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.






Chomi – the black gay experience


Written by Lwando Scott 

The play Chomi was long overdue. The play focuses on the intricacies of the lives of four middle class openly gay black men who live in Johannesburg. The play was part of the 10th Anniversary Spring Drama Season at Artscape. The program brochure said that the playwright Pfarelo Nemakonde who wrote Chomi wanted to “explore the relationships, friendships and otherwise, experienced by black gay men and the complexities that arise.” Mr Nemakinde achieved this goal. It was exciting to see the lives of black gay men presented on stage in a nuanced and affectionate manner, something that happens very seldom. This play felt fresh, and nicely captured aspects of the black gay experience; it felt both affirming and largely true.

I loved seeing black gay men being represented on stage in mostly non-stereotypical ways. The characters were presented as having intricate lives that were emotionally complex. Yet it did not shying away from exploring the self-destructive tendencies of some of the characters.

Watching the four friends interact with each other on stage reminded me of my relationships with my own gay friends. It reminded me of the special bond I have with my gay friends, cemented by our common experience of homophobia and racism. The friendship between these four gay men reminded me of the “family” we often choose for ourselves as LGBTI people because we don’t always connect with our kin. It’s not going on limb to say that my close gay friends are my family, and they know me better than my kin family does. It was great fun to try and match the characters’ personalities in the play to the personalities of my friends.

Watching this play was like seeing my life and the lives of my friends reflected back at me and that was a powerful and affirming feeling. The representation of black gay lives in our cultural institutions and productions reflect a new maturity of our democracy. When the black gay experience becomes part of the cultural landscape of the country, we know that we are moving in the right direction in dignifying the experiences of LGBTI people.

Part of our marginalisation and oppression as black people and as gay people stem from the fact that we do not always see ourselves represented in mainstream culture (whatever that may mean). The politics of representation continue to “other” us – in gay publications, events, and gay clubs. We can’t underestimate the politics of representation because not representing the black LGBTI experience in the cultural realm reinforces an already strong narrative of LGBTI people being “unAfrican.” Not seeing representations of the black LGBTI experience, young black LGBTI youth are denied opportunities to develop positive images of themselves represented in cultural spaces.

When I say the play provides positive images of gay black lives, I do not mean sanitised and unrealistically idealised images of black gay men. These men have sex and talk about it. They have other types of fun too. They are real people: neither the stereotype of saintly, innocent victims, nor the stereotype of the hysterical, shallow pleasure seeker, has any place in this play.

The one gripe I had with the play is the way gender is performed. The play does not avoid the stereotypical notion that “tops” are masculine guys, and “bottoms” are feminine guys. Although these stereotypes do exist in people’s lives, there are other diverse ways in which gay black men live their sexualities and I wish there was a more nuanced take on gender performance and its link to sexual acts.

With that being said, I really applaud Mr Nemakonde for the way he scripted the sex and the sex scenes in the play. Although gay sex whether in theatre, television, or even in books has come a long way in terms of being visible, it is still a thorny issue. Remember the drama a couple of years ago when the local soap opera Generation had warning signs scrawling down on the television screen when the characters Jason and Senzo were to have their first onscreen kiss.

Scripting gay sex and doing it right can be tricky because of the tightly monitored boundaries of gender performance underpinned by a heteronormative framework of understanding sex and intimacy. This framework is often embodied in questions such as “who is the man and who is the woman”, “who is the bottom and who is the top” and these constructs are often limiting and they seek to imprison our sexualities within heterosexual binaries. One of the characters in Chomi really takes ownership of his sexuality. The character has a monologue where he goes on about his love for sex and loving being penetrated and I think that was a revolutionary moment because even in some gay circles bottoming has a negative stigma attached to it.

What Chomi has shown me is that we really need to be intentional about representing the black LGBTI experience in South Africa. We need to be conscious of and actively support the insertion of black LGBTI experiences in the cultural sphere. And most importantly we need to support these creative efforts. I want this play to come back. I think it needs to be seen and appreciated by many more audiences. Mr Nemakonde has created something beautiful and we should follow his lead and create more black LGBTI affirming productions in more plays and more books, where black LGBTI experiences are the centre.

Only after watching Chomi did I realise just how thirsty I am for black LGBTI storylines in books, on television, in theatre plays, in magazines; stories that appreciate the complexity of black LGBTI life in South Africa. Chomi really quenched that thirst and I want to thank Pfarelo Nemakonde for his work. I hope to see more productions like this not only from Mr Nemakonde but others as well. I for one am very inspired by Chomi!

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.

Queer Consciousness

The on going homophobic hate crime attacks on black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in various townships in South Africa, the rape and murder of black lesbians, and the anti-homosexuality legislation in Nigeria and in Uganda in recent months cloaked as protection of African cultures is enough for you to loose hope. As LGBTI Africans we are often told that we come out of nowhere, that we do not have a history in Africa, and that we are a western invention. We are often depicted as people who are ruining African cultures, cultures falsely assumed to be without homosexuality.

As LGBTI people, just like black people during colonisation, and during apartheid, we have internalised that we are less than human. We often adopt the inferiority complex projected on to us by society. Our lives are riddled with shame because of our sexual identity. Anecdotal evidence and studies show that LGBTI youth are more likely to be homeless than non-LGBTI youth because of homophobic families who make home life unbearable. Many transgendered youth turn to prostitution to make a living because they can’t find employment.

Living in a world that discriminates against you, a world that denies you the right to exist, how does one develop a healthy self-view? The feelings of shame that LGBTI Africans harbour about themselves can be self-destructive. The feelings of unworthiness can and have led many LGBTI to endanger their lives with drug and alcohol abuse and high-risk sexual behaviour, and experience trauma and mental health issues that impact personal growth.

How do we then counterattack the seemingly ubiquitous homophobia in this country, indeed continent? How do we as LGBTI individuals and communities face up to the prejudice we experience in society? While there are many things that we need to be doing, and many we are doing, like protests, supporting LGBTI organisations, supporting LGBTI art and scholarship etc., we need a way to think about ourselves that moves us away from internalised prejudice towards a Queer Consciousness.

Queer Consciousness entails understanding that sexual diversity is part of the human experience. It is the self-acceptance of LGBTI individuals with full knowledge that there’s nothing unnatural about being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and/or Intersex. It is learning to be comfortable with yourself and your sexuality while learning about other people’s sexuality and ways of being. Queer Consciousness is about fostering LGBTI communities that are underpinned by pride, solidarity, and a steadfast approach to LGBTI Rights and wellbeing.

Firstly we have a responsibility to ourselves, secondly to our communities to reject the inferiority complex we have adopted. We have to reject negative images and assumptions about ourselves that we have come to believe that have been created by society in their aim to demonise us because of who and how we love. In the same vein as Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness, Queer Consciousness recognises “that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

As LGBTI Africans we need to discard the psychological grip that homophobic rhetoric has on us by vehemently rejecting the constructions of homosexuality as “un-African” and subsequently Western, as immoral, as unnatural. Queer Consciousness is more than just a fleeting verbal assertion against false constructions of homosexuality, but must translate into our deeds, into the way we approach life, into the way we relate to each other as LGBTI, and the way we take pride in our sexual identity as both individuals and as a community.

Queer Consciousness can impact society as a whole. Perhaps this consciousness can impact both LGBTI and broader society, and perhaps be adopted by people who are not LGBTI. In sync with feminism, Queer Consciousness questions the way we think about, talk about, and “do” gender. It is an attitude that embraces, celebrates, and encourages the disruption of gender norms. It encourages the blurring of the lines of what is expected of women and of men.

Queer Consciousness confronts the complex intersection of race, class, and gender that makes black lesbians vulnerable to ‘corrective rape’ and murder. It is the recognition that black lesbians are victims of hate crimes because of their gender non-conforming behaviour that challenges patriarchal dominance. It is a stance that challenges the dominant forms of masculinity not only in the larger society, but also within LGBTI communities. Queer Consciousness is therefore at odds with patriarchal structures of society and it is constantly wrestling with these structures.

Homosexuality is not at odds with African-ness. Queer Consciousness is about understanding that one can hold an African identity simultaneously with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Intersex identity. It is about knowing that difference is not something to be feared but something to be engaged with because we grow by learning things we have never encountered before.

The discovery of someone’s unorthodox sexuality is an opportunity to learn about the fabulously complex myriad ways in which we love, lust, and sex. Queer Consciousness is about opening yourselves up to other people’s life experiences, because we take different paths to get where we are. We cannot sanitise the complexity of life by legalising anti-homosexuality bills and by terrorising people who are assumed to be homosexual. The stifling of people’s gender and sexual expression is really the stifling of people’s humanity. A Queer Consciousness outlook understands that sexuality is as complex as human existence. That we do not have a hold in the multiple ways that people’s sexuality develops.

Queer Consciousness is recognising that the way LGBTI communities structure their relationships has the potential to educate us all about gender, about shifting the boundaries that society places on sexualities, and about liberating people’s sexuality, including heterosexuality. An unintended consequence of homosexuality is the liberation of heterosexuality, that society might see heterosexuality as nothing static, but adaptable and influenced by other sexualities.

Queer Consciousness demands that we in LGBTI communities be very vigilant about the ways in which “new” normative standards of establishing relationships and life in general can be used to subjugate others within LGBTI communities. Same-sex marriage is legalised in South Africa, but Queer Consciousness demands that we as LGBTI communities emphasise that forming personal relationships goes beyond the “one guy, one guy” or “one woman, one woman” relationship structure modelled after heterosexual coupling. Queer Consciousness is knowing that there are myriad ways in which people can organise their relationships, and that the simplistic ways in which marriage laws are structured are inadequate to fully capture the ways in which people love.

Queer Consciousness is about letting the imagination run wild in trying to answer the existential question of “who am I?” It is a way of thinking and seeing the world that encourages and nurtures the creative fashioning of the self. It gives you the ability to reject the models of “how life should be” from the everyday and gives permission for new ways of being in the world. Self-invention is at the centre of Queer Consciousness.

Self-invention becomes that much more prescient because we are busy with the postcolonial project of Africa’s Renaissance. The spirit of the African Renaissance revived in recent years by former South African president Thabo Mbeki emphasises a creative, intellectually stimulating, and self-directing Africa. He asserts, “They (Africans) are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.” If we are truly invested in Africa’s Renaissance we cannot prescribe the ways in which Africans should express themselves and live their lives in a free postcolonial Africa.

Binyavanga Wainaina’s recent coming out and the videos he subsequently released talking about how “we need to free our imagination” capture the spirit of Queer Consciousness – we need to step out of the boundaries of what we know and into the creative world of imagining. The blue prints of how life should be, left behind by the colonial and apartheid administration are inadequate for life in postcolonial times and beyond. Our imagination in fashioning our lives in 21st century postcolonial Africa needs us to be without boundaries. The human potential is infinite and if we are to prosper as countries and as a continent we cannot limit the possibilities of innovative self-identities.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Disrupting Gender – One red nail polish at a time


Living in a masculinist culture it can be a challenge embracing the side of you that likes things society sees as feminine if you are a man. There is often shame attached to flamboyancy in boys. I remember growing up and struggling with trying very hard to be a boy’s boy and “doing” boy things and failing dismally. I remember the pressure, which is still there, to live up to my friends and family’s ideals of masculinity. A masculunity that is strictly defined by an ability to be good at sport – or at least the desire to be good, to be more aggressive, to care-less about how I look, not to see women as friends but only as potential sexual conquests.

Although even as a teenager I challenged masculinist ideals by embracing flamboyancy and performing my masculinity in an effimate manner, it was not until university that I would proudly claim my gender non-conformity.

When I went to university, I came into contact with other boys who were flamboyant like me, but most importantly I came into contact with feminism. Feminism taught me that there is a gendered social structure in which we function under. It was liberating and affirming to learn that I was not abnormal to veer away from traditional masculine behaviour as a boy, and that it is the way society is structured that is faulty.

The notion that men and woman are fundamentally different and that it is our genders that differentiates us is a fallacy but it is a fallacy that is everywhere. It is in the way we speak, in the way we act, in the way we walk, in the way we greet each other, in the clothes we wear, our favourite colour, the words we use to express ourselves, the perfume we buy, the movies we watch, the books we read, the careers we chose, the drinks we order at the bar, the sports we play and the list goes on and on.

This gendered system is kept in place by people constantly watching each other and correcting each other’s behaviour. It is kept in place by men beating their wives when they “step out of their place.” It is kept in place by families scowlding a boy for being “too much of a girl.” Everybody polices everybody; women police other women, men police other men, men police women, women police men.

People are constantly keeping each other in check and by doing so people uphold the gender system. The gender system is hard to deal with because not only do we believe in the system and its “natural” order we are invested in it. The power that men exercise over women is ubiquitous. In my culture, when a woman is married she wears clothes that show she is married. This is not the same for men. Also, when a woman becomes a widow, everyone can tell because she has to wear visibly “mourning” clothes, but the same is not asked of a widower.

These are just some of the ways in which the gender system operates. There’s an assumption in South African society that gender inequality is only a problem for poor people or the working class. This is a fallacy. It is also a problem in middle class homes where men are doctors, politicians, sports stars, and priests. It is the male professor who talks about gender issues in the classroom to students, but when he gets home the wife is the one who cooks and serves food while he watches TV.

There is something empowering about the ability to retrospectively be able to look at moments in my short life that have been turning points. University was a major turning point for me. Learning how the world is gendered at university made me want to demolish the concept of gender, so people could all just walk around genderless. I wanted gender as something we use to categorise people to dissapper because all of a sudden I could see how the world had been unfair to my mother her whole life. I quickly realised that the project of demolishing gender was unrealistic but what I did find was that there are little ways in which I can disrupt patterned gender behaviour in my everyday life. Through the years I have learned, and dare I say perfected, the art of disrupting gender in my everyday life.

For me this disruption takes the form of little acts from what I wear to the red nail polish on my finger nails. It is me using my mother’s last name and feeling extremely proud of that fact and sharing it whenever I can. It is not being afraid to wear make-up in public. It is braving the stairs I generate when I go to the female populated beauty section of the stores. The disruption of gender is about challenging notions of what it means to be a man, a woman, and ultimately what it means to be human.

Challenging gender assumptions which maintain gender inequality is something we should all be invested in. There are multiple ways one can challenge gender assumptions and does not necessarily require the wearing of red nail polish but it might include men calling out their friends when they are being sexist. It might be that you teach your daughter, niece, or little sister that she is worth more than what the media potrays or what society and culture dictates.

It might be that your way of disrupting gender is by being suportive to the small boy in your street who is being victimised for being “too girly.” It could be championing a female student, co-worker, or the girl next door to achieve in their andevours because you understand the world is not constructed in their favour. The non-discrimination based on gender clause in the Constitution needs to be accompanied by the disruption of the gender system in everyday life as we try to create an ideal society, a more just society. And we know a more just society is society that has achieved gender equality.

Written by Lwando Scott 

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.