Stellies honours LGBT and HIV rights icon Simon Nkoli


Simon Nkoli

Ahead of World Aids Day, Stellenbosch University has announced that it will honour Simon Nkoli by naming one of its buildings after the late gay activist.

A building at 39 Victoria Street will be renamed Huis Simon Nkoli House after the struggle hero, LGBT rights lobbyist and HIV/Aids activist at a ceremony on 1 December.

The building is used as offices for the university’s Equality Unit (EqU) and Disability Unit (DU).

“We couldn’t think of any other name than his!” said Jaco Greeff Brink, head of the EqU. “Mr Nkoli was a fighter for equality, against unfair discrimination and the rights for all marginal groups and this is exactly what the two units are advocating for.”

He added that Nkoli’s name, and what it stands for, has significant national and international stature and reverence.

Bongani Mapumulo, the chairperson of Dis-Maties, which advocates for students living with disabilities, had this to say about Nkoli: “His rights activism and clear stance on non-discrimination appeals to the issues faced by minorities that co-exist under the pressures of heteronormativity, HIV stigma and racialism.

“In addition, his driven activism intersects with the struggles still faced by groups that remain on the outskirts of mainstream society of political and economic participation including women, racial minorities, people with disabilities and homosexuals.”

Nkoli was born in 1957 in Soweto but grew up in the Free State. In 1984 he was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with twenty-one other anti-apartheid leaders in Delmas, collectively known as the Delmas 22.

He was among the few prominent openly gay anti-apartheid activists and is credited with a number of historic firsts.

Nkoli founded the first black gay organisation in Africa, the Saturday Group, as well as the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Witwatersrand (GLOW). He was also co-founder, along with Bev Ditsie, of the first ever LGBT Pride event on the continent, Johannesburg Pride.

Quoted in 1990, Nkoli notably said: “I am black and I am gay. I cannot separate the two parts of me into secondary or primary struggles. In South Africa, I am oppressed because I am a black man and I am oppressed because I am a gay man. So, when I fight for my freedom I must fight against both oppressions… All those who believe in a democratic South Africa must fight against all oppression, all intolerance, all injustice”.

His commitment to the cause saw him travel widely, receiving several human rights awards in Europe and North America including becoming a member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association Board, representing the African region.

Other major achievements included campaigning for the successful inclusion of protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the South African Constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law, which happened in May 1998, months before his death.

After becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, Nkoli initiated the Positive African Men group in Johannesburg. He lived with HIV for around 12 years and died at the age of 41 on November 30, 1998, on the eve of World AIDS Day.

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