Photos by Valerie Thomas @ Cite Des Arts in Paris
It seems to me, the world has run amok. The recent happenings in the Middle East, the Ukraine, Nigeria, Syria have left me in a deep reflective mood about my mortality.
Why am I here?
How long am I here?
Whose life did I impact?
On this day (19th July), for my birthday, I have requested friends and family members not to buy me presents but to instead write messages of what our relationship means to each other. Life is fleeting. I do not want obituaries to prolong my funeral program when the time comes. I would rather know how I have made a difference in someone’s life while I am still alive.
My dear family and friends were kind enough to share the following:
Happy birthday mntaka ma
amazwi amaningi okubonga ngezinto ezinhle ongenzela zona nomndeni wethu awekho, uyisibusiso emndenini nakubantu.
uJehova akubusise, akwandisele, akuphilise, akuphephise, akuphe amandla, okuphila kade.
Ngyakuthanda uluthokozele lolusuku nezo zonke ezinye uphephile
Happy birthday my friend. Hope you have a wonderful day. I can’t believe it’s 14 Years already of knowing you. This morning I was just thinking about the first day of meeting you at Stuttafords. I still remember you had your hair platted up. As you walked in everyone turned their heads to see this beautiful person walking tall, so confident. When we met, I remember your warm hug and your welcoming smile.
You welcome me into your home and trusted a total stranger. Thank you for helping me finding myself when I was lost and confused. Thank you for being a friend and a sister. Thank you for staying humble and paving the way for others. You are blessed, you are gifted. Thank you for not being selfish but sharing your talent with others and for putting South Africa on the map.
I have been following your work. I have no words to describe it. It’s one of its kind. It speaks to you. I’m glad you are working with the girls ekasi lami. It’s a great job you are doing and an amazing opportunity for them.
These are amazing, sad stories. It’s sad learn that there are people who are still living in those conditions. Thanks to your eye opening work.
Wishing you many more artistic years to come. Ukhule, ungakhokhobi and know that you are loved.
Title: Queen with a camera
by Nonkululeko Britton-Masekela
It’s a blessing how we met. Me delivering my poetry on stage, you expressing your poetry through a lens. If this is not a sign of how God-sent you are, then nothing in life matters.
I went on to fall in love with your whole being – your sound mind; your incredibly generous heart; your relentless spirit; your insane sense of humour; your quirky and unique sense of style; your ageless body; and your insanely soft lips…
Allow me to digress….
The reason I turned out into a woman of substance and initiative is because I had you as a shining example. I was also deeply loved by you and know (gratefully so) that even though I had the talent, you would have never allowed me to waste it on laziness and complacency. Because you cared so much for me. I will always be grateful for that.
So, I hung on to your camera strap; tagging along with you as you go on your massive missions to right the wrongs in society. You inspired me to write!
13 years later, from across the world and even though life has taken us different ways. I still hold on to a figurative strap of your camera. I still hold on to the vision you have for young girls/ the world. God has sent you yet again to remind me of the young girl I once was, fortunate enough to have had you as a beacon to follow. I am reminded to be that light for another girl.
I want to remind you that not everyone has the same angels. Some girls will not be able to see things as I did back then. They will not take the baton and run with it. Some will ‘get it’ and indeed achieve wonderful things in your lifetime. I want you to never give up on anyone, because if you had given up on me 13 years ago, I would’ve been so much less an extraordinary.
I love you deeply – beyond any form of comprehension. I count myself incredibly fortunate to be amongst those chosen by you as a lover, mentee, photo subject, friend, sister and one you can call to remind you of why you’re so great.
Inkosi iqhubeke ngokukubusisa.
Makukhanye lakuhambe wena.
Siya Saysay Mcuta
I’ve been thinking what to say to you besides happy birthday, but all I’m feeling is I want to for seeing potential in me even though I was at my lowest. Thank you for daring me to trust my abilities and thank you for boosting my confidence when I needed it the most
Happy birthday Muholi hopefully I meet you in Paris one day
My birthday wish for you, sent with love and solidarity.
Wishing you a special day, my friend!
“My friend, my comrade in arms, the wise sister I crave and got, dlozi lam! Today is your day of introspection, reflection, celebration and perhaps imbibing :)
42 years ago, Ma Bester smiled down at you. She knew you were going to be her last. The last born is special. The last born is both blessed and burdened. Somehow blessed with the expertise that the elder children have imparted your parents but also burdened with the nurturing of the eldest siblings.
We share the same blessings and burdens. It gives me so much solace to know that there is someone who understands the pain to my being, that of wanting to belong, to be seen.
Thank you for seeing me, for believing in me when I couldn’t and wouldn’t. Thank you for telling me hard truths that I could never take from anyone else. Only you my friend.
On this day, I look back, and feel super blessed, to know such an enigma, my mad scientist (artist), with a spirit steeped in greatness. I have learned so many things from you. Most of all, you have pulled me from the deepest hole that you cannot fathom.
Singapore lit such a fire under my arse!
Thank you for making me feel visible, genuinely loved and respected, even though the heat was making me behave like a donkey lol. I had a great time but the best times were spent at the breakfast table, discussing real issues and getting the real issues to surface. That is a memory I hold so dear and will guard fiercely! Conversation at the zen den plus hash browns = 💓.
On your birthday, I want you to really unplug and meditate on all the great opportunities you have been blessed with – good and bad. You have worked hard and I have seen your success unfold right INFRONT of my eyes, further affirming that, hard work + conviction = winning formula. Take today to do you. It’s my birthday challenge for you.
Thank you for being the beacon of light, never compromising who you are. I love you with a fierce in breakable love. I wish you so much success and joy. I just want your soul to sing my friend. I know that day is soon.
This note may seem random, and borderline bonkers but it is from the heart. I love you and wish you a fantastic day today, joyful and knowing that Ma Bester is watching over and under you!!
Ngiyakuthanda mngani wam!!!”
Words alone are not enough to express how happy I am you are celebrating another year of your life! My wish for you on your birthday is you are and will always be happy and healthy! Don’t ever change Muholi.
Hope you are having a wonderful happy, healthy birthday and many more to come. Happy Birthday Baba Muholi ukhule ungakhokhobi
Another birthday, another opportunity from God to grow. Spending time with you one realises that, you are strong, you are loving, you are passionate and you have genuine care. The role you play in so many of our lives makes your existence in this earth so valuable. You are a support system to many, and to some, their ONLY support system. Like a real leader you sometimes carry the load of others and still remain strong. Hope you realise the gigantic role and contribution you make to the black community everywhere you go.To me you are a mentor, colleague, teacher, mother, father and a friend wrapped in one and that’s why I love you so much.
Happy Born Day Baba, Sisonke!
Linda Nonkululeko Mankazana
Your mother Im sure she was full of smile on this day because another blessing was brought into her life. I hate death. I miss my mother every minute of my life. I hope your day was and is still good for you. Ukhule nentliziyo yakho emyoli. God has blessed me with you.
Christie Van Zyl
My dearest friend,
Yes Muholi, you are my dear friend. It is strange for me to be friends
with a 40+ woman of your stature. Abantu abafuni ukuguga.
Zanele you have been a solid foundation in my life, from the moment we met in
2011. You showed me the little things that allow for me to be free of
my limitations. It’s relieving to be able to have at least one aspect
of myself to feel good about when I’m feeling low ; with you in my
life, they’ve nothing but multiplied and continue still today.
Had I not met you through our dear friend Lebo Mashifane, I wouldn’t
have been able to build myself up out of the dark holes that my
problems often leave me in. Meeting you has allowed me to explore my
creativity, talents, skills and most importantly myself.
At times I have been overwhelmed with the kind of great things that
you have trusted me with, but it has done me great wonders in building
my courage, self-esteem & identity. I recently realised that I have
always been worried about what you expect and what you will think of
me if I don’t meet your expectations. You have never given up on me
though, no matter how much I felt I’d disappointed you – I Keep going
because of your omnipresent love.
I don’t know what passion this is that connects us, but every time I am
at my lowest you call me and give me tasks that remind me why I
shouldn’t be tied down by negativity. I thank you and I love you
You are a great mentor, sister, artist and fighter. May you continue
to remain a blessing and blessed too.
Arthur Baradzanwa Mataruse
Happy Birthday Zanele! Meeting you has been a special event in my life.
May your work keep speaking volumes in its subtle beauty!
May your light stay bright!
Today I celebrate you… you showed up in my life when I was flat-lining and stirring in my soul at the same time. You made the noise make sense and gave me a breath of fresh air to a jaded heart. Shortly before I met you I started having a series of dreams about a martial arts boot camp where my instructor wore orange/gold material… the series of dreams ended in a long lesson of a barter system. Where I was shown how to get what my spirit craves without being a slave to money… I am still letting that sink into my conscious. You showed up as a personification of that system and so much more…. You’re appreciated. loved. healing. inspiring. and loved some more…
may your Earth days multiply to keep blessing Us.
1999 till now, I’ve watched you grown into this amazing Artist/ Activist Phenomenal person.
Thank you Zanele Muholi for all you are doing through your work for all LGBTI PEOPLE everywhere. Viva muholi!!!
Our relationship means a lot to me and since I ever met you my life has change a lot for the better, I was just a person but now I’m a person with profession and
also your words make me stronger everyday, I thank you but I thank the woman who gave birth to such a wonderful loud person a lot. Its like you took me from
the streets and put me in paradise to everyone who see you with that different Eye I just wish they can just sleep with you in the same matras not bed cause you don’t own one, so that they know you better and feel your love and enjoy that meal you’ll be serving cause you don’t want to see people hungry cause the
won’t work and blame it on hunger. I don’t see my life without you that why I apologies when I wrong you. Thanks Muholi Muholi. Happy birthday
Athi Patra Ruga
Umdala mpintshiiiii !
I love you and thanks for being my hero.
love to Val …
love to the world on your day.
“Please allow me to be the last one to say, OLWAKHO LOLUSUKU!
To me you are a chosen generation you were born after Nelson Mandela’s birthday. You share the same month with the legend that has made history that will never fade away.
You are possible Zanele Muholi. The way that you put things into perspective made the image of the real you. Your critical thinking gives every homosexual in South Africa the hope of love, freedom and the acceptance on grounds. We are hoping and praying that heterosexuals could accept homosexuals by not raping and killing them.
Every time when I go outside deep down I know that we “homosexuals” have an activist who stands for us in every country that you reach.
You portray our images and people get to know the true life that we are living here Emzansi.
Please keep our flag flying all the time Muholi.
I really appreciate your work!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAY YOU LEAD US TO MANY MORE YEARS TO COME!”
I’d like to begin by saying HEPI BEFDAY!!! I met you and I became part of your 1st series of your lifetime project (Faces and Phases).
After that you took me under your wing to mentor me. You returned into my life when I was at my lowest point and you raised me back up, like dust risen by the rhythm of dancing feet. I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me in my life, it even makes my own mother happy to have your existence in our current lifetime. You are a strong conqueror in my eyes and a great teacher. I have learned so much from you and you have been patient with me… I even shared a cell with you in sea point police station… I appreciate every single moment of my first so called ”arrest” incident. I’m am privileged to know you the way I do. Not everyone has had the opportunity to step into your living space, shared a meal you, and even shared a bed with you!!! The more I get to know you, the more I love you. The more I love you is the more I miss you. I enjoy every hug I share with you and every knowledge I learn from you. Please don’t ever give up on your strength.
May you live for more years and continue making history/urstory I LOVE YOU ZANELE!!
I won’t lie and say the first time I met you I said “That’s my dream” like Beyoncé & Jamie Fox on their duet, especially that I didn’t know much about you.
But as time went by, I knew I wanted people to read all about our work in the papers.
Today I listen to Emeli Sande – Next to you and think of you and I know we both relate to the lyrics.
Yesterday I was looking at my Durban pictures we shot at the beach with the girls and it rang in my mind that I had spent so much time in Durban but never had such experience and I thank you for that ♡ and thanking you on behalf of the other girls.
I’m laughing at how many years it took me to realise who am I really am.
I looked at the mirror this morning and I was like damn, why did it take so long for this transformation to happen?
It feels good!
I’m happy and that’s because of you. Thank You.
You introduced me to so many people in such a short space of time.
Some of them are bad people, I can’t lie… I just can’t stop thinking about them.
Some of them are good people whom I know are for keeps.
You introduced me into sharing space with a group of people and all I can say it wasn’t my best experience, at all but I am great full for the experience.
Working with you was fun, exciting and exhausting. You would step on my toes, get annoyed and smile again, it was all-natural! We made a great team and still do.
Thank You for teaching me it is owk to be myself, for teaching me it is important to document my life and doing it for other people.
With all that said, I wish you all the best in life.
God bless you and Happy Birthday. ♡
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. “ Jeremiah 1:5.
Mine mandi kuwe.Siyabulela ku Thixo ngobomi bakho..Nga u Thixo aqhubekele qho ukukunika amava nobucushe. Nga akukhusele phansi kwamaphiko akhe akulonde bese ekwandisele nemikhawulo yakho. Happy birthday. God bless you and stay bless. Namaste.
Happy birthday Muholi, May God bless you with many more years to come mfethu akugcine nje.uqhubeke nokwenza imisebenzi yakho emihle usebenzela i Lgbti community.Imisebenzi yakho mfana ingaphezu kweminyaka yakho.
Mina nje ngiqala ukukwazi bekuwu 2004.
Nalapho wawu thuthukisa yona le community mfethu usipha ulwazi ngokuthatha izithombe. Sifundiseka ukuthu uma kanjan uma ufuna isthombe sakho sibe ilento oyifunayo.Wawungapheli mandla ukt asiyazi kahle lendaba yezi thombe. Kodwa ngothando nentshesekelo yokuth labantu Ufuna siluthole ulwazi. Futhi nje wasiqeqesha ngempela Muholi mfeth wawuse Behind the musk ngaleso skhathi.Ingakho ngith imisenzi yakho mfeth ingaphezu kweminyaka yakho mfana.Nomoya wakho owodwa ongashitshi. Mina nje selokhu ngakwazi uyinto eyodwa,awukaze wazibona usungcono kunomunye.Uhlale mfethu unjena akugcine uNkulunkulu qhubeke nokusebenzela uyiphakamise iLGBTI community.God bless you mfana hope u will enjoy ur day
Happy birthday my dear friend! I hope you realize today what a gift you are to this universe! Much love to you on this day and everyday
And then today a wonder was born..
A wonder that would bring change to the wonderful world of difference and adventure…
You are God sent in many of our lives Zanele Muholi.
You keep on making this world a better place for every young queer.
You keep reintroducing to the world of wonderful things.
Through you we believe, we live and conquer.
May you be blessed ion abundance…
May you continue to be a breath of fresh air.
Guess this is me wishing you a splendid birthday..
Keep the torch of peace, love and tolerance alight all day and everyday!
Love you mwah
2012 was a crazy year for me. Earlier that year you came by and took photos, I had only met you the year before and we always looked forward to seeing you again, but this time it was different. You took pictures of me too. I never knew before then that I was in the same room and always felt so invisible. Later that year we went to your exhibition and I love a night out to see the orchestra, but this was a new highlight for me.
I got really sick and had to have my appendix removed. My family came and they were so cold.
You guys came in and out,always so busy. Then one day, a day I will never forget is when you came to the hospital and stayed the whole day. Again I didn’t feel so invisible.
Every time we meet you always encourage me to write. My stories are not always happy but telling them has been the best way of letting go.
Thanx you again for helping me with my fees. I can’t even begin to show you my gratitude. And over and over you have shown me and my family more kindness than any person it have ever met.
Ngathi Nkulunkulu angakubusisa akwandisele netinsuku takho
Happy Birthday my friend. May God bless you for sharing yourself, opportunities, earnings and Shelter. Not even the government has been able to do for us, what you have done. You have developed us and respected us at the same time. No one can do what you are doing. Sometimes I feel like crying because no one opens their pockets for us, no one makes you travel. I am now a facilitator because of you. You made me gain my confidence back. My background was bad but you did not see that. You boosted my spirits and made me have a voice. Even when others undermine me, you mention my name and you value me. You uplift me and you continue to develop me. Thank you for inviting me to work with the children from Aurora. Together we will change the world. I respect your vision of using photography to change the world as well as making it a career. God Bless you.
Just wanted to wish you a very happy birthday I’m very proud and
happy to say I have a friend and colleague like you in my life. You’ve
taught me what hard work is – of which I’m still striving towards,
-helped me understand that family isn’t just those who share the same
blood as you and that with the right attitude any dream can be
achieved. I especially enjoy your straight forward sense of humour
although it can get frustrating at times I think it’s one of the best
parts makes you Muholi.
Stay grounded and as humble and funny as you
are, enjoy your day and may you be blessed with many more to come.
Good Morning Muholi
Born of greatness
Born of royalty
Born of compassion
Born of peace
Born of beauty
So have yourself a wonderful day full of love and lots of laughter.
my dear friend
its been 6 years since we met via email, introduced by Clarissa. ours has been a rewarding relationship for both of us. as for me, i can honestly say your work as an activist continues to inspire me, and i’m thankful to be part of the continuation of your work, art, and life.
i’m sending some words that i hope you can relate to. the narrator is you.
Gabrielle Le Roux
In the more than ten years that we have been friends and fellow activists, there were times (this is long ago now when you were not so well-known) when we talked about our work and it felt like we could understand each other’s positions more closely than anyone else. I treasured those conversations as they made me feel less isolated in what I was trying to do. As your star rose, you have less time for that sort of connection with me but you still offer such valuable advice: “Work with the positive people who love and respect your work, don’t spend time on the haters”.
You have shown me great kindness and generosity along the way at home and abroad. Thank you.
I appreciated our joint exhibition this year, thanks for sharing the space with me at WAM.
Don’t talk of dying, the world needs you Zanele. I wish you long life, strength, good health and the ability to stay centred in the midst of being so busy.
Your work is of global importance and I’m so happy that the world is seeing that and seeing you in all your beauty in your lifetime. Don’t let it consume you or burn you out my friend.
Happy birthday Zanele!
Your life and example and friendship is a gift.
Nompumelelo FoFa Mamqwathi
Happy Birthday my Beautiful Friend!
I don’t know how many times I re-wrote this letter in my head, extra brain lol mybee am too nervous
Thank you for being a comforter that’s filled with inspiration
You gave me unlimited hope to never limit myself and pushed my energy to always strive to beautify Abstract
It feels like yesterday when I was knew to my Art and emerged to a Curator
Because of your support and networks I managed to host a powerful exhibition, even though my Senior Curator never thought I will pull it through
Thank you for teaching me about the power of thy self beauty, forgiveness
Your iconographic membrane will always leave an unforgettable mark in Wisdom History
I hope my letter finds you still fresh in Paris
Keep pushing, never stop inspiring
Ntokozo Morgan Nzaca
kuyintokozo ukuthi unkulunkulu usakuhlengile futhi usakugcinile.Wena unguthandiweyo wakhe. wazi wakupha nesipho esikwenze ukuthi waziwe umuhlaba wonke. ngalokho umubonge njalo. izolo umama Esther wabeleka ingane enhle, enothando nesipho sokufundisa futhi enozwelano nabantu. lapho akhona uyaziqhenya ngawe. ezulwini uyachoma ngawe . ngithembe ube nosuku oluhle mngani wami. kuningi engikufunde kewena futhi kuningi engisazokufunda. ubusiseke unkulunkulu akugcine. love you big bro.
Zanele Muholi … Per our chat…
Here’s some herstorical context to our friendship to remind you, that no matter where you are in the world (and send me a pic of the Eiffel Tower please?) …
You have people who know you and love you.
1. I opened your very first email account. In Melville, think it was 2000. Womenonwomen days
2. We went to the World Conference Against Racism together and every day you took the money you made from selling the first square edition on WOMYN and had it printed on a white vest you bought at the Wheel and sold it to conference delegates. You’ll remember Nomfundo Wakwa Luphondwana and Phumi Mtetwa and Thokozani Ndaba were with us. N was bonding with her ancestors. It was stressful. Also, you took us to your mom’s work and she gave you a rainbow jersey
3. You took me to a women’s prison to give the lesbians there old bottles of shampoo and soap we got from Viv.. I had just met her. Viv bought us the car to go to the conference, but couldn’t see how it was gonna justify the revenue I needed to run the mag.
4. You inspired Viv to sponsor the Survivors.. The lesbian soccer team in KwaThema … She joined the team… I watched. Remember?
There is so much, so many stories, so many people, but remember this: I love you ..
We love you.. Whether you’re a famous artist or an unemployed no-name brand.
We got your back. We, your family.
Happy Birthday. Xxxx
“Wow Mr muholi, ur mum was blessed by receiving an ambitious and loving soul.”
Dear Professor Zanele Muholi
“I received your e-mail last night, it kept me thinking and noticing that it was your birthday I seriously didn’t know what to say . Reading your e-mail gave me butterflies specially the line that says
“Tell the world the truth, do not cry when you hear of my passing but celebrate those special moments we shared.”
In most cases people who say such words are those who are close or see that their time of crossing over is getting closer.
Honestly it kept me worried and I asked myself many questions like what’s on your mind? Are you ok?
Zanele came to my life as a blessing in disguise, I’m not buying your face nor begging anything from you but telling the world the truth as you wish.
When you came in my life you found me in a tough situation, a situation of confusion, pain, giving up, loneliness and specially when my family abandoned me.
You thought me to respect every human kind, to stand up for myself and be as confident as possible. I used to doubt myself but you made me realise that, There’s only one Candice Nkosi and I should live my life, like There’s no tomorrow.
You made me realise that life is not about me, but the legacy and/or mark I make in people’s lives.
If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t understand my gender or sexual identity. You changed my life by being open and free of imvelaphi yami, my roots, ubutabane bani.
You helped my climbing a second step of success.
I met young active beautiful and warm hearted people all because of you, you introduced me to people whom I can proudly say they are my family to name a few, Yaya Mavundla, Mama Lindeka, Xana Nyilenda, Le Sishi, sis Do from uMlazi P section, Vukani, Charmain Carrol, Lynne Carrol, Nqobile Zungu the list is endless.
All the fun times I’ve experienced with you and the Inkanyiso crew played a very significant role in my life. Those small things that people take for granted I cherished them and they’ll forever be part of my story.
Through it all, Zanele Muholi changed my life by seeing things in a different way and take every different person into account. I’ll forever respect and give thanks to God for such a blessing of meeting this unique unexplainable soul.
Happy Birth Day Muholi you are truly a leader like your surname.
“Qhubeke njalo bahole ondlebe zikhayilanga ezizweni.”
- Ms Candice Nkosi
I would like to wish you a great year ahead of you and many more years. A person like you deserves to live to see a 100 years on this earth and more. I thank God for sending you into my life. Now I truly know the meaning of God doesn’t send one flying Angels but they are the people right next to you. From the first day we met you have looked out for me more than family has ever had. I am glad God Blessed you with a big heart to care and love strangers.
I know for a fact that no matter what, I can always count on you. It feels great to know that I have that one person who jump through hoops if need be to help me.
I sure Hope God will keep you longer on this earth, so one day I can show how much I appreciate you.
Ngiyakuthanda Lume J
- Sade Langa
More messages to be included…