Friday, December 13, 2013

Homosexuality is African: A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela
By Di Neo
 
As World War I drew to an end, in a Thembu village in rural South Africa, the Madiba clan, having been disposed of their land and heritage by a colonial and imperialistic British government, bore a child on the 18th of July 1918.  His name was Rholihlahla Mandela and he would free his people from oppression. 
 
Rholihlahla was raised in a Thembu nation under the guidance of his uncle who was a temporary Regent of the Thembu.  From a young age, he would learn about collective governing and leadership steeped in the Xhosa culture of social justice commonly referred to as "ubuntu" (a person is a person because of other people). 
 
Of the many struggles that Madiba has confronted, the issue of LGBTI rights was one of the justice issues he championed.  Mandela's early contact with LGBT issues began, most likely, with his fellow comrade, and the man he frequently posed as a driver for on numerous occassions, Cecil Williams.  It was in a car with Williams while driving in Howick, that Nelson was arrested and went on to serve his life imprisonment. 
 

The African National Congress (ANC), Mandela's political home until his death, first publically made their position on LGBTI rights in 1986 when former President Thabo Mbeki stated that the ANC would extend rights to all oppressed people of South Africa, including LGBTI people.  Thus, Mandela, during his presidency and prior, met with LGBT people and leaders to hear their struggles, share in their hopes and promise his solidarity.  And, in true Madiba fashion, he delivered. 
 
In December 1994 he appointed Edwin Cameron, an openly gay HIV positive man, to the High Court and called him "one of South Africa's new heroes."   Cameron went on to become a Constitutional Court judge.  In 1995 Mandela affirmed his support for the LGBTI community by meeting with its activists at Luthuli House, home of the ANC's center of power.   And finally, Mandela signed into law, on 10 December 1996, the Constitution of South Africa whose Section Nine enshrines LGBT rights and equality.  It was the first time in the history of the world that LGBT rights were enshrined in a country's Constitution. 
 
Many people have praised Madiba for his long walk.  I too, have praise for him that encapsulates the experiences of oppressed people. 
I praise him for the freedom and equality he gave me that restored my dignity; that allows me to walk tall even with all the hate, prejudice and slurs I have endured because of labels I have -by divine making - worn. 
 
African - a label that, for the longest time, had relegated us as the most unfortunate race on earth. 
 
Black - a label that had rendered us slaves, cheap labor, niggers, kaffirs and inconsequential. 
 
Woman - a label that rendered us weak, minors, sexual objects and the signifiers but never the significant. 
 
Gay - a label that had us burnt alive, eaten and torn apart by dogs, stoned to death, denied our human rights and rendered a crime. 
 
And so today, I honor the man who, through his sense of social justice, of ubuntu, of integrity, of courage, has walked a 67 year long walk and reached Martin Luther King Jnr's mountain top.  A man who opened his hand to reveal a welcoming palm for all of us to take.  A man who sat us down and showed us how to create peace and how to pursue justice for all.  I honor the man who told us that the key to achieving our freedoms lay in providing freedoms for others.  Mostly, I honor Rholihlahla Mandela because today, I pursue my life's work as an artist with a reconciled and healed spirit so that my light may reflect the peace I have inherited.  A peace reassured by the fullness of my human dignity as an equal and proud African, Black and gay woman of the Xhosa people. 
 

In South Africa we will continue to sing: "Nelson Mandela, the is no one like you.".    We carry you
in our spirits.  Rest in peace Madiba.

By Di Neo


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