonwabiso gently manages the issue of difference in this book. South Africans pride themselves of being a diverse country, but at the same time South Africans are intolerant of difference. Difference in South Africa must come in neat and familiar ways in order for it to be palatable. As Nanase discovers that she is different and that her neighbour is also different, she has to deal with intolerance of the community and her friends at school. She has to deal with the mean spirit of people who refuse to constructively engage with difference.

This book is an easy read that touches on very complex issues that people living in townships of South Africa are dealing with. Sonwabiso touches on homophobia, xenophobia, sexual assault, and poverty. These are hard issues to deal with, but Sonwabiso manages to mindfully weave these things together showing us that they are connected. Where you find gender violence you are likely to find homophobia and where you find homophobia you are likely to find xenophobia and so it goes.

In Search of Happiness is aptly titled because we all share this quest for a happier and a more fulfilling life. Like the rest of us Nanase is trying to find her way through a world structured to her disadvantage. In Search of Happiness is the type of book I wish someone had given me when I was in high school going through my own self-discovery phase.

To say this book is timely would be an understatement. This is a must read for high school going young people. It is a must read for all South Africans who are interested in what it means to be young in post-apartheid South Africa. This is a must read if you are interested in stories about young black people written by young black people.