Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

The significance of being seen

Finding content that reflects your reality is difficult. Finding content on television that reflects your own particular experience with identity is even more difficult.

Despite ongoing developments in queer advocacy on the African continent, queer communities remain largely underrepresented, particularly on television. Although our stories do make appearances in the media, they are often one-dimensional, Eurocentric and only included for a “slice of diversity”.

Iranti-Org, a queer human-rights visual media organisation in Johannesburg, is responding to this void with a new television show titled Siyanibona. Partnered with Soweto TV, a platform that has an audience reach of four million, the show will run until December after its launch last month.

Dedicated to queer content, Siyanibona’s 13 episodes examine the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other (LGBTI+) advocacy and life in Africa, highlighting stories of discrimination and the people who come together to fight it. So far, the show has tackled LGBTI+ hate crimes, intersex awareness and transgender visibility, to name but a few.

Jabulani Pereira, the director of Iranti-Org and executive producer of the show, says that, “over the past five years, Iranti has made over 100 short films. These have been packaged for Siyanibona alongside two main presenters in order to encourage discussion around gender, sex and sexuality.” As a way to approach topics that aren’t traditionally talked about in households, Siyanibona has created an opportunity to have conversations about queerness in the privacy of people’s homes.

Pereira describes the show as “localised stories, many of which are in indigenous languages, which are about the queer community, by the queer community”. Siyanibona marks Iranti’s first entry into mainstream television, which comes with its own difficulties.

Pereira admits that the organisation has had problems with financing the project. “Many donors want to fund queer work that is strictly and traditionally policy-based. They do not see the opportunities that arise in relation to main-stream media and its ability to reach audiences.”

One such opportunity that Siyanibona takes advantage of is in using a language about LGBTI+ issues that is simple and accessible to a wide audience. By breaking down terminology in understandable ways, the show brings out the humanity in the lives it showcases. No doubt its ability to do this is partly owed to the input of the team, who are all members of the LGBTI+ community, from the scriptwriters to the people behind the camera.

Alongside the queer production team, each episode ends with a practical tool, be it a response to a question or a key resource to contact. Tani Anakak, one of the show’s copresenters, comments that a forthcoming episode on World Aids Day was a “particularly powerful one to shoot” as a result of a question that is asked about HIV and healthcare. Anakak, who has lost a number of friends to Aids, said it was “great to discuss and create awareness around the advancements in medicine in relation to HIV, such as PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis], a medication HIV-negative people can take to help prevent them from becoming HIV positive”.

Agreeing with this appreciation of the show’s ability to affect people’s lives, another copresenter, Kumkani Sivu Siwisa, notes how Siyanibona is something they would want their family to watch.

“The show sends the message that, when we are advocating for the rights of LGBTI+ people, we are advocating for the rights of black people, women and children.”

Siyanibona is a visual reminder of the interconnectedness of oppression. Its multidimensional focus and approach make the show stand out because it acknowledges that representation alone is not liberation. Instead, it recognises that representation is the starting point from which to effect change. By portraying the realities that queer Africans face, the show provides truthful depictions that are empowering and informative for everyone.

Looking to the future, the team is optimistic that Siyanibona will continue to have an effect after it finishes airing on Soweto TV.

“We want to make the show available, free of charge, on our YouTube channel. Possibly also reach out to other mainstream television to create more queer content and expand the work,” Pereira says.

Siyanibona’s importance is multidimensional. For many, the authentic queer stories will be significant because they may be the first or only ones in which people either see experiences similar to theirs, or learn about experiences different from their own. It is a sincere hope that the show has the ability to transform feelings of confusion, loneliness and fear into safety, affirmation and hope.

Siyanibona is on Soweto TV, DSTV channel 251, every Wednesday at 8pm, repeating on Thursday at 9.30pm

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Nigel Patel
Nigel Patel
Nigel Patel is a philosophy and law graduate and a queer rights activist

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

How to apply for the Covid-19 R350 grant

Asylum seekers with valid permits and caregivers will now also be allowed to apply for the reinstituted social relief of distress grant

IEC publishes 27 October election date as required by law,...

A report by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke opens the possibility of a postponement

Serame Taukobong appointed as Telkom’s chief executive designate

The telecommunication group’s current chief executive, Sipho Maseko, will step down at the end of June 2022

Zambia should commit to tackling toxic lead mine’s legacy

Residents of Kabwe have been poisoned for decades and now UN experts have called for an urgent clean-up
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×