Education Academic Discusses LGBTI Issues at Mandela Tribute Conference
Senior Lecturer and cluster leader in UKZN’s School of Education, Dr Thabo Msibi, recently presented his research on same-sex and gender diversity issues in Africa as an invited plenary speaker at the Third Biennial Kwame Nkrumah International Conference hosted by the Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada.
The Conference paid tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela with topics geared towards the heroic icon but also focused on research under the theme: “Re-engaging the African Diasporas: Pan-Africanism in the Age of Globalisation”. Struggle icon and friend to Nelson Mandela, Mr Jay Naidoo, was the keynote speaker.
Msibi presented two talks during the event: a plenary presentation exploring whether social activism should be an “insider job” and another titled Is Teaching about Homophobia and Sexual Diversity in South Africa Part of Social Activism? Both talks were focused on debunking the growing myth that same-sex desire is a Western imposition on the African continent.
Msibi spoke about government responses to same-sex desire in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria where stringent, draconian laws to curb this “Western disease” have already been passed.
‘The intense homophobia evident in many African countries is not unchallenged; South Africa is the first country to have embodied constitutional recognition and protection in relation to sexual orientation. Despite this, the discourses espoused in other parts of Africa are not uncommon within South Africa, and are increasingly being articulated,’ he said.
Msibi explored the criteria that inform a strategy that aims to address homophobia and whether this strategy counts as social activism.
He discussed, in two parts, a project that seeks to address homophobia within township schools in KwaZulu-Natal by drawing on young people and teachers representing varied sexual and gendered subjectivities to talk about experiences of homophobia. The second part of the project involves an intervention geared towards supporting pre-service teachers in actually teaching sexual diversity matters.
Drawing on both these projects, Msibi showed that in contexts like South Africa, any intervention seeking to challenge homophobia must take into account the role played by culture and religion in shaping people’s perceptions of same-sex desire.
He emphasised that activism that seeks to challenge homophobia on the continent needs to be informed by local needs and experiences, with contextual issues being prioritised. This would require what he termed a ‘people first’ approach and the utilisation of local resources and knowledge. Top-down interventions, he argued, merely serve to reinforce the idea that same-sex desire is unAfrican.
‘Additionally, such interventions require an understanding of homophobia as a shared concern, not just affecting same-sex desiring individuals, but affecting everybody regardless of sexual orientation.’
‘Hence, interventions should be understood as part of social activism given the complexities surrounding same-sex desire in African contexts. We need to pay careful consideration to contextual realities prior to the designing and implementation of any interventions directed towards addressing homophobia.’