QSS Festival: For those who do not conform

On the eve of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a minority group in country that has deemed the lives of others as illegal gathered in  Thapong Visual Arts Centre in Gaborone, Botswana to create theatrical discussions surrounding the LGBTI community.

Correction – non conformists to inequality within human rights centered their thoughts, talent and creativity at Thapong visual arts centre this past Saturday, hosted under Kat Kai Kol Kes’s event: Queer Shorts Showcase Festival.

I arrived slightly early, 30 minutes to be precise – but instead of Rainbow flag Walking into the art centre, I was greeted by a thick mar of darkness, however Kat’s warm smile and short message that the entire area was going through yet again another slot of load shedding granted me patience and willingness to wait by the Number 1 ladies detective cafe, and sip on Rooiboss by candlelight in waiting.

30 minutes passes, still no electricity. This gives Kat the mind to use car lighting for the series of the shows up until the power comes back (take that system!) and we head into our first play ‘Somebody give me the strength not to kiss a straight man” Played by Onx, Mogomotsi and Lelthogonolo. At first i failed to understand the entire concept, as not names, but scenarios were given to each actor. Onx plays cafe, Mogomotsi plays office and Letlhogonolo plays the bar – each of them giving the scenarios of a gay man trying to keep his urge from being intimate with a straight man.  With great comical effect, Onx over-shone the other characters by embodying the persona of such a character, and went the extra mile of amplifying his voice for the sake of the audience. Unfortunately, because the other actors couldn’t carry out the same vocal amplification, the piece was left mid-executed as the audience enjoyed bits and pieces but not the whole play simply due to audibility.

We head into our first intermission I realize the emptiness of the centre. There aren’t much people here… Although the crowd presence was relatively below my expectations, I remembered that this is a country where homophobia has created a culture of ignorance, and legislation breeding stigma to everyone within the LGBTI community and those that support it. Moving on, we head into one of my personal highlight of the night “Sakeng” portrayed by Kgotla Molefe, who embodies two characters who both question teachings he has learnt within formal and informal educational systems. What i loved greatly about this piece is Kgotla’s chameleon-like nature to shift from preppy Model-c intellectual rebel to a rural young man at literally, the flip of a hat.  The piece in itself was well written, with quotes such as “To know where your going, you must know where your coming from” and As much as i loved his performance, i was of course disturbed by certain audience members that felt that because they do not understand Setswana language, they must create dialogue of their own. Crass, but it did not put any darkness into Kgotla’s space.

Third intermission with the power now back we move into a different space of the art centre, where Morongoa, Tumi, Thabi and Joy (who was pulled out of the audience as the initial actor had no understudy) and performed a piece titled “Top Centre” where women were put in a sex ed class to learn how to take control and assume the space of their sexuality, and sexual prowess. With knowledge on our society’s discomfort of taking ownership of the V-word, keagle clenches were encouraged and phrases such as ‘we need to stop being loose spare hands’ caused gasps, jitters, smirks and laughs from the audience. All in all, what i thought was a brilliant piece by all the actors, from the innocence Morongoa embodied in her character Edith, Tumi’s boisterous and cheeky character Taolo, Thabi’s assertive BDSM low-key character Briana and Joy’s Clem – I felt that the play was far too short. Maybe I just enjoyed it a little too much? Well I demand a sequel – let’s make it happen.

Our last piece was by South African Actor Mogoshi Mogwera in the headlining act “Bring Back Our Gays” – were Mogwera tackles the religious aspects of being gay in his community, and how hypocrisy has become a culture in our society. Mogwera takes us through being a young gay child in a church community, where children play ‘mantlwaneng’ loosely translated into ‘house’ where children assume characters of being a mom and a father, and practice intimacy at the stage. Mogwera hinted that although it wasnt deemed wrong for children to be playing with each other in that matter, its more wrong for him to have feelings of a man as a grown man.  with instances where he washed the bible, and ate ‘forbidden fruit’ – he further provoked the audience to ‘punish’ him for his behaviour of constantly eating the fruit. “sometimes, you just have to be rubbish,” he said, before he went on to devouring the apples – evoking our feelings that society has termed people in our community as ‘rubbish’ and rubbish requires punishment through religious conformity and legislative approaches.

The entire show was well orchestrated under Kat Kol Kes Kai’s leadership, and the promise of being thought provoking discussing issues that were not only limited to one form of sexuality may have not been fully delivered, but it got us talking. Hopefully next year, a larger crowd that needs such enlightenment will be part of shaping our LGBTI history in Africa.