Simon Tseko Nkoli

Simon Nkoli - Taste of Southern Africa

Our final Black History Month post is dedicated to the memory of Simon Tseko Nkoli (26 Nov 1957 – 30 Nov 1998), an internationally celebrated South African anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activist.

Nkoli was born in Soweto and became a fierce youth activist against apartheid. He spoke at rallies in support of rent-boycotts in the Vaal townships and in 1984 he was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with 21 other political leaders in the Delmas Treason Trial. Whilst in prison, Nkoli publicly revealed his sexuality and this helped change the attitude to gay rights of the African National Congress. He was acquitted and released from prison in 1988.

Nkoli formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa, and later founded the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) in 1988. Along with LGBT activist, Beverley Palesa Ditsie, he organised the first pride parade in Africa, held in 1990. He travelled widely and was given several human rights awards in Europe and North America. 

He was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994 and helped in the campaign for the inclusion of protection from discrimination in the Bill of Rights in the 1994 South African constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law, which happened in May 1998 in his last months.

There is a Simon Nkoli Street in Amsterdam and a Simon Nkoli Day in San Francisco. He opened the first Gay Games in New York and was made a freeman of that city by mayor David Dinkins. In 1996 Nkoli was given the Stonewall Award in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Canadian filmmaker John Greyson made a short film about Nkoli titled “A Moffie Called Simon” in 1987 and Nkoli was the subject of Robert Colman's 2003 play, "Your Loving Simon" and Beverley Ditsie's 2002 film "Simon & I". 

South Africa is the only country in Africa that offers full constitutional protection and freedom to the LGBT+ community. In Nelson Mandela’s own words “…to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” We celebrate Simon Nkoli’s life and his immense service to the people of southern Africa!

Photo credit: GALA

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