Review by Bongani Bikwa
To paraphrase former Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron, Siya Khumalo lands in your life with an energy that does not wane!
As a former ex gay – those lovely folks who believe they have prayed it away (there IS a book on the way, I promise!) – I was intrigued by the title’s twist on God and being queer. Normally we are told one cannot be gay and know God hence the emergence of conversion therapy. I have read every contested verse and argument – from the real meaning of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, apparently an allegory about not caring for your fellowman or even rape to the insertion a modern word (homosexual) on ancient texts.
So what was Khumalo’s bright new idea?
Part biography and part an exploration of the intersections of the theological, political and social institutions that dictate ways of being in post apartheid South Africa it challenges the assumption that our constitutional guarantees of equality translate into everyone’s lived reality.
I invited Khumalo to be a guest at my book club when we reviewed the book in 2018. And so began an enduring friendship, if not perhaps a multi layered fanning on my part!
We are a motley crew of cishet, male, female, black, white, Jewish, Muslim, queer, academic, professional, creative and scientific souls in one bunch. The book appealed to all of us from our tapestried backgrounds – because ultimately it is not a book only about queerness but rather it wrestles with who we say we are in the democratic dispensation. We talked about love, sex, identity, positions, preferences; we laughed, we cried, we hugged and once or twice we gasped at our own prejudices in the room.
Years after the book’s publication stories still abound about the the murders of queer people all over South Africa – from Lindokuhle Cele, Liyabona Mabishi, Motshidisi ‘Pasca’ Pascalina to the most recent Siphamandla Khoza and Andile ‘Lulu’ Ntuthela – the list is endless. As a journalist, this writer was reporting on township gay murders three decades ago in the mid 2000’s.
Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa. Remember them? Are they etched in our collective memory as reminders of the limits of our legal protections? After the hashtags – Am I Next; Justice for So-and-So – trend for a while we too readily move on to the next victim.
In a particularly searing chapter Khumalo recounts working at a hospital as a twenty year old army private because of a protracted strike by health care workers demanding better pay. It fell to him and his fellow officers to, among other tasks, take dead bodies from wards to the facility’s morgue. He took to the habit of talking to the deceased because, ‘they had been and still were people with families that loved them; up until their demise, they’d had dreams and aspirations.’
Khumalo takes us into the barracks, the churches, the schools, the streets, the families, the homes in which homophobia is conceptualised and crystallised as righteousness in the name of God. He concludes the book by noting, ‘Homophobia in God’s name is horseshit, the blasphemer, who condemns gays in the name of God loves neither gays nor God. No one who hates his brother whom he has seen can claim to love God, whom he has not seen. For all we know, God could be lesbian.’
Those who are killed because our social contract is not enough to protect them, were and still are people. Those who killed because memory is not our métier, had families who loved them. Those who are killed because we think books like this are niche and not about us, can reflect or challenge little about ourselves, had dreams and aspirations.
Let us remember that when we tweet the next hashtag. Here but for the grace of God…