Frank Malaba is making a name for himself, not only as an out-and-proud actor, activist and writer but also as a host of the acclaimed Radio Today Outspoken, the only LGBTI radio show on the African continent.
Born in Zimbabwe to a soldier and a seamstress, Frank took up drama at the age of eight and landed his first serious role at 16 in a musical in which he controversially portrayed a black Jesus.
He later lived in Boston, USA for a while, studied media in Cape Town and has performed on the stage and the small screen, including a lead role in an episode of the groundbreaking television HIV and AIDS drama series, Intersexions.
Frank is committed to making his mark as an openly gay and successful African man on a continent with few role models for LGBTI people. This “citizen of the world” recently started an African version of the “It Gets Better” video project, offering a message of hope to LGBT people in Africa.
Mambaonline spoke to the vibrant, talented and very charming Frank Malaba.
A Harare newspaper recently labelled you “the first Zimbabwean to declare that he loves other men”. What kind or response did you get to the article?
Mostly positive and supportive. Of course, there were a few that preached doom over me. I still get a lot of messages on Facebook from men and women of all ages asking for advice. So I guess the good has greatly outweighed the negative.
At what age, where and how did you come out?
I was 16, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe when I came out. I had a crush on a student teacher that taught me mathematics. He took us for double periods most days of the week and I sat in the front row. I couldn’t handle the way I felt, so I talked to a pastor at the Baptist Church about it. That was the first ever time.
Was it a difficult process for you?
It was well accepted by the people that were closest to me but it was a difficult process. I cried and was sick for days. I guess the most difficult thing for one is “coming out to self”. I had to make a decision that I was going to live life as the “real me” as opposed to the “fake somebody else” that society often tries to force us to become.
How are your parents with your sexuality?
My parents are incredibly non-judgmental and willing to learn more about who I am. I am amazed at my mother’s strength and the distance she has been willing to go to understand what homosexuality is. I’m humbled that I’m blessed with such a supportive family. Not many people in Africa are that lucky.
You live in Sandton, Johannesburg now, but what are your thoughts on the plight of LGBT Zimbabweans?
My heart bleeds for my fellow LGBTI Zimbabweans. They’ve been and are still victims of state sponsored homophobia for too long. I take my hat off to all the LGBTI activists that have tirelessly and fearlessly been fighting for the recognition of their rights.
Do you think that high profile gays have a responsibility to come out the closet to the public?
No. I think that the coming out process is a very personal and delicate thing. It’s just like giving birth to a new creature. Gestation of our new identity has to fully happen before we come out, no matter our stature in society. Remember, when we come out, we out our whole family.
|“There is still racism in the gay community. Fortunately, I haven’t knowingly been a victim of this…”
How much impact do you think that openly gay celebs have?
The biggest impact, I think, is on young people in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Society and young people in those countries are looking for someone that helps them remember and identify what they are “fighting” for.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
I do see myself as a role model to people that are looking to make a positive contribution to society as LGBTI people. I never had that growing up, so I hope to become that for younger people across Africa.
How did you get involved in Radio Today Outspoken?
I had never done radio before. It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. I joined the steering team just as they were putting the show together. I was meant to only be a content researcher on the project.
What does the show mean to you?
Freedom of speech and positive LGBTI identity. I aim to give LGBTI people a platform and a conduit that allows for a safe space to deal with things they are unable to lay openly in public hetero-normative society.
What actors or well-known artists or writers have inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by Meryl Streep, Jeffrey Wright, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Ruthie Foster, Nina Simone, Dambudzo Marechera, Salif Keita, Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes and Napo Masheane.
And what are your thoughts on fame?
I think fame should not be sought. If it comes, embrace it and don’t let it go to your head. I have no desire to be famous. If it does come, I hope that I’ll be able to manage it and make the best of it and use it for the benefit of the marginalised and misunderstood.
What drives you – what inspires you to do so much?
Telling stories creatively is my most favourite thing in the world. I also like to push boundaries and comfort zones through creativity. I’m driven by ambition, passion for change and the desire to learn more about why we’re here. I’m inspired by this planet’s greatest resource; people.
You got engaged last year. How did you meet your partner, Lee?
I was a judge at Mr Gay South Africa 2009 and he was a contestant. (Laughs) That was the first time I ever saw him. I thought he was a nice person, but no attraction was there. Then two weeks later we ran into each other again and a spark grew.
What qualities attracted you to him?
He’s kind, gentle, spiritual, loving and very, very attractive. He has wisdom beyond his years and is very humble.
Are you a believer in monogamy?
I am. I believe that in order to feel totally secure and to achieve anything, we need a mirror to our soul. That comes through the person we choose to be totally vulnerable to. Lee is my mirror and I am 100% myself with him and unashamed of being weak in front of him.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of any negativity because your boyfriend is white?
I haven’t been confronted head on about it, although people stare at us whenever it’s apparent that we’re a couple. It’s still a BIG issue in South Africa. There is still racism in the gay community. Fortunately, I haven’t knowingly been a victim of this. We’re not well balanced at all. Although, in my interaction through my work with most LGBTI people, I would say there is more integration than most people think there is.
When not working to change the world, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I spend time with the man in my life. I watch movies and also have friends over for a good laugh. Poetry writing has become an awesome part of my relaxation.
Your favourite restaurant?