KwaZulu-Natal broke new ground recently. Two men, draped in traditional apparel, stood before family, friends and well-wishers. There was music, there was love and I imagine the good-old wedding jitters. They said “I do” and shared a kiss.
The newlyweds are Tshepo Cameron Sithole-Modisane and Thoba Calvin Sithole-Modisane. The Sithole-Modisanes are not your “ordinary” young, black males (I note the stereotype). According to their blog Tshepo holds a master of commerce degree and is a PhD candidate at the University of Johannesburg. He is a certified auditor based in Sandton. Thoba holds a BSc in computer science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is a systems engineer, also based in Sandton.
The pictures surfaced on the Twitterverse yesterday. As usual, the network went ballistic. The pseudo-traditionalists and “vanguards of Zulu culture” (aka: confused homophobes) dished their hate.
Against my better judgment I checked the blogs this morning. The homophobes are losing their cool. “Fusegani zinja [sic] (voetsek dogs)” wrote one angry homophobe. You can imagine how “revolutionary” he was feeling behind his keyboard.
Another homophobe who calls himself a reverend, posed a question online: “Please tell me what is African about this perverted ‘marriage’? The only thing African about this marriage is their attire. Being gay is un-African and not normal and this marriage is a damn disgrace.” The reverend’s inane argument about homosexuality being “un-African” has been addressed by qualified writers.
What caused me to write this blog are two comments I found on what appears to be a foreign blog. One commenter said: “This from the tribe of people that f*ck babies to rid themselves of Aids.”
Another commenter on the same blog wrote: “It is kinda interesting to see a bunch of Africans celebrating a gay wedding. Something tells me they are a very small minority … like every news story I’ve ever seen about the continent.”
These comments hit home. This wedding was about more than just two gay men, it was about a culture that denies itself humanity.
The Sithole-Modisanes are not the first gay couple to tie a knot and share a smooch in front of flashing cameras. In 2008, human-rights activist and founder of the Treatment Action Campaign Zackie Achmat married (his now ex-husband) Dalli Weyers in front of 300 guests at the Imperial Yacht Club near Cape Town. Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court (a Supreme Court of Appeals judge then) officiated the ceremony. I imagine there were many more before and after.
So what makes the Sithole-Modisanes’ wedding so significant? The couple who invited the media, put up a blog and wore traditional attire, called out the Zulu monarch. By wearing traditional Zulu apparel and staging the wedding in KwaZulu-Natal, the “kingdom of the Zulus”, the brave couple threw the cards at King Goodwill Zwelithini. Now it is the king’s turn to play and we, his subjects, are watching.
Last year the king’s “gay slur” caused an international uproar. Zwelithini claimed he was misquoted and that the true meaning of his utterance was lost in translation. This is a new opportunity for him to do two things: (i) Reclaim his Zulu kingdom and (ii) undo the ghastly stereotype that Zulus are a homophobic people.
I’ve heard a few “traditionalists” say “surely the king is entitled to his opinion”. Well, no. Firstly, the king leads a “nation”, so what he utters reflects not just his opinion, but the opinion of the “kingdom”.
Secondly, we Zulus (as a cultural people) are fast losing relevance. The king himself faces imminent relegation to eternal obscurity.
Our very existence was born out of a strong belief in unity. Shaka Zulu sought to unite southern tribes. More importantly, the Zulu kingdom was born out of cultural illegitimacy. Nandi was not married to King Senzangakhona and according to custom Shaka was never entitled to the Zulu throne.
Is the king abdicating if he says nothing?
If he speaks against the wedding he would be rejecting the Constitution.
Our Zulu and African culture is not static, it does not exist in a vacuum. We also cannot say for sure that there were no Zulu homosexuals in history, they would have probably faced persecution and our history is not recorded.
The core of our belief is that human life is eternal. Each newborn is a manifestation of the ancestors. This should drive us to accept all humans, irrespective of orientation. To reject one person considered being “un-Zulu” means rejecting the whole ancestral line that came before us.
The Sithole-Modisane wedding is significant because two people took the decision to share their lives and secondly because the one person who should have been there to sanctify this new dawn was absent.