Gone @ 20 – the lucky ones are not yet born!

By Zanele Muholi, Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg

Zethu Matebeni reviews photographer Zanele Muholi’s latest exhibition MO(U)RNING at Stevenson, Cape Town.

Photo by Zanele Muholi, Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg

Gone @ 20 – the lucky ones are not yet born!

Famous people die in their twenties. Many would remember the American Rhythm & Blues (R&B) singer, Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash. She was 22 at the time of her death. Controversial supermodel Gia died at the age of 26. Some still don’t believe that Tupac Shakur is dead. He was 25 when they gunned him down. The legendary Amy Winehouse died at 27. It is believed that she wanted to join the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and other musicians who died at the same age. They are now immortal members of the infamous “Club 27”.

We remember all these people because they were famous. No one remembers Nokuthula Radebe (20), Ntsiki Tyatyeka (21), Thokozane Qwabe (23), Khanyiswa Hani (25), Tshuku Ncobo (26), Mpho Setshedi (27), Sanna Supa (28), Hendrietta Thapelo Morifi (29), and many others like them. They did not make it to “Club 27”. They were not musicians, artists or entertainers. However, they joined a special club, notorious in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (lgbti) community of South Africa. They are among the endless list of lives lost too soon, and too violently. Murdered for who they are and their sexual/gender expression – they lie forgotten.

South Africa is layered with contradictions and complexities. On the one hand, the lgbti community forms part of the progressive movement and the rainbow nation that is South Africa today. On the other, individual rights to sexual expression, sexual and gender identity are often challenged in the only African state that is praised for protecting diversities. However, there are limits to diversity, at least in the South African context. Those who transgress the boundaries of diversity often get punished in the most gruesome ways. In particular, the existence of minority groups (including women and female persons) is often under threat. Among South African black lesbian women specifically, one is considered lucky to escape rape, or even murder before their 30thbirthday.

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