I am making history

by Sicka ‘Shaz’ Mthunzi


“When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it,” a quoted sentence from a novel I read titled The Alchemistby Paulo Coelho. Through the journey of my life I have learnt a lot of things…the universe has a powerful force that connects each and every living thing. Many might not know this but the heart is a very powerful organ, what you communicate with your heart the universe grants you. It’s the same as seeking for love, if you are soul searching but worried about qualities and materialistic things, it won’t be possible to find love because you seek what the world gives and not what the universe grants.

2016 was a year of recognition meaning my voice has been heard by many people but the struggle continues with those full of ignorance. On 6 December 2016 I saw an opportunity for photographers and fine artists in a group chat I am part of called ‘South Africa’s Arts and Culture Youth Forum‘. It simply stated that The Coloured Cube is requesting all fine artists and photographers from the East rand to submit 5 of their art works each, a panel will choose which one is fit to be put up at the Springs Mall art exhibition and all rights of the art piece will still belong to the artist. While I was sitting with my partner I read it once again and I showed it to her, I told her I was thinking of taking this opportunity and she encouraged me to go for it. We chose the images together, in the back of my mind I didn’t think any of my work would be chosen but deep down I had hoped at least one would be chosen. Time went by and I didn’t get any response, the year ended and I thought to myself maybe I should give up and focus on my other talents since I wear many hats. Just as I was about to give up…Monday morning on the 16th of January 2017 I received an email from The Coloured Cube congratulating me and letting me know that one of my images have been chosen. I was so excited to a point that I didn’t even bother to check which image they had chosen. Full of excitement I contacted my partner to give her the great news, it just so happened that, that day we both had exciting news to share…she had just been accepted at the Impact Emergency Technologies (Vaal campus) and I too had my great news.

I went back to the email to view the picture and to my surprise they have chosen an image I took using an analog camera, it’s a picture of my cousin Nontuthuzelo Mduba. The activist in me was awakened by this because it means there would be an image of a young black lesbian in the size of an A1 sheet in public. I thought to myself I have made history. The only time I saw images of young black lesbians exhibited decently in a public space was  at the Look3 festival in Charlotteville, US where I felt emotional seeing Zanele Muholi’s work Faces and Phases Seeing our images and she mentioned that ‘Its hard for this to be made possible in South Africa’ and today I am making it possible. I told my cousin, she was so ecstatic and delighted by the news, she couldn’t help but ask when is it opening.

2014 Nov. 7 Ntuthu & Shaz_5546

L-R: Cousins and friends, Ntuthu Mduba and Shaz Mthunzi both from Daveyton also featuring in Faces and Phases. Photo by Lindeka Qampi (2014)


The universe has indeed granted me what I have communicated through my heart. I hope this is a start of many things, history is very important and through my work I intend to mark the hearts of many and archive our history for the next generations to come.


Previous by Sicka


2016 May 24:  The joys and troubles of being a father




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Dreams do come true

Text by Siba Nkumbi
Photos by Sisa Ntshwaqela & Siba Nkumbi

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Buddha

Education is a crucial part of our lives. What if you had access to an education that takes care of your being before textbooks, assignments and deadlines?
What if you had a say on how you want to study?

An answer the above-mentioned questions is a school called the KaosPilots, it is not a school for pilots. It is a leadership school where you let your inner pilot take you to your highest potential making it possible for you to reach your dreams. Here is the vision of the school: http://www.kaospilots.ch/kaospilots/the_kaospilots/vision.html


Why am I telling you this you ask, the answer is simple. Sharing is caring, allow me to share my story. I am currently in Switzerland, Europe and am a proud KaosPilot, studying towards my spiritual journey. Based on my personal experience I will tell you what is KaosPilots in my own words. It is a school that tackles education by enriching, supporting a being (an individual) to reach their highest potential and becoming who they were meant to be. It is platform where you allow yourself to transform the kaos from within and letting it be your pilot taking you to the highest heights of your dreams.


It is a place where you matter, your feelings and what you have to offer to the world as your dream. Be it making the world a better place, owning a business  and any sense of a career path you choose. KaosPilots allows you to do your own personal development and equips you with the abilities to function in your workspace, organisation and personal values are embraced plus uniqueness is explored.


Here I am becoming who I have always wanted to be in an unrestricted space and where I can be freely creative; putting what my being values first and growing in my own pace. This is to remind those that have given up on their dreams that it is never too late to start over. Those that feel like something is missing from how their lives turned out and to encourage the change makers and stressing that it begins with you. Opportunities are endless, be true to yourself and  dare to reach your goals. You surely have those people in your life that encourage you to chase your dreams, they are the ones that remind you that the world is your Oyster. With willingness to risk it all, taking that leap of faith it a great start to claiming your happiness. Knowing that nothing but repetition comes out of our comfort zone is an eye opener. Be ready to get uncomfortable to be challenged on your way to your dream. See I want to die happy and I am at my happiest as we speak knowing that I am becoming who I have always wanted to be and my dream is guiding me.

“No dream is too big, no dreamer is too small”_Turbo movie

We learn in a circle so everyone can see each other and be on the same eye level


This is how the KaosPilot education offer the programme to the students:

The programme is rooted in action, and reflects on it. It is not simply an academic exercise, but the training arena in which you can develop the skills, knowledge and attitude you will need to thrive in a world of constant change. The programme is project driven, so all courses are set in practical experience. Most of them involve an external client with high expectations for what you and your peers will deliver.
Students take personal responsibility for their learning and the success of their programme. They are taken from kaos into order, and back again so as to increase their awareness of, and ability to manage complexity, change and possibilities.
The students are followed and coached on both individual and group levels.

In addition there are 3 components supporting the  programme.

  1. The Council Guide training is a course that enhances personal leadership development, working together like a tribe, self reflection and learning the ways of wisdom and decision making councils.
  2. The outpost in Cape Town is adventure where the students go together with the Danish KaosPilot school to an external classroom somewhere in the world.
  3. The physical training is a special part of our inner pilot curriculum to train our body and mind.

Here are the good news, the school is accepting applications  for team SUI6, we have a Southern scholarship programme ready for those that want to be a change makers but cannot afford to pay for their studies. By all means dare to be different, make that change and apply. The cherry on top is that age is no factor, so if you are between the ages of 21-99 years the time is now to make that change in your life.

Kindly follow this link http://www.kaospilots.ch/kaospilots.html  and apply!

The deadline is on the 15th of March 2017 at 12 noon.  We are looking for sponsors who want to dance with us and helping with the education of the students, if you feel that this is you please follow this link http://www.kaospilots.ch/kaospilots/partners/Sponsors.html

Previous articles by Siba

2015 Aug. 7:  Double Despair


2015 Jan. 4:  Exploring my femininity as a butch





Posted in Acceptance, Accountability, Achieve, Art, Article by Siba Nkumbi, Articulation, Beauty, Being conscientized, Being heard, being recognized, being respected., Being seen, KaosPilots, Switzerland, Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Oct. 12: The dancer’s psyche

Before, during and after the performance at FotoFocus 2016

Performances take their own form. The space, atmosphere and musicality usually influence the entire performance and movement vocabulary.
The 8th October performance at the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA was a statement of voices and an act of rebellion. The performance broke down the conventional ways of a photography exhibition, by bringing the images to life.

A few moments before walking into the exhibition area, there was some confusion with the program. While the audience waited for something else to happen, Zanele Muholi saw this opportunity and capitalized on it. Instead of waiting for technical glitches to be addressed she staged a performance. Andiswa Dlamini, Sebenzile Langa and myself had a few minutes to change and put on the performance we had prepared.


Dancer freed… Photos by Lerato Dumse (2016)

I looked around and saw eager faces and a curious audience as we walked into the exhibition area where another performance by Andiswa, our spoken word artist had already commenced. The mood was already set; we captured the audience with the costumes and an abrupt walk in.

My mind kept replaying the injustices of the world towards LGBTI+ people, as well as the effects of the color of my skin and the dawning of the dark lioness. We had to make a lasting impression, a statement of rebellion against these injustices. The best way was through a daunting and visually interesting performance. My thoughts were to speak the truth, put faces into the images and speak without fear. The dark lioness awoke and the audience was shaken.

Muholi had yet again managed to do what many visual activists have not done. She gave her work a voice, music and movement.

The next performance was in a formal theatrical setting at the Harriet Tubman Theater in the National Underground Railroad Center. This performance was not an ambush or an abrupt presentation of the work. The audience was prepared and the performers were prepared.

This performance for myself was a ‘rubber stamp’ performance where I got a chance to introduce myself as a subject of Muholi’s work. It had moments of grace and moments of chaos. These were not just moments or beautiful dance movements. They were statements of the phases I have been through and the phases we have been through as LGBTI+ people at large. Our struggles might not be the same, but they have similarities. Those were the gasps and heavy sighs that flooded my mind as I moved to the melodic sound of the Saxophone, played by Sebenzile.



Article by Thobeka Bhengu, performer at FotoFocus 2016


Related link

2016 Oct. 20:  FotoFocus Personae meets Saxophonist




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2016 Oct.10: VMCI Annual Conference

Text and photos by Tumi Nkopane

30 Sept.-02 Oct. 2016
Mopani Lodge

I was sent by Zanele Muholi my photography mentor, to document one of Victory Ministry Church International’s (VMCI) annual conferences held at Mopani Lodge in Pretoria from 30 September to 02 October 2016. The first service was at night and started at 23:15 instead of 18h00 because people came from different branches and arrived late.

The congregants of VMCI freshened up then went to the Hall for the night service. I was so tired but had to document the first service of the conference and it was so challenging because I was the only photographer who was documenting the whole service. I thought they’d be back up of some sort since VMCI has a photographer but he wasn’t documenting. My battery got flat during the service; luckily the service didn’t take long because everybody was exhausted from traveling.

I went to sleep and shared a room with Maureen Majola and Lethu Mazibuko. These two ladies welcomed me with warm hands in their space; I thought I was going to share a room with Butch Lesbians because of the church rules. “Butch Lesbians don’t share rooms with Femmes, even couples don’t sleep in the same room.” When the two ladies told me this, I believed that the church is practicing Holiness in certain spaces. Having a Spiritual connection with the Almighty needs you to be pure so that God can feel you easily.
We slept late because we were talking about my experience of documenting the whole conference alone and I took that as an honour and a learning curve in life. As people we are always comfortable and forget that being uncomfortable can be a good thing to happen in a person’s life.



Maureen woke up early to go and pray while Lethu and I was still in bed. I thought to myself, ‘it’s weekend and month end and all I see in this space is the youth praising the Lord and not going to spend money in Clubs by boozing drinking alcohol.’ I wished that both the LGBT and Heterosexual youth from where I come from would unite in Christ rather than in Pubs, Taverns, Parks and any place where they’ll drink alcohol.

We woke up and went to the Dining hall for breakfast then after we prepared ourselves for the morning service. It started at 10:00 I was so nervous in taking photos alone in a space where I felt am being watched but I told myself that ‘Tumi you came here to make a name for yourself,’ I took photographs with a smile because the light was so perfect. I was flowing even though I had one camera battery, one memory card, one camera and no tripod I still flowed.

img_2383Apostle Zungu announced that Pastor Khanyile’s wife has been admitted to Hospital with cancer. Everybody had to pray for Mrs Khanyile to heal from this disease. I was so emotional thinking I’ve lost my best friend from cancer. The congregation prayed then Apostle Thuli prayed for everybody even for the Pastors. I’ve never seen such a spiritual act, when Pastors themselves fell on the floor, it was a shock at first but I realized that they also need prayers and deliverance because there are human.

After the service we went for lunch then there was a briefing session made by Apostle Zungu and Pastor Mazibuko. It was about homosexuals and gender and its categories because there were those who didn’t know nor understand the difference and meaning of the abbreviated word “LGBT” so the Apostle and Pastor tried to explain it further.



The second service of day two was held in a very little hall that accommodated about ±150 people including children. That was my other challenge because I didn’t have the same freedom of movement I had in the first hall. It was wide even though there was an echo. The service was so uplifting and had a lot of words of encouragement and it was so alive the congregants were praising and worshiping at the same time…


The congregants wore their traditional clothing, everybody looked so beautiful and happy with their singing and dancing. The mood changed during the second session when Apostle Zungu had to announce that Mrs Khanyile had passed away. Everybody was so sad and crying, the service was too intense and time had to be compromised by every speaker on the programme.

Mr Royo preached about “God positioning His children” as I took it personal that God knew where my passion was and how I’m going to make myself happy and that’s through Photography and that’s where my position is at…

What I strongly liked about the conference was the Worship team and the Intercessors of the Church. They really have a strong connection with God, they always Praise and Worship before the first service starts and by doing that, the Spiritual connection with God arises in Church, His presence is felt easily.

When the last day of the conference started, everybody was running around like headless chickens with steam irons since it was a “Purple Sunday”. The theme was purple shirts, which is part of the church’s uniform. I guess the purple shirt unifies all the VMCI branches to be seen as one, whether you’re from a certain background but you still have to wear the purple shirt. It was so nice to be in a space filled with youth who have a very high and strong connection with God and being around Gogo and Mkhulu Menziwa was such an honour and great experience since I’ve never seen an old Queer couple. The love of God kept them together as they’re still together and everybody can see how much they care and love each other.

So as an Anglican that experienced the space twice this year, 2016 has been a spiritual challenge for me because of the strong relationship that the congregation has with God and the comfort of being amongst the congregants has made me wish to have Intercessors in my church and they must have a strong bond with God like the VMCI Intercessors.

The 2016 annual conference was really one of my milestones because I had to document the whole event alone with only one camera, battery and memory card. I managed to get the best photographs I’ve been looking for and will make my mentor and myself proud. I was honoured to be given such an assignment, because I’m a religious person who likes to explore and experience different religions. Not that I’m spiritually weak but only a person that likes to connect with God in any spiritual space.


Previous by Tumi


2016 Aug. 8: Celebrated my late sister’s life




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2016 Oct. 20 FotoFocus Personae meets Saxophonist

by Sebenzile Langa

Being a classically trained Tenor Saxophonist means I have been on stage more times than I can remember. This was different though.

Being invited to Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States of America to interpret the Faces and Phases series and Somnyama Ngonyama photo series both produced by Zanele Muholi was way different. I was called to merge song and voice to the series’ in ways that was different. You would have to walk around and wonder what type of music do we listen to, and as Muholi says when taking pictures, “there’s nothing funny about being a lesbian.” I know there’s nothing funny about being a woman. Being the only female Tenor Saxophonist in The Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company, being a music teacher not only for the cognitive development of the child but also to pass on this skill that has brought me here; hoping my learners go even further than I ever will.

Just before going on stage my final thoughts were, “I take you serious, Zanele Muholi, the Inkanyiso team, the audience, the FotoFocus Personae exhibition. Thobeka Bhengu, as you move and dance to my voice, the voice I give to the lesbians on these walls, so serious they look, you can tell they take their lives seriously as well and they take every day as hard and easy as it may be.” I take myself serious, everywhere we are even when we having the time of our life, it’s never a joke. I think maybe we will have to account for what we have done, for walking our truth and reflect who we really are inside when we see those women that make our hearts skip a beat; two women in love.

At times life feels like a staccato, short and detached, but here we are one. And this is my voice to celebrate the life, love and being thankful to have made it this far. I hope life treats you like royalty, because you have been shown to the world majestically.



Before The Performance

It is hard to believe that I have put my foot so far from home.

It’s quiet here, very quiet almost too quiet. Feels like all of my senses are working at the same time. I’ve done more creative thinking here than I do in a day back home. As a first time visitor in this country, so far America isn’t hype; however Cincinnati in Ohio is beyond gorgeous.

Being one of the musical capitals, it’s no wonder no one asked me if I was carrying a piano while I walked downtown listening to the buzz in the city. Everything is where it should be and the place is so clean. However it’s a bit awkward at times when I forget about the pigmentation of my skin. Funny enough it’s not something I’m constantly thinking of or aware of as a black music teacher leaving in the suburbs of South Africa.

I’ve noticed that with the Black Lives Matter and black killings going on, people are more sensitive to us as black people. The people are friendly and accommodating and I think they are more excited about us being from Africa than we are. I miss my husbian, my kids and especially South African food, but even more I miss tea.

I’d like to see the parks where they have replaced the old jungle gyms with outdoor musical instruments, the zoo, botanical garden and lots of parks. Mostly there are music concerts in summer here in Cincinnati. Although we are in autumn, it is still very hot here. I would absolutely love to see a live musical performance and visit a music shop.

I took a walk in the neighbourhood we are in, I don’t think people could tell we came far to be here, we probably seemed more like the new neighbours. I understood why my father was so excited about this trip. My ancestors have never set foot so far.

I’m alive from Ohio Cincinnati, hello world.



Sebe centred by new friends Fiko Mdanda and Thobeka Bhengu.   Photo by Lindeka Qampi (2016/10/08) 


2016 Oct. 18 Sebe _ Tam & Times.jpg


Previous articles by Sebenzile

2014 April 30:  Good spirit dampened by my grandfather’s death


2014 May 7:  Voting for the first time today

Posted in Article, Black Lives Matter, Cincinnati in Ohio, Cognitive development, FotoFocus Personae, husbian, Music teacher, Sebenzile Langa, Somnyama Ngonyama, Tenor Saxophonist, The Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2016 Oct. 20: Time wasted is never regained


Sheshisa isikhathi siya hamba” those words were spoken by our parents when we were preparing to go to school. Those words never mattered to us when we were young because we didn’t know what was at stake. We took our time waking up; some of us even wished school never existed.

I was on my way back from Durban with fellow Faces and Phases family on July 24 2016, when I received an email from 89+ project. They were congratulating me for being chosen to be part of a residency in Johannesburg. I had the opportunity to be one of the artists chosen to carry on with their project at the Google cultural institution in Paris, France.
I was sitting next to Lerato Dumse and full of excitement. As I was reading it there was a part of me that thought I shouldn’t share this information with anyone until they finalise everything. Lerato then asked what the excitement was about?
Lebo Mashifane, who was also part of 89+ was sitting next to us; my mind froze for a second because Lerato’s question caught her attention. I couldn’t lie to my family so I told them the truth and deep inside I hoped Lebo was also chosen.

On the 1st of August I was on my way to a talk at the African Leadership Academy in Roodeport when I received a call from the 89+ people congratulating me for being chosen as one of three artists, letting me know what was going to happen and that I should wait for an email from them. Full of excitement, I even forgot about my talk, but once I got there I focused on what I was assigned to do which was to talk about how being a young activist is like. I addressed students from across the world including a friend of mine that invited me over named Amelia whom I met while I was in Virginia, USA after her mother mistook me for someone else’s daughter.

Within a few days I received an email from Missla congratulating me and to my surprise she asked for Lebo’s contacts because she couldn’t reach her. I thought to myself “Thank God she was chosen” because I was going to feel bad if she wasn’t. After receiving that email she sent me another email which she attached a document that explained everything and at the end I was suppose to sign and send it back. The document clearly stated that we come up with any kind of project even if it is something we have worked on before or a brand new one and it was said that the one with a strong project gets to go to the Google cultural institution to evolve their project.

I believe inspiration is everywhere; it is all about how you view things. My project titled ‘Artistic Healers’ was inspired by a question I got from a student from the UK who asked me how I manage all my crafts and have I found a way of merging them all together?
As I was answering her it clicked to me that this is what I am going to do, my idea was to merge Music, Photography and Traditional Healing. My project ‘Artistic Healers’ is about young lesbians who are artists and healers at the same time. The project is a slideshow of images displayed while my music plays in the background.

Every week we were supposed to meet with Rangoato, who we refer to as ‘Ra’ and also meet with Melose. They were helping us to expand our projects and mentoring us at Keleketla library in Troyville. Once I had an idea I drafted a one page synopsis of what it was about and handed it in, Melose and Ra edited it and gave us more ideas on how we can expand. I went around searching for artistic healers that I can document and I found a few in Soweto.

We spent 4 weeks in residency from the 15th of August until 16th of September.
On the 21st of September we received emails about the results. I opened my email and started reading, they were thanking me for participating and how I came up with such a wonderful project blah blah, hehe bese (then) they said and I quote “Your project definitely has a lot of potential, however it would be significantly harder for the Google Lab team to help you realize it in its full potential as it requires specific skills and engineers that Google could not provide unfortunately“, I was torn apart because I wasted so much time that will never be regained and I felt I deserved a better response than this.

I immediately contacted Lebo to find out if she got it, to our surprise we got the same email, I thought to myself ‘ayibo labantu baganga ngath’i (they are playing with us). How can two different projects receive the same results and as for “specific skills and engineers” what the hell were they on about because I only needed space and the rest I could do for myself. It just didn’t make sense to me. I replied to the email with questions because I needed to understand what they were talking about and I was still not answered.
A few days went by and I received a call and I finally got an explanation that what Google wanted was a project that focuses mainly on the technological side of things. I asked why we were not told about this before because I had asked what are the requirements. They said, “sorry, it is our fault, the Google team is always busy and they took time to respond.”
I took a deep sigh while anger built up in my veins and then I told myself its not worth my energy I have wasted a lot of time with these people already. They continued apologizing and sent me links for grants I can apply for and I was not really interested.

What a waste of my precious time, I could’ve done something worth my while with the 4weeks I was there. Being an artist is ‘nie pap en flies,’ (not easy), you meet people who will promise you izulu no mhlaba kanti ayi shame bayaku dlala (heaven and earth).
My fellow artists watch out. The world has scavengers waiting to take a huge bite of your success and remember ‘Time wasted is never regained,’ use it wisely and keep doing what you doing. I for one am not stopping because of this little hiccup.
Stay blessed and stay humble and true to who you are.


Previous by Sicka


2016 May 24:  The joys and troubles of being a father




2015 Feb. 19:  Trending with Shaz ‘Sicka’ in Oslo



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2016 Sept. 15: A decade of Faces and Phases

by Donna A M Smith

Johannesburg, September 2016

Much has been written and said about award-winning photographer, Zanele Muholi, and her ground-breaking work of documenting the lives of black lesbians and transgender persons in South Africa and other parts of the continent, as well as in the Diaspora. Not all of it has been complimentary. In fact, I overheard a conversation some time ago among a group of young black queer women activist intellectuals bemoaning the fact that no-one was telling “our” stories. When I suggested that Muholi was doing exactly that, they dismissed her work as elitist, in that its primary target is academics in North America and Europe; and biased, in that it focuses on poor, black lesbians in the townships of South Africa, who have experienced violence and other forms of abuse.

Knowing where Muholi is coming from, and what drives her, I was – and still am – profoundly hurt and offended by this discourse. At the same time, I can’t help but thinking, is this not the appeal of Muholi’s Faces and Phases series – its authenticity, its sincerity, its honesty?
The fact that it tells the story that Muholi knows, the story of her friends, neighbours, colleagues, community, people she grew up with – her story?
The fact that it dares to tell the story through the eyes of those who live it, to those who would presume to tell it on their behalf?

When I met Muholi 17 years ago, there were no indicators of the particular role that she was destined to play. She had no camera, no formal training in photography, no plan, no connections, no following, no crew. But she loved pictures – not just taking them, but pictures in and of themselves – the stories they tell, the way they are able to capture particular moments in time, in the way words cannot. And she loved people, being with people, living and working and making things happen for/ with people, taking pictures of people being themselves.

In particular, Muholi loved/loves women – not just romantically or sexually as a lesbian, but with a profound appreciation and respect for our power, as women; our capacity for understanding, compassion and nurturing; our strength, forbearance and resilience; our capabilities, our wisdom; our ability to achieve whatever we set our minds to, against all odds, and without the advantage of male privilege. As she was raised by a single mother – a warm, loving woman, the sweetest, most compassionate, supportive, accepting soul I’ve ever known – in a household dominated by an array of formidable older sisters, this is not surprising.

Most importantly, Muholi had a vision of the quality of life that she and other black lesbians should be enjoying, and an almost scary determination to close the gap between their lived realities, and that vision. And she knew instinctively that the place to start would be to expose that gap, by documenting our lives and telling our stories, in our voices, in various spaces.

Previously, what was seen in the media about black lesbians was either the product of some hetero-sexual male’s uninformed imagination, or some scandalous titbit of celebrity gossip, that bore no relation to our experiences. There was very little actual research, and such as existed was mostly generated by journalists and academics overseas whose primary sources were few and far-between. Images of black lesbians were virtually non-existent, so much so that it was easy to suppose we ourselves also did not exist.

It was the need to reverse this trend that led to Muholi’s first Photography Experience (PXP1), as part of the Skills Development programme of Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), the black lesbian organisation we co-founded in 2002. Having by then honed her own skills through the Market Photography Workshop, she wanted to share what she had learnt with others, and empower them to tell their own stories on their own terms.


Busi Sigasa

Kodak SA captured the vision and donated cameras and technical support. In the group of trainees was the late Busi Sigasa, a talented writer and poet who was one of the first four official spokespersons for FEW’s anti- hate crimes campaign, the Rose has Thorns, and the first person to be photographed for the Faces and Phases series. Sigasa died in 2006, the year of the first Faces and Phases inception, from a lingering illness that may have been related to the violence she experienced because of her sexual orientation.

But it must be understood that Faces and Phases did not start as a standalone photography project. Its context was FEW’s work of documenting and reporting hate crimes against black lesbians in South African townships. As part of the interviews – which often took place over many visits during which trust grew and bonds developed – Muholi would request permission to capture images of the interviewees, to go with their stories.

This grew into a body of work which was capable of telling these stories even without the words. But many of these images did not show faces; and, focused as they were on survivors of hate crimes, they presented Only half the picture – the title of one of Muholi’s earliest exhibitions.  As important as it was to keep the conversation about hate crimes going, there was a danger of a skewed perception of black lesbian lives.


hate crime survivor at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (2004)

2004-aftermathBeyond our sexuality, beyond our vulnerability to particular forms of violence and abuse because of our sexuality, lesbians are also mothers, sisters, aunts, friends; among us are professionals in various fields – we are artists, athletes, activists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, cleaners, care-givers, engineers, educators, journalists, priests. We live everywhere, not just in the townships. And we are more, so much more, than just statistics.

So the time eventually came when the discourse had to move beyond victimhood, when the rest of our story needed to be told. And Faces and Phases, a collection of portraits of black lesbian women and transgender persons from all walks of life, was Muholi’s response to that need.

Over the decade since its inception, the series has made nonsense of the assertion that homosexuality is “un-African”, by placing before the public image after image of very African homosexual women and transgender persons. We exist, we are here, we are part of the fabric of our societies, the series screams.

But Faces and Phases is about more than visibility – it is also about urgency. Muholi is always careful to explain that the individuals in her photographs are not subjects, but participants. Many of them are women she interviewed, supported and trained during her work at FEW, and continued to support and work with afterwards. Some she has taken with her on her travels, wherever their images are being exhibited, and exposed to various opportunities. Some she has mentored and equipped as budding documenters; others she has assisted in furthering their education.

2016 May 20 Lesego Muholi Selaelo @ICA_7148

Lesego Tlhwale, Muholi, Selaelo Mannya (2016). Photo by Lindeka Qampi

Participants choose how they wish to be presented – the setting, their clothes, even their poses, where they feel strongly enough about it. Despite this variety of contexts, Muholi’s style is distinctive, and as uncompromising as the gaze that participants return to the camera. Making the portraits black and white – Muholi’s favourite medium – immediately evokes the racial tension that is still so very much a part of the South African landscape.

The faces are unsmiling, but open, inviting engagement, making it clear that this is not entertainment, but communication. And what are they communicating?
They’re saying: see me as the person that I am, not a phenomenon to be studied and interpreted. I am able – and willing – to speak my own truth, if you are willing and able to hear it.


Funeka Soldaat, Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, 2010

Funeka Soldaat, Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Cape Town (2010)

The eyes in particular ask the question: What don’t you see when you look at me? – the title of another of Muholi’s earlier exhibitions. They invite a closer, deeper look into them, to see the pain and joys, the hopes, the fears, the love and laughter, that are all part of what the person behind the image has experienced, and who she is.

There is a certain dignity about each portrait, and the defiant stance – head raised, shoulders back – says: accept me as I am, stop trying to make me into what you want. And if you won’t, I’m willing to resist, to stand up to whatever you might throw at me. I may bend, I may wobble, but I will not allow you to break me.

buhle msibi sm_1

Buhle Msibi (2005). Photo by Zanele Muholi

Over the decade since the first F&P exhibition, many black lesbian lives have been lost, either to violence or illnesses related to violence. In the same year that Busi died, another FEW stalwart – multi-talented artist, activist and mother, Buhle Msibi – succumbed to an AIDS-related condition which, as bad as it often got, rarely prevented her from showing up at, and contributing to, our events and activities.

The series seeks, as well, to call to mind and honour them, and others like them – death is, after all, one phase that we will all experience, sooner or later. And, before that, there is aging; and, before that, career changes, and life events like marriage, loss of loved ones, becoming parents, re-locating; and before that, the movement from childhood, to adulthood, to maturity.

The Faces and Phases series reflects all of these, at the same time as it tracks the phases Muholi herself has gone through. Each exhibition tells a new tale of her development as a visual activist before an artist, and her evolution as a human being.

But there is another type of transition that Faces and Phases has always spoken to, and that is the transition from one gender to another. Long before the LGBTI community had any proper conversations or developed any real understanding of what it meant to be transgender; and long before transgender issues became the flavour of the month for funders in the gender and sexuality sector, the F&P exhibitions included images of women who were so masculine-presenting as to completely turn on their heads whatever notions viewers may have had previously about gender.


Karabo Sebetoane in 2012 and 2016 portraits featuring in Faces and Phases series  

I can’t be sure without some research on my part, but it’s a safe bet that some of those participants have since “come out” as transgender, and may have even started the process of changing their gender medically. And, if that is the case, I have no doubt that it was seeing their images – unapologetic, just-as-I-am, looking back at them, that gave them the courage to embark on that phase of their journeys.

So, then, Faces and Phases is also about claiming and occupying space – not only political and social space, but also space for self-reflection. This is why the exhibitions are always packed to the rafters with Muholi’s constituency – because they provide all three. And also because Muholi makes every effort to ensure that the participants in the project are able to attend and see the results of their work together, including sponsored transport for those who would not otherwise be able to make it.

The exhibition spaces provide a platform for individuals to tell their stories to wider audiences, and actively engage in the discourse about their lives. And while this might not change the price of bread for them, it has immense potential for changing the narrative; and if the narrative changes, then so will the outcome.

Faces and Phases is more, much more than just a collection of photographic works for exhibition. It is a relationship between photographer and participants, participants and society. It locates black lesbians and transgender persons within the body politic, and guarantees that we will not be obliterated from history, like so many minorities in previous civilisations. It is a record, for all posterity, of our presence here, an assurance that never again can it be said that “such human beings” do not exist in Africa.

2016 April 27 Faces participants main_9724

2016 April 27 Faces and Phases participants001_9023

Book handover in Pietermaritzburg… Featuring from L-R: Londeka Xulu, Cassie Dlamini, Phila Mbanjwa, Shirley Ndaba, Muholi, Sunday Mdlankomo and Thobe Mpulo (2016)

2014 Dec. 12 Five participants_6803

Nondi Vokwana, Gazi T. Zuma, TK Khumalo, Lerato Dumse and Muholi at Faces and Phases book launch in Umlazi, Durban (2014)

So as the series celebrates its tenth year running, this is my challenge to any person who so blithely dismiss this work because they are unable to understand its importance: Muholi has consistently, with courage, determination and raw honesty, told the story she knows best – her own. When and how will you begin to tell yours?

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Photos below are by Terra Dick taken at the Faces and Phases 10 anniversary


Charmain Carrol



Bathini Dambuza


Lebo ‘Leptie’ Phume



Muholi Muholi…


Previous links

2016 April 2:  Faces and Phases follow-ups


Related link

Voice and Visibility: Zanele Muholi’s ‘Faces and Phases 10’





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