Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Africa - Creative Arts, Queer Politics

International Women’s Day – SA lesbians making a difference


When we think of activism we generally do not include the arts [photography, film, theatre, paintings, drawing, sculpture] so today I would like to celebrate two South African lesbians who have dedicated their adult life to the anti-apartheid struggle and to fighting for LGBTI rights in South Africa – flim maker Bev Ditsi and photographer Zanele Muholi.

Film maker, Bev Ditsi recognised that the neither the struggle against Apartheid nor the LGBTI struggle could be separated – they had to be fought together – for her as a member of the Black community and as a member of the LGBT community. In 1995 she attended the UN 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China where she addressed the conference on behalf of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the International Lesbian Information Service and the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

My name is Palesa Beverley Ditsie and I am from Soweto, South Africa where I have lived all my life and experienced both tremendous joy and pain within my community. I come from a country that has recently had an opportunity to start afresh, an opportunity to strive for a true democracy where the people govern and where emphasis is placed on the human rights of all people. The Constitution of South Africa prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, or language. In his opening parliamentary speech in Cape Town on the 9th of April 1994, His Excellency Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, State President of South Africa, received resounding applause when he declared that never again would anyone be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation……………………….I urge you to make this a conference for all women, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to recognize in the Platform for Action that lesbian rights are women’s rights and that women’s rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible human rights. I urge you to remove the brackets from sexual orientation. Thank you.

Despite the conference slogans of equality for all women, the voices of Bev and other lesbians were not recieved by many of the Chinese women and following a march of some 500 lesbians from across the globe, “sexual orientation” was deleted from the “Platform of Action”.

In 2002, Bev Ditsi directed the film “Simon and I” in honour and remembrance of her friend and comrade, Simon Nkoli


Simon & I recounts the lives of two giants in the South African gay and lesbian liberation movement, Simon Nkoli and the film maker herself, Bev Ditsie. The story is narrated by Bev, both as a personal statement and a political history, as she charts their relationship through good times and bad. Their converging and diverging lives around the central issues of gay activism and HIV/AIDS are revealed using a mixed format of interviews, archive footage of main events, stills and newspaper clips


Zanele Muholi was one of the founders of the Johannesburg based lesbian organisation, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women. She is a renowned photographer that uses photography of the LGBTI community as a way of highlighting sexuality and social justice as well as challenging the photographic stereotypes of the black female body.

As a gender and sexual rights activist, and as a photographer, she confronts the notion that lesbian practices are alien to African cultures, and offers a radical break from stereotypical narratives about black female sexualities. She succeeds in transgressing the taboos surrounding black female same-sex practices because of her intimate relationships in these communities, negotiating the boundaries through trust and respect. Her photographs offer a view from the inside, a personal perspective on the challenges facing black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the townships and other communities.




  1. Thank you. I must have been living under a rock–not uncommon for me. But I had not heard of them. I am going to look into them more and share them with the readers of my blog sometime in the next few days.

    On thing I do is think of arts, etc. in the struggle. Although there are certainly legal things that must be achieved–I think the primary battleground is now cultural and social–both gender and orientation.


  2. Comment by post author


    Becky@ U are absolutely right – legislation is one thing but to change the mindset of people is far more difficult a task and that is when the arts become a force for change.

  3. Fascinating to read about these two talented women. Zanele Muholi takes thought-provoking photographs.

    Happy International Women’s Day to you Sokari!

  4. Nomandla Bantu

    Mind blowing show

    Last night I attended Zanele Muholi’s opening exhibition at Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town.
    What a great experience. Feisty photographer breaking the stereotypes that says that only men are brilliant ones. I must admit that she is damn good and have a perspective. Check: – current exhibition – zanele muholi to see for yourself what I mean…

  5. Comment by post author


    Thanks Nomandla – great to see so many familiar faces:)Zanele is brilliant but where are the rest?