by Lerato Dumse
Zanele Muholi’s family and friends gathered for the Durban instalment of Faces and Phases 2006-14 book launch, hosted on Friday 12 December, at W section Cinema Hall, Umlazi.
The award-winning photographer who was born in Umlazi has invested the past eight years engaging with black lesbians and Transgender individuals from different South African provinces and beyond, capturing their black and white portraits.
Muholi said the book is meant to be part of the 20 years of democracy that South Africa celebrates in 2014.
Load shedding which has become a thorn in many South African’s lives threatened to disrupt the event when the lights went off at the hall without prior warning.
However, candles which were prepared as back up to the country’s unreliable electricity system saved the day, ensuring that the launch goes ahead as planned.
Muholi landed back in SA on Friday morning to attend the launch, after travelling for a month, hosting launches in New York, Stockholm, Amsterdam and France. The first book launch was in Germany in September 2014.
Four of the 250 portraits in the book, feature participants from Umlazi who were invited to be part of the special event, which saw Muholi celebrating her work at home.
People braved the rain to be part of the intimate event, which was full of heartfelt speeches from the audience and panel.
Muholi thanked the guests for coming, sending out a special thanks to her family. She reminded the audience that some Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people don’t get support from their families, while hers is very understand. Despite her relationship with her big biological family, Muholi said she continues to make new family with various people she meets through her work.
Muholi expressed her wish of going around the country and documenting voices and pictures of people like her. She said Durban has the potential to show the world it has people who are trendy because people undermine KwaZulu Natal calling it a rural area, meaning they need to work extra hard.
The artivist said as LGBTI people they never had positive images from the media and television, because even the LGBT story lines and characters on television, are played by straight people.
Muholi shared that she met many of the Durban participants through her sister, Lizzy Muholi and how she needed to share the intimate space at the launch with people she knows and who understand the work she does.
The author closed by saying the LGBTI community should teach their families how they want to be addressed, and that they deserve to be recognised and respected.
Nondi Vokwana is a participant, who travelled from Cape Town to be one of the guests in attendance. She said she is Xhosa by birth and hails from Stellenbosch Kayamandi and Gugulethu in the Western Cape.
“I want to thank Zanele, even though she is saying thank you to us. My reason for thanking her is because the book, her life and work helps to show communities that being lesbian doesn’t mean you are a drug addict, Some of us are hard workers” She went on to share that she works as a facilitator at Vision Africa, who started working with Primary School children, before moving to High School children.
Our friends who came all the way from Johannesburg to give support are Sekara Mafisa and Mlungisi Msomi.
Luh Cele, Thokozani Football Club (TFC) player, nurse and academic who spoke during the book launch…
Vokwana praised the book for giving LGBT people good exposure, adding that she can take the book to her grandmother who is supportive, to show that she is also educated, knows her place around elders in the street and goes to church.
Such projects show that we are not only about sex, girls and alcohol.
Since being introduced to Zanele on Christmas Eve in 2011 by a friend, Vokwana has made so many friends, including in Durban for the book launch.
“This book is our voice, to help us stand up for ourselves, when we are being criticized and told, ‘we are changing nature’. Such projects help us respond to attacks without losing our temper, Faces and Phases also reveals we are many, and there is strength in numbers.”
Vokwana said she never chose to be gay, but rather accepted the fact that she’s gay. She believes that had she tried to please her mom and community, she would have been lost.
“I knew nothing about lesbians, I only saw gay men, I’m one of the first lesbians to come out in Kayamandi and sticks and stones were thrown at me, at first it was hard, but now everyone knows me and don’t have bad things to say about me,” she added.
Older sister Lizzy Muholi said as the Muholi family they are proud and love Zanele as she has put their surname on the map.
She further proclaimed her love for LGBTI people, as many of them in Umlazi call her mom. “As the Muholi family we thank everyone who makes it possible for the work that Zanele does to be a success.
Margaret Muholi, Zanele’s eldest sister referred to her by her childhood nickname “Coca Cola” before echoing her sister’s words for their love for the LGBTI community.
Margaret thanked Zanele for her progress, bravery, and coming out to collect fellow brothers and sisters to come together and produce this book.
“What is written ensures that even great-grandchildren can read it. This life you are living has been in existence for a long time, it is just that in the past people were in hiding,” she said before returning to her seat.
Standing up to add her voice, Cindy Ndlovu, Zanele’s niece confessed that she has a lot to say. She admitted that she is thankful for the opportunity to be part of the book launch.
“I wish there were more people here today, because the is this knowledge that I’m getting today which they don’t have, leading to them being negative towards LGBTI people. I wish I could step outside and scream for them to come inside.” Said Cindy.
It was her first time attending an LGBTI event, and pleaded to be invited again.
“I have learnt so much, I didn’t even know the term butch lesbian.
We should be included in more programs so that we can be educated and we can educate fellow heterosexuals,” ended Cindy.
Snacks, wine, and drinks were then brought out and people served themselves and continued their conversation in the candle lit room, before dispersing and calling it a night.
Related links to Faces and Phases (2006-2014)