by Lerato Dumse
To celebrate youth month in post apartheid South Africa, some people wear school uniform on the 16 of June. This is done to commemorate the defiant actions that claimed young lives 37 years ago who demanded English as a medium of instruction – education. That memorable event in our SA history is known as the 1976 Soweto Uprising.
The Youth of ’76 was hailed as “brave” and “selfless” for standing up against the Apartheid government. Refusing to have Afrikaans used as the medium of instruction, in their township schools. Nearly four decades later, that struggle story is still relevant, with lessons learned from that painful past.
Two months ago Inkanyiso, family and allies remembered the lives of our own, two remarkable individuals who spent their time fighting against the discrimination of lesbians and people with HIV in a democratic SA.
I recall the period when black people finally had the political power. We thought our problems were over. However we soon realized that with democracy and a new Constitution the “free generation” will face new challenges.
Pulling up the car at Goethe Institute, Inkanyiso member Nqobile Zungu has safely driven the last load of crew members working on the day. More than 110 individuals including young; old black lesbians; families and allies gathered at Parkwood Johannesburg,on Saturday the 6th of April 2013.
They came to commemorate and celebrate the lives of Buhle Msibi (1981 – 2006) and Busi Sigasa (1981 – 2007). Described as hard working activists, artists and passionate writers who fought for women’s rights, especially those of black lesbians.
Before entering the venue we are reminded to sign our names on the white canvas on the table. The different types, sizes and styles of signatures already on the canvas, mark the presence of individuality and variety.
Members of Ekurhuleni LGBT from Tembisa were the first group to arrive and waited patiently for the event to commence.
The @ 25 commemoration took its name from the age, that both women were when they died. Tears and laughter were in abundance as speakers and performers went on stage, some even shared the work produced by Msibi and Sigasa.
The two emcees, Donna Smith and Phumla Masuku, have decades of black lesbian activism experience between them. They shared with the crowd strong personal memories of the late activists. Reverend Nokuthula Dhladhla, of Hope Unity Metropolitan Community Church (HUMCC) opened the event with a poignant prayer reminding us of the importance of God in our lives in that shared space.
On stage, arty portraits made by Rene Mathibe, a Johannesburg based artist and fragmented tiles pierced together – mosaic produced by Ziyanda Majozi who lives in Cape Town. The artworks were unveiled for the audience to view and visualize those remembered. They gave a clear portraiture of how the pair looked before they died.
Various speakers spoke on behalf of their organizations and others on personal notes.
Dikeledi Sibanda, told the audience about her first encounter with Buhle when she visited, Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) for the first time.
“Buhle helped me to embrace and accept myself. We performed for SAfrodykes plays and Buhle gave me feminine roles even though I begged her not to” said Sibanda.
Among the invited guests was Msibi’s family, her son Nkosana said the day was very special to him. The teenager was seen chatting, laughing and taking pictures of people outside the hall during the interval. Unfortunately Busi Sigasa’s family could not attend due to unknown reasons, though informed in advance about the important event.
Poetry, singing and documentary screenings featuring the remembered activists, as well as a stand up comedian were part of the entertainment between speakers. A young woman shared her poem titled Ngizobufela lobutabane bami (I will die for my homosexuality). Her narration is that of defiant, despite challenges and dangers one faces daily as a black lesbian.
When the documentary Raped for who I am was screened, there was tension and heavy silence in the hall, it left a lump in my throat. Bathini Dambuza and Kebarileng Sebetoane who feature in the doccie were part of the audience. Dambuza could not hold back her tears as she flash backed the moments she shared with Msibi at Pride in 2005, a year before she died.
Sibusiso Kheswa, remembered Busi as a resilient person who didn’t look for handouts. Both women were HIV positive and outspoken about their statuses. Candles were lit by the commemorators inside the hall, and a moment of silence held for lives lost to HIV/Aids and brutal hate crimes.
Steve Letsike stood up and reminded everyone that lesbian women’s issues are still not addressed adequately especially in health sector in South Africa, despite that fact that the sector is having lesbians employed in big HIV organizations.
Like the late Buhle, Joyce Machapa is also a lesbian mom and has been living with HIV for 20 years. She urged people to speak out and break the silence and free themselves from the stigma.
Makho Ndlovu, a friend of Buhle and Busi pointed out how short life is. She encouraged the audience to use opportunities and nurture their talents. Ndlovu believes people will be remembered for the good they do, she shared memories of some of the kind acts displayed to her by Buhle and Busi.
Zanele Muholi, a former colleague and a friend of Buhle & Busi was determined to make this day happen, with or without funding.
We are grateful to Goethe Institute which provided us with the venue and publicity and Khanyile Solutions which printed t-shirts for the crew. Both organizations offered services pro bono and that helped with the tight budget made solely available. We drove home with two canvasses full of signatures rest on our shoulders which marked that presence that caring individuals were there. I’m proud of my involvement on the day, having learned so much about our late heroines.
The actions and work done by Buhle and Busi might not have made international headlines but impacted on many black lesbian youth who worked with them. As a young person turning 25 in two months time. I have learned that young people are capable and have the power to fight for what they believe in. We can make a change, if we take a stand.
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