Saturday, 27 July 2019

The bad boy and his pink ubuntu

Good evening everyone. I feel so gifted to be here this evening, speaking to and sharing in the reality of this very important part of South Africa’s pink past, Simon Nkoli.

I also feel very gifted to connect with some of the most inspiring parts of South Africa’s pink present: Noma Pakade  and everyone else who has worked really hard to make today happen. When, I was  informed of this speaking opportunity, I leaped in my seat, while maintaining a very professional demeanour, as is expected of good boys.
Image sourced from  ''

But then, I am not a good boy.

My name is Nnanna. I am a firm believer in the potency of the word, written, spoken or performed. And the word Simon is so heavy with baggage. In the Bible, he was the rock, a very strong person who was one of those who championed the early church. But in South Africa, he was the fabulous rock queen,  one of those who championed the early queer rights movement. Now these two Simons are worlds apart. Ask the pope.

But their lives are very important lessons in team work. Particularly, intergenerational team work and connections.

Tonight, we are looking for the South African Simon, and in fact finding him. Trying to distill nuggets from his very godlike legacy. Most of us here are South Africans. A good number of us where gifted enough to have shared time and space with him. We should know that Simon was not a good boy either. In fact he was a very very bad boy. (look up. wink)

I may  not be certain about this. But I know him nonetheless because the queer rights movement matters in South Africa to me. I am learning to call here home. Besides work and study where I learned that Simon owned both his queerness and his blackness as inseparable struggles, the thought of such inseparability also keeps me up at night. The murkiness of identity and relationships and movements.

In the Igbo tribe, the art of personhood is a deeply complicated craft pegged in the availability of persons, as persons, to their family, culture and course. And two strips of this craft is intergenerational team work and connections. Men learn to men by mirroring available to men, women learn to women by mirroring available women, people learn to people by mirroring other people; healers learn to be healers by mirroring available healers and cultures grow by mirroring other neighbouring and available cultures. With one force binding this practice, you are deeply responsible for whoever mirrors you. You are to be held accountable for anyone who learns from you, who feeds from you, who walks with you.

In other words- Ifele onyeala na lafeh umunnaya.  
The mad man’s shame is his kinsman’s preserve.

Although my manhood was learned in this manner, my queerness took me by surprise- as is usually the case.  These are both inseparable parts of my identity. And they come with conflicts so stalling. Yet, I arrived South Africa hoping that I could learn to be queer in the best way. I believed that In Africa’s first pink country there should be opportunities for intergenerational mirroring and growth. Because here there is a word for a culture, we do not have a word for. A person is a person through another, Ubuntu.

Here in SA , I found that although, there is the constitutional pinkness, we are yet to engage with the culture of the pink ubuntu. My queer humanity is enabled by your queer humanity. And this means that in turn you are accountable for me, responsible for me.

If Simon walked in here today, he would be a lived queer man in his 60s nearing retirement unable to walk half the distance he did with his customary vigour strutting in and out of the Delmas treason trial or the first African pride. Simon is not here, and may not be walking in tonight, but there are hundreds of people who worked and walked with him, by him who are equally now retiring and going home.

The question is have they lived out the pink ubuntu intergenerationally. Or are they going to leave their shoes empty. It is true that the struggles are different today but resistance will always demand are a formidable doggedness that does not think twice about crossing the line, whatever that line is. If we are really looking for Simon tonight and finding him because we need him not because we want to honour him, then the South African pink movement has failed itself, deeply.

We need the pink ubuntu intergenerationally. We do. And how do we approach this? If it’s okay, I suggest. Be available. Be reachable. Be accessible. Take off the veil of exclusivity, you will die. You are mortal.

For the hot pink person, understand that when you connect with the  grey pink person who are in the presence of greatness. It is important that you learn, but more important that you question with respect, because she who questions never loses her way.

For the grey pink person, when you connect with the hot pink person, understand that you connect with a splint capable of being sparked to flames. And this splint may just be tomorrow’s sun. So approach with love but also respect. Be careful,  young splints can be ‘crazy’ but we need loving.

In this intergenerational pink ubuntu, there will lots of murkiness. You will cross lines from teacher, supervisor, director to friend, father, lover, soulmate or all of the above. There is a Kanga of Simon from Kenya with the quote that says ‘Black and white are not the colours of love’. It is important that we smear ourselves and our magic across the spectrum of possibilities. But it is important that in all these you do not lose sight of what is important for the big picture.

That in every intergenerational connection, there should be a transmission of love, wisdom, fire and magic. So that you can be queer human through my queer humanity, and that I can brave enough to be responsible for you, because I am you and you are me, whatever that means.

I dare say that the best legacies of Simon Nkoli are not his contributions to the queer rights movement but his relationships within the queer rights movement. It is the reason that we are here today. He was such a bad boy so I can be as bad as I want. Oh please try to stop me.

(Delivered at the Simon Nkoli Memorial Lecture 2019)

Image sourced from

Sunday, 12 May 2019


There is so much sadness inside of me.

Sometimes, I run around in circles in my mind to exhaust myself. I am scared, very scared. I wish I could explode. I wish I could show the scars on my heart for a proper diagnosis. I wish these scars were a bright red blinker so that I could reach in and yank it out. They hurt. They hurt like poison air on injury. I am fucking going in sane with pain. The pain that Ratang is. I hate him.
Ratang my curse, my fall, my spanking from God.

Ratang taught me about her,  desire.  Desire the green fever. She is hectic, She has no manners. She is constantly taking  from my politeness, till all that is left is fire.

Ratang, the love of my life. I hate him. He is everything like her. But even worse, he made me want with him, love him, madly. Love that is sick, savage. It is different.

I met Ratang the day I came out to my family. I had come out to them after my partner at the time broke up with me.

‘I can’t deal with this closet anymore’ he said.

After spending a few days in bed crying out my eyes, I was going to hurt myself. I needed to tell someone that I was hurting.

It was over a skype call and they were several miles away. They had heard me loud and clear because the wifi was good.

I yanked out the power cable from the wall and walked away.

I walked into my shared flat and caught him rummaging through our fridge. He was startled. Looking quite dusty, clad in an electric blue jump suit, dark, thick framed, arms be-laced with veins, lashes sprinkled with dust, chin held in a thick beard and head chastised clean with baldness.
‘Sorry Sir, I got thirsty’ he said.
‘Shut up’ I said. Only that it was not me speaking.
‘I came to fix the light bulbs’ he said.
‘Shut up’ I said again. ‘Who else is here?’
‘Your flatmate just left for the campus’ he said. ‘I am sorry, I was-’
‘Shut up’ I said ‘kiss me’
Only then did he shut the fridge. Then time froze. Then my flate mate’s key turned in the hole. Ratang, stared me down with desire. I hated him. He was filthy.

Nothing happened. I was having a meltdown. I was being ‘silly’. My emotions were welling up within me. My world was falling apart and I would sit for days in the classroom, present but lost. I would sit for days in my room. And at night, I would bury my face in the swamp that my pillow had become because I was getting emails and facebook messages from family members from all over world begging, crying and even warning me not to be gay. The nightmares started. I being called up to receive first prize and some person from the back row screaming at the top his lungs, ‘homo’.

Sometimes in these nightmares first prize would be Ratang.

In the moments of my meltdowns there is only darkness. A saturating, consuming darkness. People become too distant, too busy, too uncaring. I need someone to reach into my insides and yank out the pain. I need someone to drain me of this sadness. It is a loud stinging silence within me. I want to explode, escape. I want to pull at both my flesh and hair. In these moments everything that once screamed ‘fight’ within me dies and I am left with the demons staring back from the mirror.

A month following our first meeting, I met Ratang again. He stood by his car outside my building.

He looked five years older. He had proper clothes on. He was a man.
‘Eita’, he said as I passed. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’
‘Hello’ I said in response. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘No. Not at all’ he said, ‘It is about the other day.’
‘I’m sorry.’

‘Ai wena, don’t be’ he said, waving it off. ‘You are very forward’ he said,  while he ran his finger through the metal in his car keys.‘I like’ he said, ‘I like very much.’ He bit his lips.

In that instance my ifentinye called out all the blood and volts in me to my pants. Ifentinye, the savage, he was pulsating rebelliously.

‘Thank goodness I’m wearing a big shirt’ I thought.

‘Where are you going?’ Ratang asked ‘May I drop you off?’

I hated him because he did not give me a choice. He knew. The fucker knew that I would not refuse. So I told him, and we drove. It was winter in Johannesburg, 2006 and I had never seen a man look at me with so much ownership, so much control, so firm and grounding a longing that said ‘I am here.’ But he was not going to take just yet.

We drove from the chilly Marshall Town through the dark silver N1 North and until Gauteng became a long stretch of dark road. The insides of his car were a tinted shade of safe, or be-spotted black, or just a shade of something I cannot now remember. He had taken me to Wits Museum where I met up briefly with a classmate, while he waited outside. I had asked him to. Then I went with him to the University of Johannesburg where he delivered a box while I waited for him because I was going nowhere.

We drove for most of the day. Drove around in circles then for a long stretch. All the while, his hand was either on the gear and on my thigh. His palms sweat, they soaked my jeans. He sweat, he bit his lips. He kept his eyes on the road the whole time, stealing an occasional glance at either me or the rear view mirror.

All the while I was here. I did not know jack about this man but he made me feel here. He held me firmly in his presence, in this firm presence that filled his vehicle and was threatened to rip the seams of his now soaked trousers. I did not notice until the police pulled us over, and he took out his wallet from his pocket to get his license, leaving his heaving wors to reign sole and supreme on his left thigh. ‘Kai! I thought.’ The police peeped into the car to look at me and Ratang palm’s placed too close to my pelvis to be mistaken. ‘This is my man’ his body language asserted. He filled the place. The police man smiled naughtily. ‘Enjoy your day guys’ he said as he waved us away.

I did not notice when the sun set. I did not notice when it got colder. I did not notice when Ratang’s car pulled over in the parking lot beneath my building. ‘We are here’ he said.

‘It has been a long day’ I said as I got out.

‘Not long enough’ he said.

‘Not long enough for what?’ I said.

‘To make this beauty before me feel again’ he said.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘I heard you on the phone. I saw how you looked at me. I heard what you said to me.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘I see you Kosi’ he said, ‘I see you.’

‘I’m tired’ I said, lying through my teeth ‘I’m going in. Thank you for today.’

I yawned and stretched as authentically as I could. Grabbed, suddenly grabbed by both of Ratang’s hands and  pulled into a hard embrace.
‘I am here’ he whispered. ‘I’m here’ he said, pressing his pelvis against mine. Niagara! I felt myself thaw. I heard my heart beat. I felt myself feel. Like the warmth of Ratang drew lines and angles through my body that I did not understand. But I wanted. I wanted and I found. I wanted so hard to feel. I wanted so hard to thaw, to be taken, to be owned, to be believed. Niagara! The shaking of my core, his tongue ploughing alcoves through my lips as he fumbled with the door handle of the backseat of his car. It was cold. We could hear another car drawing closer. Just as we fell through, the glare from the passing car flashed a beam over Ratang’s head. It shone like the silhouette of a black pearl. Niagara! I want.

‘I want you’ Ratang said. I cried like Niagara had never fallen.

‘I want you in me’ I told him.  ‘I want to feel’.

Like the stars where aligning, there was a power cut.

That night he churned me. He churned me like cheese in the back of his car. He bound my hands in his belt, muffed my lips with tape of his tongue and churned me. My shoulders burned and the belt pressed deep in my wrists till the blood was gone from my palm and it felt cold and ticklish. I felt. I felt him. He filled and ploughed me, his rough denim trousers jamming in on the back of my thighs, and his sweat dropping like frost to my back.

‘I see you’ he chanted between deep throated gasps. ‘I want’ I thought. ‘I want’.

When I called him on the phone the next day, he did not pick. I tried again. I tried for weeks. Something bad must have happened to him. I got worried. Once I saw his car parked outside my building on my way for a late lecture. I went to it and looked around for the sign of a dent. When I touched it, that night came back. I could hear his voice again. My thighs throbbed, ifentinye kicked. I walked around running my finger tips on its sides, I felt my tongue dry out. My back broke into a sweat, my heart went gbim! gbim!

‘I want’ I thought. ‘I want’.
I was going to dash back into the building. I was going to ask the security person to tell me if Ratang was here. I was going to peel through the hall ways of the building looking for him. But the lecture was only an hour long. I’d be back and I’d be in his arms. I went away. ‘He must be working in one of the flats’ I thought.

When I returned that night, Ratang’s car was gone. The dark clouds began to gather again but this time, they came with desire. A dark, desperate, savage, desire. It rained. This was foolish. I barely knew him. ‘What nonsense!’. ‘But I want’ I thought, ‘I want’. That night I curled myself around my Bible and tried to choke myself with the thought of sleeping. But all I could think of was that he was here. ‘He was here in this building today and it did not occur to him to drop me a message, or even give me his number. The gbaf!’ I thought.

In the morning, a few days later I saw his car again. I walked past, or at least I willed myself to. I walked a few blocks away from it. ‘Keep walking Kosi, keep walking.’ But no, I walked back. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to touch him. I did. Every second my fingertips tapped gently across the car’s body, I felt his hand between my thighs. I felt him pulsating inside of me. ‘Gbim! gbim!’.
Every time. The seats. The very seats. I shut my eyes and it was dark again, my knees scraping on the carpet floor and my head jamming against the cushion. My shoulders, they  burned. I can hear me moaning in my head. I can hear him gasping. ‘I see you’ he whispers between gasps. ‘I want’.
I touch myself. This is savage. ‘I want.’ It’s crazy. I feel him, one firm hand clamped firmly on one side of my pelvis, the other clamped around my belt bound wrists. The trudging through. I feel him. Skin. I feel him, sweat and slime and grace. His firmness that demands ‘You will give it to me boy. You will give it to me.’

‘Are you alright?’ Ratang said. The darkness fell off like a snatched veil. I was in public, my palm wielding a jutting, drooling ifentinye.

‘Hi!’ I said.

‘Get into the car’ he ordered. I obeyed.

He drove into the underground parking lot. It was dark, very dark.

‘I missed you’ I said.

‘I’m here.’ He said. His eyes flashed through the dark with desire. He bit his lip.

‘I want’ I thought. ‘I want’.

He leaned over to the pidgeon whole as though to search it and I reached out to touch him. He jutted up.

‘Stop!’ he ordered. I obeyed. ‘Place your hands on the dash board’

‘Is there a pro-’

‘Kosi’, He whispered, ‘Don’t ask.’

He reached again for the pidgeon hole and retrieved two long neckties dark shades of something.

He bound my two wrists with one and bound my knee with the other.

‘No matter what happens, keep your hands on the dash board.’ He whispered. ‘Be quiet, okay?’

‘Okay’ I whispered. ‘I love you.’

His smooth head brushed beneath my arms. I felt a damp warmness reach in for me, then he slithered around me. Shivering around the shaft, teasing, tickling, tapping. Teasing, tickling, tapping. Teasing, tickling, tapping. Then in one swift movement, he dove it my roots taking all of me in his damp pulsating warmth. ‘I want’ I gasped ‘I want’.
‘Quiet’ he whispered between mouthfuls ‘I’m here.’ Back and forth the root, back and forth. The blood left my arms. My knees jerked, kicked. ‘I want’ I gasped. His pace, fierce fanlike, swift. Back and forth, his throbbing flesh, warm, pulsating, alive.  

‘You should come home with me sometime’ he said to me as he wiped his lips while looking in the rearview mirrors. ‘This parking lot business is beginning to bore me.’ He had retrieved all of me, wiped me clean, wiped me dry.

‘Okay’ I whispered, coy to my bones as we drove into the daylight.

Both his eyes were red, and a vein ran passed his forehead beneath dripping sweat beads.

‘I don’t know about love’ he said as he returned the ties which I could now see were polka dotted

‘But this is hot!’

‘What else could it be?’ I thought.

I saw him more often but it was the same game. He only said ‘eita’ to me when he thought no one was watching. He never called me on the phone. I never knew when I was going to bump into him. I did not know where he lived. He did not tell me. I did not ask.

But the darkness was gone, and the pressure from home became bearable. I focused better in class and I slept well. I slept better when I willed him into me while I oscillated my pelvis beneath my touch. I slept faster after I was drained of my savage starvation. I prayed to bump into him. But more fiercely I prayed to bump into him when no one else was there.

Still in his silence he would shoot me a look of affirming desire. ‘I see you boy’ they would say. Sometimes he would wink at me in the hallway brushing the back of my palm with his little finger, sending the blood rushing to ifentinye as he walked past in his electric blue overalls. ‘I want’ I thought. ‘I want.’
I had known him for a year before I left for Nigeria for the holidays. He had promised to meet me on the eve of my departure. But sent word that he could not make it. I got on the plane feeling very distressed. I could have sworn that I was having a subtle premonition that the plane would crash. It did not. Ratang was heavy on my chest. The darkness was going to get me. I was terrified. But this was not desire I felt. This was a different darkness, like death sat next to me the whole time on the plane.

I was in Nigeria for a month, completely disconnected from the world I left in South Africa. I was getting into my final year of study, I needed to go in fully healed, fully formed. I decided that Ratang was bad news. Him and all South African gay men were my past. They were all bad news. When you are in the closet, they want you out. When you come out, they want to push you back in. I grew increasingly resentful of my sexual subservience to this strange man with his strange car who had  no history, no context, no last name. I hated him.

I went in to see a psychologist from my home church, she was quite elderly and was not so pleased when I told her about my homosexuality. She suggested that I listened to my parents, pray more and try to forget ‘things’ that added no value to my life.

‘What you really want in life, you will get’ she said. ‘Icho ya Chukwu ga enye gi. God almighty will give you.’

I began to resent her when she told my mum everything I told her in confidence. I stopped when I got on the plane back to South Africa. She stopped mattering.

On my return to my Marshall town apartment, there was a coldness to security person’s mood. He gave me a stack of unsealed envelopes. He said that they were from the landlord. I did not know the landlord. I had no direct contact with him because the Admission’s office at school paid for our accommodation directly from the scholarship funds.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Yes’ his mother also wants to see you.

‘His mother?’

‘But she will come to you.’

Dear Kosi, the content of the first envelope read,
Sometimes, we search to the end of the earth for that one person trusting enough to take a chance on us and our crazy. You make me feel Kosi, you make me feel.
Dr. R. Lerumo

That evening a woman visited me. She introduced herself as Ratang’s mother. She was an effeminate version of Ratang with slightly more hair on her head and  thin film of grey placed over her . She came with more letters.  These envelopes too were unsealed. I invited her in unsure of what would follow. She asked to sit.

‘How was your visit to Nigeria?’ she asked

‘It went well’ I said.

‘How are your parents?’

‘They are doing okay, thanks’ I said.


Then was silence. She looked around as though looking for something on the wall.

‘These are from Ratang’ she said breaking the silence.

‘How is he?’
‘He is fine now’ she said. ‘He will live’

Dear Kosi, one of the letters from the new batch read

There is so much I want to tell you.
 I want to tell you that I struggle so badly with holding on to life. I want to tell you that my heart is a war torn zone. I want to tell you about my late child, my failed marriage, and how I can no longer write my papers or books because my mind is too enraged, too grieved to think logically.

My heart is too broken to believe.

But these days, the hall ways are empty until I run into you. The days are dark and grey until you walk through the door. I want to tell you that my apartment on the tenth floor with its five rooms is cold and blue marble, filled with the haunting fragrance of ex-wives perfume, handwash liquid and loneliness. I want to tell you that my life was so boring that I took up the job of changing light bulbs in my building because I needed to meet new people, walk in on new stories, distract myself from my pain. This was the only way I was not going to lose my mind. This was the only way that I was going to meet you.

 I am lonely Kosi. I am so lonely. I have not been able to function for a long time, but I am determined to hold on one more day to see you return. I want to invite you up here. I want to tell you that I intend to sell off this property, make my last donation to the university and retire home to the Northern Cape. I want you to come with me. I want you to come because you have taken a chance on my crazy. I met you for the first time during your skype interview for your scholarship. I said nothing about your application, but your charm spoke volumes to your merit. On so many levels you were the one. You came at a time when the world was falling apart.  You were the answer to prayers I long said, deeply regretted and then resaid.

You were about to take a chance on the world leaving Nigeria and coming here. I wished I could tell you to stay back home and make it work. But how could I compete? Even now I don’t how to compete the with the man that I see you becoming, with the great journey that you are on. But then the journey is half the value of the prize, the half that we become.

I wish I could tell you that you remind me so much of myself and that I was stricken with every time I drove past as you and your friends walked home. Or that the day I followed you into the building calling at our name as loud as I could I so badly wanted to spill out my guts to you but you had your ear phones plugged in. I only got to door after you shut it. This was in your second year here I believe.  It’s difficult for me because I do not know how these things work. I don’t know how to tell you that I feel what I feel. I don’t know how to find you, or what to do when you are around. I don’t know to respond to your touch. It unlocks me, you unlock every part of me. And I don’t know how to handle it. So I avoid you when I can and take you when I can no longer hold my peace.

There is so much I want to tell you.

There is so much I want to be to you. The best of them is that it feels great to finally be found.

Dr R Lerumo

The bad boy and his pink ubuntu

Good evening everyone. I feel so gifted to be here this evening, speaking to and sharing in the reality of this very importan...