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Biography of Simon TSEKO NKOLI

South Africa > Arts : Simon TSEKO NKOLI

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Biography :

Simon Tseko Nkoli (Nov 26,1957-Nov 30,1998), was  one of Africa's most prominent gay and AIDS activists.In 1990 Nkoli became one of the first South African activists to publicly acknowledge his HIV-positive status.Simon Nkoli was a founder member of National Coalition For Gay and Lesbian in South Africa. Equality which is now known as the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and he lived to see the rights of lesbian and gay people enshrined in the Constitution and in law.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. Nkoli was the subject of Robert Colman's 2003 play, "Your Loving Simon" and Beverley Ditsie's 2002 film "Simon & I".
The September 1999 pride march was dedicated to him and included a stop at the newly named "Simon Nkoli Corner" at the intersection of Pretoria and Twist Streets in Johannesburg.

Playful and irreverent, Nkoli inspired the devotion of South African progressives from all backgrounds and drew an international following.

 Nkoli was born on November 26, 1957, in Soweto, he grew up in Bophelong township, near Sebokeng. After the 1976 Soweto youth uprising, he became an activist against apartheid. He was a founder of the Vaal Civic Association, and regional secretary of the Congress of SA Students in 1981.

After coming out in an interview with City Press (1981), in 1983 he joined the mainly white Gay Association of South Africa (GASA), then he formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa.
Nkoli was arrested in 1984. He faced the death penalty with 21 other political leaders in the Delmas treason trial. The activists were accused of furthering the aims of the banned African National Congress and South African Communist Party.

Before his arrest, Nkoli was open about his homosexuality. By courageously standing up for gay rights while a prisoner, he helped change the attitude of the ANC. He was acquitted and released from prison after four years, in late 1987.

Nkoli founded the mainly black Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) in April 1988. In 1990, Nkoli helped organise the first annual Pride march in Johannesburg. The most recent march, in September, attracted 15,000 participants.

He was a key activist, educator and counsellor in Soweto's Township AIDS Project from its establishment in 1990.

After South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, Nkoli was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela. In 1996, after becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, he initiated the Positive African Men peer support group.

A leading personality in the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, he campaigned to retain the inclusion of sexual orientation in the charter of fundamental freedoms in the new South African constitution, and the May 1998 repeal of the sodomy laws.

Nkoli visited Sydney twice, speaking at meetings sponsored by Gay Solidarity and Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

In the months before his death, he was concerned with the anti-homosexual campaigns in neighbouring Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana and Zambia. Nkoli was also threatening to begin a hunger strike in the Department of Health offices to protest its refusal to make treatments for HIV more available.

Terror Lekota, now national chair of the ANC and fellow Delmas defendant, said that despite initial hostility, “All of us acknowledge that Simon's coming out was an important learning experience ... How could we say that men and women like Simon, who had put their shoulders to the wheel to end apartheid, should now be discriminated against?”

Nkoli's funeral in Sebokeng on December 12 was attended by more than 1000 people. As a mark of their understanding of Simon's relationship, the family had asked Rod, his lover, to kill the ox as part of the funeral ritual.

Simon Nkoli's passing is an immense blow to the more that three million people with HIV in South Africa, and to the struggle for gay and lesbian freedom across southern Africa. As the official statement by the ANC concluded: “We should pay tribute to him for his courageous fight for people's rights by continuing his important battle to support and protect those living with HIV/AIDS.”
 Nkoli was the subject of Robert Colman's 2003 play, "Your Loving Simon" and Beverley Ditsie's 2002 film "Simon & I".

Last update : 06/29/2008

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