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.
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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)

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