South Africa: Gay Activist Stages Pop-Up Theatre in City Streets

29 November 2019

"My performances are for the mother with a gay son who is hiding"

Tandile Mbatsha is taking queer activism to a new level. The 26-year-old UCT student performs short pop-up plays in the streets of Cape Town city centre using the rainbow flag.

"I do queer performances themed Intyatyambo iphuma engxondorheni (flower blossoming out from a hard rock). It is themed around the queer community because we thrive in a space that does not want us."

Mbatsha, who is doing an honours degree in theatre, dance and performance studies, says he also uses his performances to give hope to those who are afraid to come out for various reasons. "There are people who are scared to come out. My performances are close to the road. They may be passing by in a taxi or a car. This is for them, I want them to feel represented."

With a rainbow flag in the background and with his friend taking videos and photos, Mbatsha starts his performance by coming out of a bag, then dances slowly and removes the blanket which covered him. Cars passing by start to hoot and people stop to watch. Some react to the bared buttocks.

"My performances are for the mother with a gay son who is hiding, afraid of what the community will say. They are for the gays and lesbians who are always dealing with homophobic slurs and who sometimes do not make it home."

"People know what these colours represent without me having to tell them."

Mbatsha also works with organisations who fight against all forms of bullying. "I also teach dance and body awareness to young people. Representation is important and I want young people to embrace themselves rather than being ashamed."

Coming from a family with strong cultural traditions, Mbatsha also faced challenges coming out. "I did all that was required from me by my culture, and went through circumcision, but my culture tries to silence us. I pay homage, but my experience and sexuality must not be silenced."

His friend Zimasile Mjokozile said they have received better treatment in Cape Town than in their village in the Eastern Cape. "The city is more friendly, in the village we have to put on an act. Also, in our language, there is no friendly word for gays or lesbians. All the words are degrading. We must find new words that accommodate us."

The performances will continue until the middle of December when Mbatsha goes on holiday.

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