2014 March 30: “A woman I’m going to marry”

by Buli Vimbelela

On the 30th of March 2014 a crowd of people gathered in Zola, Soweto to witness Promise Mavundla and Sanele Shabangu’s umqomiswano (engagement), a gathering which many were unsure of, but had piqued their interest nonetheless. There were unsure if it was a wedding or what? They were peering into the home of Mavundla, who identifies as a butch lesbian who was welcoming her soon to be wife, Shabangu, who identifies as a femme lesbian.

This is how it all started…

When asked how the two met, Sanele said, “For a while, I had been keeping an eye on S’thembiso, as she affectionately calls her, when one afternoon my sister and I bumped into her along the road.
I was too shy to ask for her number, but my sister did on my behalf”, she chuckles!
“From then on, I contacted her and initiated a relationship”.  She says she knew she would marry her one day, as they hit it off on first contact.

It was in January 2014 when Promise introduced Sanele to her sister as “a woman I’m going to marry”. There weremixed reactions from both sides of the families. When Promise introduced Sanele to her mom as her girlfriend, they instantly hit it off and built a strong relationship as mother and daughter. She was receptive because she had already accepted her daughter’s lifestyle as a lesbian. On the other hand, Sanele had reservations about introducing Promise to her mom, because she had not been too impressed by her daughter’s previous partner. She was subsequently encouraged by a woman close to her, to tell her mom about Promise. She eventually did and her mom requested to meet Promise.

It was then that Sanele’s mom informed Promise that since Sanele was  a tshitshi (virgin) and their family still followed tradition; they needed to perform the umqomiswanoceremony.  She agreed. Umqomiswano is a ceremony where one says ‘yes I am now ready to date steadily’ and put a beaded necklace around the man’s neck to show other women that he’s ‘taken’.  In this case, it was the femme giving the necklace to the butch-. It may be likened to an engagement ceremony.  Preparations began as they gathered all the ‘amatshitshi’ to practice song and dance for the day. They were also expected ukugonqa loosely translated to mean to fast and ready oneself for the day.

Fast forward to 30 March 2014, we attended their umqomiswano/ engagement ceremony. The day started off quietly at the Mavundla home, where they were expecting the arrival of the amatshitshi and preparations for lunch were happening. Meanwhile at the Shabangu home, singing and dancing was heard aloud, as they were about to depart for the Mavundla home to hang the flags before the bride-to-be gets there.

It was beautiful seeing the procession on the streets of Soweto, as people stopped along the road to watch as this was an unusual sighting around the township. On arrival at the Mavundla home, members of the family, friends and some more people were waiting in anticipation. There were some passersby who asked amongst themselves what was happening, “was someone getting married?” they asked.

As the tradition goes, the procession got closer to home. They stopped to dance as they waited for a family representative to welcome them, with a specified amount of money. After that was taken care of, they proceeded to the yard, amatshitshi bearing gifts for the groom and all the while, the bride-to-be was amongst them. Promise, being the shy person that she is, was called in to sit in the center to receive her gifts. I must say she rather looked different, yet cute, in her men’s traditional outfit. More gifts were exchanged from one family to the other.

The dancing to Zulu songs started again, while amatshitshi took turns to dance with Promise also showcasing bits of her dancing. Then the biggest surprise of the day came, Promise immerged carrying a beautiful jewelry box. She got everyone’s attention and asked Sanele to join her at the center where everyone was watching. They were both kneeling down and in her shy voice she asked Sanele to marry her and she without hesitating, said yes! There were loud cheers and ululations as the beautiful ring flashed around and pictures were taken.

Quick words of congratulations and encouragements were said by both families. Promise’s mom had this to say, “Today I’m happy to see our kids do the right thing, the right way. What makes my daughter happy makes me happy”. She urged Promise to take good care of Sanele. What struck me most was Sanele’s mom’s words when she said “Today I’m a proud woman, proud that my daughter kept herself pure to this day. I’m proud to show the people of Soweto that there are still 22yr old virgins” – she said. To Sanele she said, “Just like you came to us saying you love Promise and you wanted the world to know, I want you to know that we didn’t take that lightly and there’s no turning back now. I will not have you say you don’t want it anymore”. And to Promise she said, “I know you will do the right thing and marry my child, I wish you well”. And to that there were more cheers and ululations and the party began. 

It was indeed a beautiful and colourful day as we experienced our culture within the LGBTI community and of course the Inkanyiso crew was there to capture it all.



Previous by Buli


2014 Jan. 21: Living an active life



2013 Nov. 19: Love is a beautiful thing





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2014 April 9: Born for this


by Lebohang ‘Leptie’ Phume


Leptie @ SAFTA s 1_20140405_055

I have attended fashion shows before but never of this magnitude.
Attending the SA Fashion Week on 4th & 5th April 2014 at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Rosebank, Johannesburg. The other event was South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) at Gallagher Estates, Midrand was a true blessing to a fashion lover and an aspiring model like myself.

The events gave me the platform to engage with the fashion industry ‘big sharks’ and I learnt a thing or two from them. It is anyone’s wish to go from one exclusive ‘invites only’ event to another in one night, and I was very fortunate to have been in the midst of it all. Walking the red carpet at the SAFTAs, with the cameras flashing in front of you is just something you see on TV.  When it happens to you, an unknown it both inspires and gives you hope that one day you too will walk the red carpet of all exclusive events, being known for who you are and what you do.  No one will be asking for your name after every photo that is taken. Those photographers capturing every moment of the red carpet inspire you to work that much harder on achieving your goals.

One day I will not be asked to take a photo at a photo booth by random ladies just because I am beautiful but because I am a highly accredited model, stylist and blogger.
I met plenty of well-established individuals at the fashion week but the highlight of the whole weekend was engaging with the king of fashion himself, David Tlale.

Leptie and Tlale @SA Fashion Week_20140404_060

L-R: David Tlale posed with Lebohang ‘Leptie’ Phume

Many people have characterized him as this serious, arrogant so called diva, but I beg to differ. He is a very humble and fun human being. I mentioned to him that I am an aspiring model and would love to walk the runway some day. With just a single gaze, top-to-bottom he said, “forget about runway, you’re too short for it, but keep modeling”.  My spirit was crushed about but I am not willing to lose hope. I will prove it to him that nothing is impossible.

If there is one thing I have learned about this industry, it is that you are defined by your status, so if you don’t have one you will not be taken seriously.
For instance Anele Mdoda once walked the runway, but David said I am too short for it.  The difference between us is that she had celebrity to leverage, which created a platform for her career whereas I am just a random lesbian who is still trying to make a name for herself. This will not break me; it will not stop me from pursuing my dream. There is one thing I forgot to ask Jerry Mokgofe a fashion blogger. I wanted to ask why bloggers never roast each other.
Was it because they were too scared to do so because they will be roasted in return?
Anyway I will get a chance one day. It has been a weekend of experience for me, a lifestyle I’m embracing and look forward to adopting as my second nature. I was born for this.


Previous by ‘Leptie’


2014 Jan.21:   My Woman














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2014 April 5: “We are being killed for nothing”



A impression by Signe Tveskov


Performance: Maureen Velile Majola & Jelena Kuljic

Video: “Isililo” by Zanele Muholi

Where:  Constanza Macraz/ Dorkypark – Studio 44. Berlin


Heavy sounds of breathing. The sounds are somehow disturbing. We don’t know if it comes from pain or pleasure. I have no visuals to attach these sounds too.

The uncomfortable tension is soon relieved. Two female voices, the voices of Maureen Velile Majola and Jelena Kuljic, in detail describe the source of this heavy, now very sexual breathing. Following each other’s rhythms they create a narrative of female bodies moving in, on, with and before each other. Nibbles, skin, breasts, sweat. The whole scene is suddenly very visible, more than the smiling faces of the two women with each their microphones, now projected onto a set of doors. It is a scene of queer sex, intimacy between women. The intimacy between the women does not directly let the audience be part of this pleasure, but they open up a space for a pleasure, which does not exist in an otherwise heteronormative world. We have entered a space I don’t want to leave again. It is an almost aggressive conquering of a visual and emotional space. It is a public demonstration of queer intimacy and pleasure. Presented is an aggressive manifestation that can’t be ignored. A pleasure and intimacy which can’t be doubted.

But the sexual rhythms become songs of mourning as the silhouette of Maureen enters the dark stage singing, while lighting candles carefully laid out on the floor around her. It is a dramatic change of scene. Projected on the doors is now a video showing a row of women walking in mourning. Our participation in the previous, exciting manifestation of love, sex and intimacy has now brutally been stopped and we as the audience are forced to take part in a completely different reality. One candle after the other is lit. Everything still follows a rhythm. It is the same voices in a completely different scene now. Maureen creates a beautiful space on the floor. She is not alone; Maureen carries the mourning of a whole community.

Metallic, loud, aggressive rock music invades the scene. The music violently interrupts this mourning; it feels disrespectful and over-dramatic. Another poem is sung and screamed while being projected onto the doors. This somehow seems like a testimony to the source of the mourning.
Maureen is silent, the candles are still the only light on the stage. We are taken back to a before, before the mourning. Another before than the scene of the queer intimacy. Two experiences so far from each other. I fear to learn that there is a connection.

Maureen now walks across the stage and sits down. She starts laying out and re-arranging bricks on the floor. She pauses and I realise that she has spelt the world hate with the stones. Hate is what connected the two spaces leading up to the mourning. Maureen looks up at the audience and reveals the reason for the twenty bricks. Each brick represents a South African hate crime victim or survivor. Their names are said out loud. They are victims and survivors of hate crimes committed against Black LGBTI people. To each victim or survivor a date, a year and a couple of sentences are attached, bringing their personality, their importance and the hate crime closer to the audience. Maureen lights up the memory of each person by lighting two small candles on each brick.

The words “Sifela i Ayikho” appear projected onto the door as Jelena and Maureen again start singing. It translates; “We are being killed for nothing”. They leave the stage and their songs of mourning become lower and lower as they disappear. Left on the stage is the word hate lit by the twenty names of hate crime victims and survivors.

Movement, to move, can mean a transition from one phase to another. One can also be moved emotionally. A movement is a group, a community moving for social or political change.

Maureen and Jelena’s performance moved.





About the author

Signe Emilie Tveskov is a student of Art History and Gender Studies with a focus on and interest in queer art, theory and culture. She is living, working and studying in Berlin.



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2014 April 5: ‘Sifela i Ayikho’ photos



2014 March 29:  Is it violence or love between two men?


















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2014 April 5: ‘Sifela i Ayikho’ photos


2014 April 5: 'Sifela i Ayikho' photosL-R: Jelena Kuljic and Maureen Velile Majola at backstage before their performance at Studio 44, Constanza Macras in Berlin last night. 


Audience1 sm_5587


Screen on stage sm_5528

Jelena sm_5551Jelena Kuljic about to sing “Senzeni na?” 

Maureen best sm_5542
Maureen Majola lit the candles and prayed hard… God please end hate crimes in South Africa

panelists after i ayikho_5703

Panelists ft Tamara_5723L-R:  Tamar Saphir, Zanele Muholi responding to questions, Eckhard Weber (moderated the session after the performance and ‘We Live In Fear’ screening) and Maureen Velile Majola on the far right.

Members of da audience_5766


Keke from Kenya_5778

Lerato Tamara & Sabelo_5808Lerato Shadi, Tamar Saphir and Sabelo Mlangeni


mayibuye_5743Zanele Muholi franked by Arnold and Ulrike Sommer of Kultuur.21

Emma & Mamello_5789Emma & Mamello chatting after the performance at Studio 44

audience ft thea & naana sm_5509


Activists Artists and Friends_5819Our friends in Berlin.
L-R:  Signe, Muholi, Eva, Lerato, Maureen, Tuleka and Michelle


© Zanele Muholi and Erik Dettwiler


Part of the text below was first posted on Dorkypark website

The performance SIFELA I AYIKHO - which is a Zulu expression translated loosely to WE ARE BEING KILLED FOR NOTHING - is exploring parts of South African social landscapes in which the lives of black lesbian and trans women in South Africa, including our own, is always exposed to danger.

The project is an effort to reclaim citizenship and is also a call for an end to queercide, a term coined by Zanele Muholi for the systematic atrocities and hate crimes against lesbians, gay men and trans people in South Africa.

The project is motivated by the ongoing epidemic of brutal murders of black lesbians in the post-Apartheid South Africa.

© Zanele Muholi  (01/04/2014)

We are in a crisis.
One lesbian death is a loss to the entire nation.
Children have been orphaned by hate crimes.
Lovers lost their beloved.
Family members mourn their relatives and children.
The workplace and classroom is robbed of its professions.

South Africa’s democratic laws instituted by the Constitution of 1996 are meant to protect the LGBTI community from all forms of discrimination, but our communities have been invaded by an epidemic of violent hate crimes, including callous murders and ‘curative rapes.’

Therefore we need to take action as concerned members of larger the society.Innocent individuals have been dismembered due to sexuality and gender expression.

The performance takes form of a stage protest, poetry, song and musical instruments are used to emphasize the ongoing incidents.

The performance will expand on an existing body of work that documents hate crimes against black lesbians that Zanele Muholi developed since 2004 and consists of three parts:
PART 1 – Blank Portraits
PART 2 – Crime scene memorial (motion picture)
PART 3 – Previous Film titled ‘Isililo’ – projection

Zanele Muholi is a visual activist born in Umlazi, Durban and currently lives in Johannesburg. Studied Photography at Market Photo Workshop, Newtown, Johannesburg and later, MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. Muholi is the founder of a collective call Inkanyiso with a Queer Art Activism media outlet. She has contributed her photography to many queer and art publications and academic journals.

Maureen Velile Majola is an activist, poet and writer from Alexandra township, Johannesburg in South Africa. She is a young feminist and currently associated with Coalition of African Lesbian (CAL) as the Documenting Officer. She is a crew member of Inkanyiso.org founded by Zanele Muholi.

Jelena Kuljic was born in Serbia and moved to Germany in 2003 to study singing at the Jazz Institute Berlin. Along with her own band, Yelena K & The Love Trio (Double Moon Records 2010), she has been a featured guest in many music and theatre projects through-out Europe. Jelena has worked extensively as a singer and actress with the director David Marton. Some of the their productions have included such important theatres as Vienna’s Burg Theater, The Royal Theater of Copenhagen, Volksbuehne Berlin, MC93 Paris/ Schaubühne. Since 2013 Jelena is working with Constanza Macras/Dorkypark. In March 2014 Jelena’s band KUU! is releasing their first album Sex gegen Essen.



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2014 March 29: Is it violence or love between two men?

by Maureen Velile Majola

When two men from two different worlds redefine what it means to be a man, to show emotions and express oneself, their worlds collide through dance and they create a powerful piece that shows emotions one could never imagine a man showing.

Lucky Kele and Ronni Maciel got on stage and positioned themselves on top of the small stairway that formed part of their stage. I kept my eyes on both of them, wanting to catch every moment of their performance, because this was all so exciting for me, seeing a South African man share a stage with the profound Brazilian dancer as they were about to perform for an audience at Constanza Macras DORKYPARK, Studio 44 in Berlin.

Lucky Ronnie 5 sm_4520

They started moving, looking back as though someone was calling their names. Their moves got aggressive, hitting the stairway in a rhythmic way. They went down the stairs as though someone was pulling them down, like a struggle happening between two people. I stared at both of them as they got off the stairs and started running, running as if there were being chased by an invisible force.

I immediately thought to myself that this piece could be interpreted as being about love and violence or about love between two men.

Lucky & Ronni sm_4568

They danced around the stage, pulling each other like they were in a lovers fight. Their facial expressions showed love and resentment, pain and happiness. I saw two men connecting so intimately, I could have sworn they are dating or just brothers’ in love.

The dancing moved to the bigger stairway where Lucky stood atop of them and Ronni was on the ground as Lucky threw himself towards his dance partner. Ronni caught him before he hit the ground. He did this a couple of times until they switched places but this time around Ronni was not caught by Lucky, he fell to the ground each time he threw himself over the stairway.

I thought to myself, this is what happens in relationships, sometimes you will be there for someone but that does not mean they’ll be there for you. I could relate with the pain in Ronni’s eyes each time Lucky didn’t catch him when he fell off the stairway.

They struggled with each other, engaged in something like a lovers tiff, wanting answers, needing to be touched and held, both of them showed so much emotion in this piece that it felt real. I could see the pain in their eyes. They were in touch with their feelings in an incredible way.

The play ended at the stairway where it seemed like they were making peace with each other, making love to each other and finally reaching an agreement.

Then it was intermission to prepare for the next performance.

Mamela Nyamza rehearsing her new dance piece at Studio 44  (2014 March 26)

Mamela Nyamza rehearsing her new dance piece at Studio 44 (2014 March 26)

After an hour break, Mamela Nyameza’s performance started. During that period as the audience waited, I visited her backstage to see how she was doing.

She was a bit nervous as this was a new piece and she was exploring her new friend (the puppet).
She got dressed and calmed down a little. I left her back stage and took my seat on the top row. I wanted to see everything clearly and make sure I don’t miss anything.

Mamela asked me to play with the flashlight each time Makgosi Kgabi started flashing with her camera.

I saw a huge transformation from the Mamela I was with just a few minutes ago to the one on stage. She became her performance and her performance became her.

She made sounds and facial expressions that showed us how one can go into their defense mechanism and become a puppet, just to survive. Her puppet Miranda did everything to survive, for example, she took on shows she did not feel comfortable with, simply because she needed to survive. Mamela would constantly disagree with Miranda who was what people saw on the outside and her true self was hidden behind Miranda.

Mamela found her voice and she was able to only do what she felt was right and not do things only to survive. She started understanding that wanting to survive doesn’t mean you should compromise yourself.

Mamela & Mojisola sharing the kiss during I Stand Corrected performance.  Photo by Zanele Muholi (28.03.2013)

Mamela & Mojisola sharing the kiss during I Stand Corrected performance.
Photo by Zanele Muholi (28.03.2013)


Previous articles


2014 March 26: Lucky Ronni @ Studio 44





Posted in Black Lesbian Artists, Crea(c)tive senses, Creating awareness, Creative activist, Education, Emotional support, Empowerment, I Stand Corrected, Intellectualism, Intervention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2014 April 1: This is not April fool but our reality


2014 April 1:  This is not April fool but our reality

… A photo of the day by Zanele Muholi, featuring Maureen Velile Majola rehearsing ‘Sifela i Ayikho’ to be performed at Constanza Macras STUDIO 44, BERLIN on Sat. , 5th April 2014.

More photos to be added later…

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2014 March 21: The critical work of a critic

The task of a writer engaging with the work of artists and activists is an important one.

The critic does not only draw attention to the work of particular people but provides a way for readers and viewers to translate and understand the works they view. What is written about the work of visual activist Zanele Muholi, for instance, can help us to think about questions of race, sexuality, violence and intimacy post-apartheid. On the other hand, a writer responding to her images can compound problematic ways of seeing and thinking and can, even if unwittingly, reinforce homophobic views. This is unfortunately the case in art critic Mary Corrigall’s review of Muholi’s latest exhibitions in Johannesburg published in the Sunday Independent on the 2nd of March 2014.




In a tone strangely reminiscent of a conservative right-winger in the United States, Corrigall argues that the art world has provided Muholi with a place for “her” (quotation marks in the original) community because the art world “has always been a gay-friendly if not gay-dominated one”. In this way the review elides the fact that black women artists, let alone black lesbian artists, number few in our context. At the same time it fails to consider the psychic toll and physical risks involved in being South Africa’s most visible queer activist in a context of extreme homophobia and violence. Corrigall also questions whether Muholi’s activism extends beyond the art-world. This betrays her ignorance of the organization Muholi founded, Inkanyiso, as well as what Muholi’s work has meant for queer activists both here and abroad.

The review focuses on “Of Love and Loss”, a series of photographs that record and celebrate queer weddings and that document the funerals of lesbians who have been raped and killed. These two kinds of ceremonies are important social rituals for queer communities and are both private spaces of joy and of grief as well as political spaces that show how far we have come and how far we have to go before there is justice for all in our country. Corrigall also mentions Muholi’s current show with Gabrielle Le Roux at the Wits Art Museum, “Queer and Trans Art-iculations: collaborative art for social change”. Corrigall argues that the uniformity of Muholi’s treatment of those she photographs in her “Faces and Phases” series reduces the space for the expression of individuality. My own reading of Muholi’s work is that something much more complex is at work in this extensive portrait series. “Faces and Phases” mobilises the conventions of memorial portrait photography to open a space for mourning and at the same time queers that space by juxtaposing images of the dead with multiple portraits of living queer subjects.

Corrigall insists that Muholi’s desire is to “normalize” homosexuality. It is important to point out here that homosexuality is not abnormal and therefore does not require normalization. It is should also be noted that while Muholi claims a place for queer subjects within the dominant order this is not to say that her photographs normalize people and practices considered by some as deviant. On the contrary, what her work aims to do is to refuse the bounds of the so-called normal, by not simply expanding but by exploding such limits.

There is a growing body of scholarly writing about Muholi’s work by academics in South Africa like Desiree Lewis, Pumla Gqola, Zethu Matebeni and myself, and by people like Andrew van der Vlies, Brenna Munro and Henriette Gunkel in the UK, the US and Europe.
Corrigall would have done well to have read some of this work or spoken to some of the writers. It also would have helped had she spoken with the artist or read some of Muholi’s insightful reflections on her own work.

As it stands Corrigall’s piece displays an astonishing lack of consciousness about the politics of race and representation as well as of the intersections between compulsory heterosexuality and sexual violence as experienced by women in South Africa, queer-identified or not, and by men who do not perform heterosexist normativity. She critiques Muholi, whose life’s work is to portray black queer experience after the end of apartheid, and black lesbian experience in particular, for not documenting the lives of white lesbian women. She goes on to write, “Similarly, what of all the heterosexual women in this country who are raped and murdered because they don’t conform to conventional or traditional ideas about women imposed on them? Or is this too everyday a subject?
Who Muholi photographs doesn’t only determine who turns up on opening night, but exposes who is in, or out.” Violence visited upon heterosexual women is bound to the violence queer people experience in South Africa. Addressing homophobia is at the same time to address heteronormative patriarchy.

What are the connections between the murder of Anene Booysens who was raped and disemboweled in the Western Cape in 2013 and the murder of Duduzile Zozo who was raped and killed, her body found with a toilet brush inserted into her vagina in Gauteng in 2013?
Was Anene straight or queer?
Was Duduzile a mother?
Why does this matter?

It matters only in as much as certain people are marked for death as a result of their choices about who to love; about what they wear; about how they choose to think and about whether and with whom they choose to have children. Should all acts of rape be understood as hate crimes?
Are white women subject to the same kinds of violence as that experienced by black women in South Africa?

These are important questions that Muholi’s work opens up and that the series of rhetorical questions that Corrigall’s review poses, but makes no attempt to answer, shuts down.



Corrigall’s closing line, in which she writes that Muholi’s choice of participants for her portrait work “exposes who is in, or out” implies that Muholi’s work has aestheticized lesbian rape and has made of homophobic violence a kind of fashionable topic. This is offensive on many levels and makes clear that Corrigall fails to grasp the political force of Muholi’s work and overlooks the artist’s personal position in relation to this subject. Not every review of Muholi’s photographs can or should necessarily serve to amplify the message of her work. However, when you consider that her message is that all people, queer or not, have a right to a place in this world then you have to ask what it means to write against this. When the then Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana walked out of the Innovative Women exhibition in 2009 she left, not, as Corrigall claims, because she thought the works she saw there were pornographic. She left because she claimed the photographs on display were “immoral, offensive” and “went against nation-building”. This kind of statement from those who hold power in our country and who determine who is afforded a place in the nation- state is in fact, what, to quote Corrigall, “exposes who is in, or out”.


Kylie Thomas

14 March 2014



This piece was written in response to Mary Corrigall’s review of Zanele Muholi’s work,
“Sense of Belonging” published in the Sunday Independent, 2 March 2014.



About the author

Kylie Thomas lives in Cape Town where she teaches and writes about the history and representation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; violence during and after apartheid; and about photography and visual activism.



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Zanele Muholi’s new work mourns and celebrates South African queer lives




Spreading hate in the name of God








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