Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal

The National Museum celebrated International Museum Day with a LGBTQI virtual exhibition. The theme for 2020 is: Equality: Diversity and Inclusion.

About the Exhibition

We have asked ourselves what it meant to be an inclusive museum today.  How can the National Museum Bloemfontein with its own history of colonialism, segregation, apartheid, homophobia and exclusion become meaningfully inclusive? How can we recalibrate what we do – from collecting to exhibition making to educational programming – so that it reflects the multiplicity of our histories and make audible the diversity of South African voices ?

South Africa’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Asexual (LGBTQA) community’s voice is one of those that are currently absent from our exhibitions. Members of this community, was not only an active part of the struggle for social justice and equality during apartheid but continued to fight for the same rights in the post-apartheid era.


The purpose of this virtual exhibition titled “A Chain of Voices” is introduce the general public to a select number of ‘voices’ from members of the LGBTQA community through a combination of short written biographical profiles and links to relevant video’s on Youtube.

Featured Personalities and Organisations

The LGBTQA community was an integral part of the struggle for social justice and equally during the apartheid era (1948 -1994). They continue to contribute in this regard since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Notable activists, personalities and organisations of the apartheid period: 1948 – 1994:

  • Zakie Achmat
  • Simon Nkoli and Gay and Lesbian on the Witwatersrand (G.L.OW.)
  • Ivan Toms and Organisation of Lesbians and Gays and Against Apartheid (O.L.G.A.)
  • Pieter-Dirk Uys – award winning novelist and playwright.

Notable Personalities and organisations of the Post-apartheid era: 1994 – Date

  • Nataniel – singer/actor/entrepreneur
  • Jozi Cats Gay Rugby Club
  • Mpho Tutu – theologian
  • Caster Semenya- athlete

‘Rainbow People of God’

The concept of ‘rainbow nation’ and ‘rainbow people’ to describe the human diversity of nations has a long history. In South Africa the promotion of the term is most closely associated with former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On 3 February 1990, a week before the release of Nelson Mandela a small group of individuals in Cape Town invoked the goddess of peace and spirits of abundance to awaken and greet a new age of freedom – an event called–‘Rainbow Nation Peace Ritual’.

During the Mandela Presidency, Tutu stated it unambiguously: ‘All people are God’s people – if God is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.’

This statement was deliberate and was aimed at promoting the ending of discrimination against the South African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Asexual (LGBTQA) community.

 ‘Voices and Numbers under the Rainbow Flag’

Research by S.N. Nyeck & Debra Shepherd (Lead Authors)–”The Economic Cost of LGBT Stigma and Discrimination in South Africa”, December 2019 indicated that:

“Estimated that 78% of South African adults ages 20 and up are heterosexual gender conforming, 19% of adults ages 20 and up (approximately 7 million people) are heterosexual gender nonconforming, and at least 1.8% of adults (approximately 634,000 people) self-identify as LGB or as other than heterosexual or straight.”

Against this background, the LGBTQA community adopted its own national flag:

“The gay pride flag of South Africa is a gay pride symbol that aims to reflect the freedom and diversity of the South African nation and build pride in being an LGBT South African. It was registered as the flag of the GLBTI Association of South Africa in 2012 and is not an official national symbol of South Africa.”

‘What is in a Name?’- Defining LGBTQA

The right to self-definition is an integral part of individual freedom.  In order to maintain this right and to prevent others from imposing identities on them, members of the LGBTQA community globally articulated their own definitions.

The terms most generally in use included:

Lesbian –A woman who is emotionally or sexually attracted to other women

Gay – a person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to people of their own gender; commonly used to describe men

Bi-sexual – A person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to more than one sex or gender

Transgender –A term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the biological sex they were assigned at birth

Queer –people whose gender identity can be both male and female, neither male nor female, or a combination of male and female.

Museums Giving Voice’

The British Museum was one of the first to give voice to the LGBTQ community. It used its own collection to demonstrate the richness and depth of the heritage and history of this target community.

In July – August 2019 the University of Pretoria in conjunction with the Simon Nkoli Collective, hosted a photographic exhibition.

The exhibition showcased the political activism of the late anti-apartheid, AIDS and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) struggle icon Simon Nkoli.

From GLOW to OLGA’

Before 1994, same-sex relationships were a criminal offense in South Africa. This prompted gay persons of all races to join the struggle to end apartheid. Johannesburg-based activist Simon Nkoli, an active member of both the Congress of South African Students and United Democratic Front, joined the apolitical mostly-white Gay Association of South Africa (GASA) in 1983.

As a result of GASA’s political conservatism and internal racism, Nkoli with two other founded the black Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) on 9 April 1988 in Johannesburg. GLOW was soon joined by the Cape Town-based Organization of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA). Both organisations soon became disillusioned with the inherent racism of GASA.

Strongly opposed to apartheid and repression of their right to equality, the members of GLOW and OLGA established a strong relationship with both the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the banned African National Congress (ANC). This was in line with their believe that the gay struggle was an indivisible part of the broader anti-apartheid struggle.

Ivan Toms, a medical doctor and one of the founding members of OLGA, and a former lieutenant in the South African Defence Force (SADF), were sentenced to nine months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the 1980s township uprising in the Townships of Cape Town.

SADF recruits that were suspected of being gay were regularly subjected to aversion and other behaviour-modification therapies. 

‘Simply Zackie’ – Abdurrazack Zackie Achmat

Abdurrazack “Zackie” Achmat was born on 21 March 1962 in Johannesburg into an activist family. Around the age of 10 years of age, he became aware of his homosexuality. Inevitably, he also started to question his family’s religious beliefs because these were justified to condemn him.

Achmat became politically-aware during the time of the Soweto Uprising. In its aftermath, he burned down his high school out of frustration as a result of his fellow students’ decision to end the boycott and return to school. For this trouble, he was sentenced to corporal punishment. During the period 1977 -1980, he was detained five times under section 6 of the 1967 Terrorism Act firstly and later under the 1950 Internal Security Act.

During his imprisonment in 1980 he was recruited by Johnny Issel and Hennie Ferrus into the banned ANC. By 1985, Achmat joined the Marxist-Workers tendency of the ANC. From 1985 – 1998 he became involved in the Bellville Community Health Project (BCHP), an organisation that promoted primary health care in a working class community with limited access to  health care , TB and HIV prevention and education. In 1994 Achmat co-founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE), a body that campaigned for the rights of lesbian and gay people in South Africa. The organisation campaigned to incorporate the prohibition on unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the final Constitution of democratic South Africa passed in 1996. In March 1994, he joined the AIDS Law Project at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of Witwatersrand– an organisation created to challenge unfair discrimination in policy and conduct of public and private bodies.

‘Cats and Ruggers’ – Jozi Cats Rugby Club, Johannesburg

From the onset, rugby promoted manliness and manly sociability. For almost a century, it embraced the nineteenth-century definition that “being a man meant not being a women.” Consequently, women’s presence in the game was “sometimes acceptable but at other times regarded as distinctly unwomanly and inappropriate.” In cases where women attempted to play the game, such players were not only intimidated but also labelled as ‘Amazons’. The sport therefore developed a culture that not only viewed heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexuality and became highly intolerant of homosexuality. Beyond sexism, men who did not fit the required physical or mental profile expected of rugby players or who preferred to play other sports, were denigrated and described as less manly and sissies. South Africa as a result has very few publicly-known gay and lesbian rugby players, administrators, officials or clubs.

In 2002 the International Gay Rugby and Board (IGRAB) was established to unite the increasing number of teams around the world. The organisation also hosts the international Bingham Cup. This competition, the World Cup for gay rugby, was named after American Mark Kendall, who died on board United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed during the September 11, 2001 attacks.

These developments contributed to the founding of the Jozi Cats Rugby Club in Johannesburg during 2015. This represents a pioneering moment in the history of South African rugby. The club’s prime objective was to offer a safe environment for individuals to engage in the sport regardless of their sexual orientation and/or expression. In April 2017 the Jozi Cats participated in the European Union Cape Competition in Madrid Spain. South Africa is looking forward to the team lifting the Bingham Cup soon.

Nataniel – ‘Kaalkop National Treasure’

Mention the name “Nataniel” to a South African and you will probably hear a wide range of descriptions: singer, songwriter, performer, producer, writer, entrepreneur, television host, public speaker, fashion icon, designer and philanthropist. Since the late 1980s, the bald (kaalkop) Nataniël le Roux has become one of South Africa’s most prolific and prominent artists. Today he boasts with an enthusiastic and loyal following among a wide range of South Africans. Nataniël’s popularity among conservative Boeretannies of the deep Platteland curiously proves this point! The fact that this often controversial artist also happens to be gay makes him so much more interesting, if not somewhat mysterious. Nataniël is famously outspoken and he does not shy away from issues such as LGBT rights and freedom of expression.

Nataniël’s creative output in a wide range of fields is nothing less than legendary: 80 original theatre productions, 19 albums and 21 books, to name a few. In addition, he manages his own production company, Nataniël House of Music; he sells his own line of lifestyle products under the Kaalkop brand; and, he also launched a charitable foundation, The Nataniël Progress Project. Nataniël remains one of South Africa’s most prolific creative forces and over the course of more than three decades he has successfully cemented his image as an authentic national treasure.    

Slide: Tannie Evita

Pieter Dirk Uys is a world famous South African performer, author, satirist, and social activist. He was born in Cape Town in 1945 and studied drama at the University of Cape Town before going to study at the London Film School. From the onset issues about his sexuality subjected him to scorn and criticism.

During the 1970s and 1980s he was associated with the Space Theatre in Cape Town and the Johannesburg Market Theatre. He has become an award winning novelist and playwright and has written several books, as well as more than 20 plays and over 30 revues in the 40 years that he has been in the theatre industry. Uys writes, directs, performs and produces his own work. Freedom of expression has been a central theme throughout Pieter-Dirk Uys’s career. One his books, Trekking to Teema, became the first internet book in 2000.

During Apartheid, Uys used the medium of humour and comedy to criticise and expose the absurdity of the South African government’s racial policies. Since the 1994 nonracial elections he uses the same medium to critisise and expose current political and social issues. Uys is especially well-known as his alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout, whom he describes as “the most famous white woman in South Africa”. In 2016, Evita Se Perron, Pieter-Dirk Uys’s cabaret theatre and restaurant in Darling, where he lives, celebrated its 20th anniversary. Uys and his alter ego are known for their tireless work in the frontline of HIV/AIDS activism and education. The venue, which Uys converted from the old Darling railway station, is famous for its satirical garden, Boerassic Park. Uys, either as himself or his flamboyant alter ego, has been very vocal in his activist capacity, often using satire to address pressing social and political issues. And Evita is still everyone’s favourite ‘tannie’. As Tannie Evita says: The people must lead and the government can follow. Vukuzenzele! (Do it yourself) This is the motto of the Movement for Good, which is aimed at getting South Africans to help create the country they want to live in.

 “I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast”

Caster Semenya was born on 7 January 1991 in Ga-Masehlong, a village near Polokwane in South Africa as one of five children- four girls and one boy. Tests revealed that Semenya has testosterone levels three times higher than is expected in women due to hyperandrogenism. She has no womb or ovaries, but instead has internal testes because of a chromosomal abnormality. This combination of factors, according to the definition of the Intersex Society of North America, placed her in the category of intersex persons. Such a person per definition   refers to a person born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male”.

Semenya first gained worldwide attention in 2009 when she competed in the 800 meters at the world championships in Berlin at the age of 18 years. Between 2008 and 2009 she established a firm reputation in the athletic world following her smashing of both continental and world records. After her victory at the 2009 World Championships, one of her fellow competitors, complained about her gender. Consequently, the International Association of Athletics Federation [IAAF] ordered that she be subjected to formal testing to determine her gender. At stake was her right to compete as a woman. For the duration of the testing, Casper was suspended from international competition. The testing process itself unleashed a storm of controversy and accusations of intersex phobia, racism. One gender activist interviewed by Vox Media was adamant that Semenya’s “body was put on display” for Europeans “to look at it and to gawk at it.” After one year of public controversy and legal and arbitration battles Caster was reinstated and returned to the athletics track in 2010. Awards and recognition thereafter followed regularly including:

British Magazine, New Statesman’s list of “50 People That Matter” (2010), South African Sportswoman of the Year Award (2012), Order of Ikhamanga (Bronze – 2014) AND AN Olympic Gold Medal (2016). In December 2015 Caster married her long-term partner, Violet Rasebuya.  Her struggles and achievements on the track, however, continue.

Mpho Andrea Tutu van Furth – ‘Painful to give up Ministry’

Mpho Andrea Tutu van Furth is the youngest daughter of anti-apartheid activists Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Leah Tutu. The former, in addition to his campaigns on behalf of the LGBTQI community, was also a staunch fighter for the ordination of women as priests.

Mpho who followed her father into priesthood, was ordained in the US in 2004 in the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in Washington. The US Episcopal Church as far back as 1976 declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church”. In 2003, the church ordained its first openly gay bishop and in 2015 it embraced same-sex marriage. Mpho who was married at the time with two children, served in the USA until 2011.

Mpho Tutu returned to South Africa in 2011 and was licensed to officiate as a priest by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay. During the same year, she met Marceline van Furth, a professor of paediatric infectious diseases at Vrije University in Amsterdam. Following her divorce, she married van Furth in 2016. This act of love, cost her, her license as an ordained priest.

Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriages in South Africa in 2006, the Anglican Church law holds that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Clergy are therefore not permitted to bless or conduct same-sex weddings, neither are they allowed to marry same-sex partners in civil ceremonies. It only tolerates celibate same-sex relationships. Against this background, with the handing in her license, she lost her authority to preside at Holy Communion, and to officiate at weddings, baptisms and funerals in South Africa.

Mpho is the founding director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting projects and initiatives that promote peace and reconciliation for the flourishing of people and the planet.


Comments are closed.