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An Interview with the President of Nkoli-Fassie Society

Adam Butler

After a resoundingly successful Pride Week, Activate sat down with the current President of Nkoli-Fassie Society, Sheldan Dolf, to ask his opinion of Pride Week and the state of his society.

Q: What are the first three words that come into your head when you think of Pride?

SD: Oh my word – actually I like the term Queer Week. I obviously came to know it as Pride Week, but yeah – I’ll say queer, hectic, pride.

Q: Were those your objectives for Pride Week? That it be queer, hectic and full of pride?

SD: I think this is something you’d have to ask the whole committee – everyone brought something different, a wide variety and a nice mix of things. So we had the walk, and the drag show because we do need to celebrate our pride, but not everyone’s lived experiences are happy. Some are quite painful, and not everyone is able to march with us. So we wanted as diverse a space as possible, and some serious events – like the panel discussion. It’s not just about partying, it’s about being honest with ourselves, where we can do better – and must do better. It was all to try and make sure that there was a space for everyone that was diverse because people’s identities intersect with their queerness.

Q: The panel discussion hosted as part of Pride Week seems to have been such a space. What prompted the topic for the discussion?

SD: The topic was essentially around invisibility in the queer community, and the event was organised by Lwazilwenkosi Vazhure. It was prompted by an event with Slow Sunday, and a discussion around identities where people spoke about how invisible they felt, so that’s where it started. I like the topic because there is a lot of identity politics in the queer community and we can’t just assume that people are queer and that’s where it ends. And the event was quite nice – we could have spoken till Jesus comes!

Q: Was that your favourite part of Pride Week? If not, what was?

SD: No you can’t ask me this! To be quite honest, I loved all of them – I mean the drag show was amazing, the Pride Walk was important, the queer artists’ event was very important and the panel discussion was thought provoking. But my favourite was the name change, because of what it means symbolically, and because the name was decided by our members, which speaks to a change in the society. There were a lot of people, particularly people of colour, who felt excluded, and I think it’s important that we create a space where people of colour feel welcome and comfortable. So I think it’s a really important gesture and a great name from some great historical figures. As a committee, we’ve really wanted to help include other marginalised identities this year.

Q: The name change saw OUTRhodes become Nkoli-Fassie Society. How did this come about, and why is this name so important to people?

SD: Well the process of the name change was that our members gave us suggestions for names – and suggested that we do change the name in the first place, both because of the problematic Rhodes and OUT parts. We created a shortlist which we took back to the society for comment. At last year’s AGM, Dominique McFall (president of the society at the time) allowed for suggestions, and eventually the current name was decided on this year. We informed the SRC, society’s council and administration so that the name will officially reflect next year.

Nkoli was an ANC member, a freedom fighter, and a queer icon – because he’s a large part of the reason that discrimination on the basis of sexuality is prohibited in the Constitution, and we don’t hear enough about him, which says a lot about how queer people’s contributions are minimised by heteronormative history. But we’re not about that life, we think it’s important that people have icons who look like them. Brenda Fassie was also very open about her queerness but was straightwashed, which may have been a large part of why that suggestion came up.

Q: Tell us a bit about what you feel the society’s role in the queer community is.

SD: I think we have a responsibility to increase visibility and help fight stigma. To support, to just be there for people to see that we are here, we exist and there are a lot of us. For people who aren’t out it’s important to know that they are valid, that they are loved and that you will be okay and have people to support you should you need it.

Q: What are you hoping for from next year’s society in terms of fulfilling this role, and hosting the next Pride Week?

SD: I’m hoping that next year’s committee reaches greater heights and makes further strides in increasing visibility, and the level of welcome in terms of intersectionality. It’s a term we often throw around, but the transformation of this space isn’t an easy process, so I’m hoping next year’s committee won’t be afraid to transform and to hold each other accountable in terms of our transformation. They must know that it is a great responsibility, but it’s also a lot of fun, organising these events – it’s stressful but fun. Also, they must have a strong activist presence, so that they’re not there to be messed around with.

 

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