Africa = Ubuntu – but is it for everyone?

I am an African, not because I was born in Africa, but because Africa is born in me – Kwame Nkrumah

What does it mean to be African? Is there really a definition for African? Africa is such a diverse continent with over 50 countries and over 2000 languages. This incredible diversity makes it very difficult and perhaps mischievous to define an African. However there’s a sense of unity as you travel across the continent derived from the concept of Ubuntu or Hunhuism. Ubuntu is an ethical philosophy that affirms the humanity of everyone, but most especially the “other”, the outsider, the visitor. My humanity is measured by how I treat others. This concept, that is almost universal across the continent, is what gives rise to sayings like “everyone’s child” and “it takes a village”. There’s an inherent warmth that Africans have for everyone, family, neighbours and strangers alike. I love how no matter where my travels have taken me on the continent, I can walk into almost any home and be received warmly with a glass of water and an offer of food. Until they realise I’m gay.

LGTBIQ Africans seem to be the only exception to Ubuntu. We are not accepted or received with warmth and respect. In fact leaders of every shape and form take it upon themselves to demean and dehumanise us with harmful and, oftentimes, violent rhetoric. We are called un-African, a perversion of African culture and a manifestation of Western society. We are called “worse than pigs and dogs”. We are called “the biggest threat to humanity”. We are threatened with beheading, arrest, deportation, land dispossession and a myriad of other crimes. Where is Ubuntu in all of this? How is my humanity being affirmed by all of this? How can I be expected to respect and honour my culture when it is used against me?

There are Africans who are challenging this attitude; LGTBIQ Africans who are using Ubuntu and their cultures to stand up and be counted as African. But they are too few. I wish I could say I was one of them. I wish I could courageously and selflessly be out there fighting for inclusion and respect. I’m too afraid I guess. But step by step, I’m allowing myself to come out and be counted. This blog is part of that journey for me.

Nobody obvious, please

During the frivolities of last week’s Zim Pride, one of our own died after complaining of a severe headache. She was a fixture at GALZ events, well loved and respected by everyone who met her. I was shocked and incredulous when I found out about her death. However, I can be secure in the knowledge that she lived her life the way she wanted, filled with love both from her long-time partner and the community. Her funeral and wake were supposed to be a time where all the people who loved her could gather to celebrate her life and mourn her passing. That was the plan until a friend of mine received a message asking that “nobody obvious” should attend. What does that even mean? And in the Zimbabwean cultural context, it is taboo to turn anybody away from a funeral and wake. It’s as if you are diminishing the relationship between the deceased and those you’ve turned away. Nothing is as insulting as being turned away from mourning your friend because you’re too obvious.

I actually wasn’t going to post anything about this incident out of respect for the deceased, but I felt like it raised an important issue. We seem to be obsessed with how people express their sexuality; whether someone is butch or fem seems to be so important. The external expression of our inner and most personal sexuality determines whether you’ll be accepted by the mainstream queers. If a guy is too fem or a girl is to butch, they are labelled and shunned. How can we, a community struggling to be recognised and accepted as part of the diverse social landscape of our country, how can we exclude and stigmatise anybody. We should be the first to be united in our own diversity. We should be the first to celebrate that diversity. Events like this past weekend’s Mr and Miss Pride (a drag beauty and fashion pageant) help to put those that are usually in the dark under the spotlight. However, these events are few and far between. We queers just need to take it on board that we are as diverse as the general population and if we want to be recoginised and accepted we cannot continue to discriminate our own!

Standing tall with Pride

It’s been three days of Zim Pride and I’m going to try being less journalistic and more opinionated in this post. It’s been fun seeing Harare’s (and Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton as well) gays gather together to discuss, network and I’m sure hook-up! One of the things that’s worried me though, is the tiny presence of our lesbian sisters at these events. Now I know I’ve said some not so nice things about my sapphic sisters, but that doesn’t mean that at events like Zim Pride they should be under-represented. But I guess that’s also the case with the GALZ staff make-up; I know only two female officers.

My other big worry comes from the lack of diversity in the attendants. I didn’t see any non-black Zimbabwean queers at any of the events. Now could that possibly mean that there aren’t any? Easy answer: NO! I personally know and interact socially and professionally with some of these elusive non-black queers. The problem is that they don’t see GALZ and it’s activities as relevant to them. To be fair, I didn’t either until quite recently. But my friends who work there and are members of the organisation have taught me otherwise. Maybe that’s what needs to happen; an outreach event for our white, Asian and coloured brothers and sisters. I mean we are all fighting in the same battle. Let’s actually start behaving like we are.
Now for my own personal confession… I’ve been so embarrassed at the last two events. You see, I’m a very sexual person. I sometimes think with my small head. Since these events are drawing in a wide variety of the gays, I’m bound to bump into a few I’ve had carnal knowledge of. Well on Tuesdsay night, I counted 9! That’s right 9! Now I’m not wearing that as a badge of honour, but I’m also not slut-shaming myself. I guess I just realised that when I saw them all in one room that I need to slow down. I’m seen by a lot of people as respectable and I just think my self-respect went down a few notches!

"We are here, still standing with pride"

Zimbabwe Pride Week 2013 is upon us and was launched last night in simultaneous events held in Harare and Bulawayo at local hotels. I was at the Harare launch cocktail in the company of the orginising GALZ staff, several European ambassadors and representatives of local and regional NGOs. Friends, sponsors and supporters of GALZ and our community’s struggle for equality. Although it wasn’t spectacularly attended, I was still moved to tears by the special words of hope and encouragement offered by the speakers. The motherly wisdom and love emanating from Lois Chingandu, the SAfAIDS regional director, was just perfect. It was a great evening and great time to network with other activists. I can’t wait for the rest if the week and a chance to engage and celebrate with other LGTBQI individuals at the various events planned throughout the week.