Two recently released local books should be on the bedside table of any self respecting South African gay reader.
The one is an anthology of queer fiction stories from across Africa, while the other is another biographical gem from our very own ground-breaking proudly gay Constitutional Court judge.
Justice – A Personal Account
Edwin Cameron is one of our community’s most ionic and inspiring figures. He remains possibly the only openly gay and openly HIV positive senior public official or judge on the African continent.
In contrast to most judges, he has stood out by publicly speaking on a number of social issues: providing accessible treatment to people living with HIV and protecting the rights of LGBTI Africans.
His best known book, Witness to AIDS, was a powerful and intimate autobiographical exploration of his coming to terms with living with HIV and the struggle to ensure that the government met its obligations towards HIV survivors.
Cameron’s new book, Justice, focuses more on his professional field of expertise; the law. It’s described as part memoir and part ode to the law.
The book opens at his sister’s funeral when he was just seven. His father was accompanied by prison officials, having been briefly let out of prison for the occasion. This was the young Cameron’s first exposure to the law.
In Justice, he explains and defends the role of the law in South Africa’s continuing transition. He draws on his own life experience – of poverty, of a youth spent in a children’s home, of his differentness and of stigma – to illustrate the power and the limitations of the law.
As a vocal defender of our Constitution, Cameron argues that it offers South Africans our best chance for a just society.
As always, he writes from a personal perspective. He’s a master at using his experience to illustrate the issues at stake with remarkable clarity and passion. Justice is not a dry, academic book for lawyers or scholars – but one that every South African should read (and enjoy).
Queer Africa – New and Collected Fiction
Edited by Karen Martin, a fiction writer, collage artist and professional editor, and Makhosazana Xaba, an author and poet, Queer Africa represents a significant moment in African literature; a fiction anthology of LGBTI short stories from the continent.
Since its release last year, it’s already been nominated as a finalist in America’s prestigious 2014 Lambda Literary Awards in the best LGBT anthology category (the winners will be announced in New York City in June).
The collection includes historical and contemporary stories by writers from six African countries: Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Queer Africa is the first foray into publishing short fiction by MaThoko’s Books, a new publishing division of the Johannesburg-based GALA (better known as the gay and lesbian archives).
The writers included in the anthology are: Wame Molefhe, Richard de Nooy, Dolar Vasani, Natasha Distiller, Wamuwi Mbao, Barbara Adair, Beatrice Lamwaka, Lindiwe Nkutha, Rahiem Whisgary, Mercy Minah, Roger Diamond, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Annie Holmes, TO Molefe, Davina Owombre, Martin Hatchuell, Emil Rorke, Lindiwe Nkutha, K Sello Duiker and Rory Kilalea.
The stories are unapologetically gay, tender, funny, deeply moving and mostly quite brilliant. While five of the 18 stories have been previously published (such as the Caine Prize winning Jambula Tree), their inclusion in this anthology makes perfect sense.
The stories are diverse and located in the past and present. Pinch, for example, is set in the South African veld of the Anglo Boer War while All Covered Up is about a UN worker who returns to her homeland of Tanzania.
The collection has been so well received that there’s been talk of a possible Queer Africa 2. Until then, this first anthology will satisfy your thirst for great gay writing – from a uniquely African perspective.
Justice – A Personal Account (around R200) and Queer Africa (around R180) are available at Exclusive Books and other good bookstores.