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Feature: Out in Africa, Part Two
Part Two of Two

This article shared 4 times since Wed Jun 20, 2007
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Part One of this two-part series looked at Cape Town, including a wedding between Leigh-Ann Naidoo and her partner Kelly Gillespie. Follow the link to Part One Africa Part One


Tuesday, Jean and I had a guided tour of Johannesburg with Shane Blakebrough, who I'd met through the Gay Games. Shane is active with the gay sports group TOGS, and he provides tour services full-time. He took us first to the Museum Africa. There were powerful videos, photos, and personal stories of survival, revolution, resistance, and pride. It also has geological specimens and objects from all corners of southern Africa.

The divisions along white and Black are apparent even as you enter the Apartheid Museum, which only opened in 2001. You must enter through separate doors marked white or Black/colored, and you self-select which one you choose to use. It immediately puts you in a defensive position, and then you see the passbooks of citizens of all colors. Relating to the disparities of apartheid through the actual faces of those who lived it is similar in impact to the United State's Holocaust Museum, where you personalize the experience through the eyes of those in the concentration camps. Here, a series of 22 exhibitions take you through 'a dramatic emotional journey that tells a story of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overthrew this tyranny,' as the museum states.

These Joburg museums are highly recommended to see history, both long past and recent, and its impact on the country. We learn so few details about other countries in American schools, and the museums of South Africa provide at least a small glimpse, through words, photos, film, and objects, of that nation's trauma and change.

After we left Shane, we met up with Phumla at the FEW offices, located along with other non-profit ( non-governmental ) organizations in an old prison in downtown Joburg. At the office there were other Chosen Few players—the team is sponsored by the lesbian-feminist Few group, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, which does outreach on issues such as violence, prisons, and healthcare. Jean and I showed them a portion of the Gay Games VII DVD which features the team, and they related fond memories of their trip to Chicago. But where they are from, and where they live in Soweto, a large township, is far removed geographically and politically from Chicago.

They took us on a short tour of where their offices are situated, in what was once the Old Fort Prison Complex, located on what is now called Constitution Hill. Right next to the prison is the Constitutional Court, the architectural symbol of the country's democracy. It is this court, the highest in the nation, that declared same-sex marriage legal in 2005, based on the gay-inclusive constitution.

This prison, known as Number Four, next to the colorful architectural accents of the Court, presented one of the most split personality experiences of our trip. The prison has exhibits of how the situation was for Mandela and other political and non-political prisoners of decades past. It is brutal, shocking, and necessary, to see the inhumane and humiliating conditions of this prison in the heart of a city that ignored its neighbors' screams.

You can see the cell which held Mandela and view a documentary of his time there, awaiting trial. There are also cells open in the Women's Jail, showing how white and Black/colored women were segregated, with the white women having larger cells and more accommodations. There are pictures and stories of the specific women political prisoners, again making sure you do not forget their eyes, their weak smiles, their painful stories.

We had lunch with the team members and I made plans with team member Bathini Dambuza, who is in training to be a tour guide, to meet me for a tour of Soweto the next day. Jean was not up for the tour, feeling sick from all the travel. So Wednesday, Bathini and I spent all day together exploring Soweto, which in 2002 officially became part of Joburg. But Soweto is more than a series of townships, more than an arm of Joburg, it is a mindset and has a life and spirit of its own. Its history of uprising and violence is well known outside of South Africa, and the sites we saw bring home the true power of resistance, persistence, and the fight for survival and justice.

After multiple combi rides ( there is a very weak transport system in Joburg so the combis, white passenger vans, are a complicated taxi system ) , we started at Regina Mundi, Soweto's largest Catholic church, one that played a key role in South African anti-apartheid history. The church itself has wounds from the battles, bullet holes from police shooting at fleeing students who gathered for forbidden political rallies.

Bathini's home was a couple blocks away, so we visited her father and other relatives living there; Bathini's partner, Lindiwe Radebe, also lives there, and the couple have been very high profile in South African media about their plans to wed under the new South African law. From there we went around the corner. A medicine woman, S'mangele Zondi 'Gogo Mayeza,' a friend of her Bathini's mom ( who died in her early 40s ) , was doing a ritual and she invited us along for the experience. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water. This white girl got major stares as we walked to the river under the highway overpass, carrying drums, food and other offerings to a woman's ancestors. We danced, drummed, sang and made the offerings, and Bathini made sure to take my picture so I could remember my awkwardness. The medicine woman was very generous with her time and explanations, and I could tell this was a rare and special treat. The access provided by Bathini was not available to other tourists.

We next went to the Hector Pieterson Museum, a tribute to the youth resistance and uprising of June 16, 1976, now National Youth Day in South Africa. Bathini had not seen this exhibit, about an event that happened well before she was born ( 30 years ago; she is 22 ) . It was powerful to see her watching the films, looking at photos and reading the text of these youth. Hector was 13 when he died, in 1976, the same age I was that same year. Thinking of it that way gave me a somber perspective. It is a wonderful museum with much photo and audio documentation of those tumultuous years.

Around the corner from the Pieterson Museum was a new bar being worked on by women Bathini knows, Phumzile, Pat and Mphonyana. They want to open the first lesbian and gay bar in Soweto, the Endaweni Sport Pub in Orlando West, and they are still completing finishing touches and funding. So we stopped by for a drink and photos, and I left them a Gay Games video to show when the club opens. They want to welcome the world, and I wish them luck in getting the doors open.

A short distance away in the same Orlando West district of Soweto is the Mandela Family Museum, a collection of Mandela memorabilia in the humble building he once called home. Included is the boxing belt given to him by Sugar Ray Leonard and many photos and awards. Unfortunately Bathini was treated badly by the Black tour guide, who had assumed she had not paid to get in—although Bathini and I had both walked in at the same time, as the last ones entering the small space. It was an unfortunate exhibition of Black-on-Black discrimination.

Next we took a combi to Phulma's home, in another part of Soweto. She lives in a small 10 x 10 x 10 aluminum home, down the street from relatives. Her partner Tumi lives several combi rides away, and it is Phumla's dream to get a car some day—she is fulfilling one dream now, going back to finish high school. She spoke about how her experience in Chicago provided great memories, of how special and welcome her team felt, that they could accomplish so much. The Chosen Few also had an impact on me, as well as Chicago donors Dick Uyvari and Joe La Pat, who helped underwrite their entire trip. Their stories reinforced the notion that the Gay Games are not just about sports, but how sports can change people who can then help change the world.

Bathini had to escort me back to our hotel as the combis are an endless confusion to those who do not know the subtle hand signals and fees for the assortment of drivers. Inside the combi, it is a Rubik's Cube of people moving seat to seat, making room for new passengers or those leaving, pushing a side seat up, down, hopping left or right, passing money back and forth to the driver. [ The Rubik's Cube in structure only, not diversity; among 12 combi rides that day I was the only white face. ] There is no such thing as personal space, and the hot sun makes it as intimate and sweltering as a steam room. Fifteen to 18 people in a van meant for seven, along with crutches, baby carriages, groceries and big hats. There are combi hub areas with hundreds of drivers waiting for their routes to start. On board, there is a poetic stillness, a quiet, with unspoken rules of engagement. One seat up, another down, move two seats over, one seat up, squish out the door.

Our hotel, the Rosebank, was not far from Sandton, a wealthy area just north of Joburg. I had remembered that our Chicago group stayed at a hotel on that mall during our original 2001 bid for the 2006 Gay Games, so Jean and I visited the massive Sandton City shopping complex, which claims to be one of the largest non-metro malls in the southern hemisphere. It is just miles away from Soweto, but it may as well be on another planet. There were many European shoppers there to get deals for the holidays, given the weak rand currency against the Euro.

On Friday, we prepared for our 8,700 mile journey back home.

One of the last trips my mother took in her life was to South Africa in 1994, to witness the first free elections in the post-apartheid era. She brought back the colorful poster-like ballot featuring pictures of all of the candidates, including Nelson Mandela of the ANC party. She had traveled the world on similar excursions, monitoring elections in Haiti, and observing and writing about countries as diverse as Cuba and China, India and Laos. She loved the world in all its beauty and weakness. I have not traveled nearly as much in my life, but this trip to South Africa certainly made me feel like I was following a small bit in my mother's footsteps. My brother and I both felt her presence during our time in this country, and we left forever changed by the faces and places we saw. He will return to do more work on prisons issues, and I am sure to return to see new friends, and to see what more we can do, in any small way, to learn from the Chosen Few and others in South Africa.


Leigh-Ann Naidoo Olympic beach volleyball, e-mail: . Checks can be made out to Kelly Gillespie and send c/o Windy City Times, 5443 N. Broadway, Suite 101, Chicago, IL 60640.

Exit gay newspaper,

Behind the Mask LGBT, media organization .za/

TOGS of South Africa

The Equality Project .za

World Cup 2010 ( Soccer )


The Apartheid Museum

The Mandela Family Museum

Shane Blakebrough

Chosen Few and The Few .za

P.O. Box 10204, Jhb 2000, SA .za

Endaweni Sport Pub in Orlando West

Soweto Lesbian and Gay Pub

Jose: the Queer Tour, Includes site of police raid on gay party in Forest Town to a lesbian Sangoma in Soweto, a unique Johannesburg tour,

Johannesburg Tourism Company

Rosebank Hotel, Johannnesburg

Other locations and information

Tourist Inbound Operations

This article shared 4 times since Wed Jun 20, 2007
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