Documentary exposes lives, loves and fears of black lesbians

The focus on black lesbians brought about as a result of films—such as Pariah by Dee Rees and Breaking Out of the Boxes by Busi Kheswa and Dr Zethu Matebeni—is a welcome and much-needed change at the coming Out in Africa Gay & ­Lesbian Film Festival.

Most black lesbians in South African townships live in fear. With the brutal “corrective” rapes and murders of Eudy Simelane, Sizakele Sigasa, Salome Masooa, Noxolo Nogwaza and numerous others, coming out as a black South African woman is a courageous and often dangerous act.

Breaking Out of the Boxes
raises awareness of these issues and pays tribute to all black South African ­lesbians.

The documentary focuses on the lives of six black lesbian women living in South Africa, but who are different in age and come from startlingly different backgrounds.

Dr Yvette Abrahams, the lead commissioner of gender and poverty at the Commission for Gender Equality, gives a touching, heartfelt and often humorous account of what it was like to be a lesbian in the struggle and what it means for her today. She also gives a voice to the interesting and as yet unexplored history of gay struggle veterans.

Fikile Vilakazi’s dual vocation as programme director of the Coalition of African Lesbians, a non-profit organisation that supports the struggle for the equality of lesbian women, and as a sangoma illustrates how a lesbian can balance current-day activism with traditional African spirituality.

Vilakazi says homosexuality is in her heritage and the idea that it is unAfrican is insulting to her.

Former Banyana Banyana football player Portia Modise’s story is striking. Against a backdrop of “corrective rape” and patriarchy, she now commands respect from the all-male football team, which she coaches, as well as from her community.

That said, she is still safety-conscious and knows that after dark the friendly Soweto streets may not be so safe for an “outed” lesbian on her own.

In addition to giving voice to the often voiceless, Breaking Out of the Boxes takes us into these womens’ real lives, from kitchens and gardens to township corners and football practice. It is a startlingly honest portrayal of black lesbian life in South Africa, with optimism prevailing through the fear.

Breaking Out of the Boxes
realises the vision of Out in Africa co-founder Theresa Raizenberg (also featured in the documentary) that the voice of South African lesbians be heard and that their otherwise untold stories be depicted on the big screen.

Dylan Bush

Dylan Bush

Dylan Bush is the senior multimedia reporter for Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre. A campaigner for social justice, Bush believes the world is not for sale and is passionate about exposing human rights violations in Southern Africa. Read more from Dylan Bush

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