Stellenbosch University to name building after activist Simon Nkoli

23 November 2017 - 13:02 By Timeslive
Stellenbosch University. File photo.
Stellenbosch University. File photo.
Image: ERHARDT THIEL

It has been almost 21 years since the death of South African gay rights and anti-apartheid activist Simon Nkoli‚ a co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand‚ which also organised Johannesburg’s first Gay Pride march in 1990. The previous decade‚ he had been detained as one of the “Vaal 22” – a group of church and UDF activists charged with treason.

Now his dual role as an activist is being honoured by Stellenbosch University.

On World Aids Day‚ Friday 1 December‚ the offices of the Equality and Disability Units at 39 Victoria Street will be officially renamed to "Simon Nkoli House".

"As an equality activist‚ the late Nkoli will be honoured for his steadfast quest for equal rights and fair treatment of all South Africans irrespective of one’s race‚ political affiliation‚ HIV status or sexual orientation. He resolutely fought unfair discrimination in all its forms‚" the university said in a statement today.

Simon Nkoli‚ quoted in 1990‚ 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”.

According to Jaco Greeff Brink‚ head of the EqU‚ having Nkoli’s name on this house will echo the social justice foundation on which they (the EqU and DU) are founded‚ both historically and looking into the future.

“We couldn’t think of any other name than his! Simon Nkoli House is the ideal name for 39 Victoria Street as this embodies the collaboration of two units. 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‚” said Brink.

Dr Marcia Lyner-Cleophas‚ head of the DU‚ said disability as an area of focus that still needs much advocacy work to establish disability inclusion from a human rights perspective in society. She added that the move will increase the two units’ imprint and service excellence to the staff and students at SU.

Bongani Mapumulo‚ the current chairperson of the Dis-Maties‚ said of 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.”

Stellebosch University pledged its commitment to creating an enabling environment "inclusive to a diverse group of staff and students".

Nkoli was born in Soweto in 1957. He grew up on a farm in the Free State and his family later moved to Sebokeng. He addressed various rallies across the Vaal Region in support of rent boycotts. In 1984 he was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with 21 other political leaders in the Delmas‚ collectively known as the Delmas 22.

As a co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (Glow)‚ Nkoli‚ along with LGBT activist Beverley Palesa Ditsie‚ was instrumental in organising the first pride parade in South Africa in 1990. 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.

Another of his achievements was a successful campaign for the inclusion of protection from discrimination in the Bill of Rights in the South African constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law‚ which happened in May 1998‚ in his last months.

After becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men‚ he initiated the Positive African Men group based in central Johannesburg. He lived with HIV for around 12 years‚ and had been seriously ill‚ on and off‚ for the last four years. He died of Aids in 1998 in Johannesburg.

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