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QUEER LEGENDS

Ditsie remembers Simon on film

Nkoli, the man who was instrumental for getting "sexual orientation" phrase in the non-discriminatory article in the Constitution, is remembered by Bev Ditsie


Film: Simon & I
by Beverley Palesa Ditsie and Nicky Newman, 52 minutes, South Africa

Photo: Director Beverley Ditsie with the late Simon Nkoli - STEPS Simon & I recounts the lives of two giants in the South African gay and lesbian liberation movement, Simon Nkoli and the film maker herself, Bev Ditsie. The story is narrated by Bev, both as a personal statement and a political history, as she charts their relationship through good times and bad against a backdrop of intense political activism and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Their converging and diverging lives are revealed in this heartfelt testament using a mixed format of interviews and archive footage of main events, stills and newspaper clips.

Chief role players such as Judge Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat are interviewed and give credence to Bevís portrayal of Simon Nkoli as a world leader, whose own history as a political activist legitimized gay activism in South Africa.

But, with Simonís HIV positive status and regular illnesses, the increasing emphasis on issues to do with AIDS resulted in a loss of momentum within the gay and lesbian liberation movement itself. Bev recounts how she started to feel marginalized from the organization, both as a woman and as a black person.

Bev pieces together the story of her personal and political journey from her days as a lonely and isolated Tomboy in Soweto to her present occupation as an activist, filmmaker and musician. She met Simon when, aged 17, she attended the first meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) where she remembers how impressed she was by his leadership qualities and political clout. He had just been released after four years in detention.

At the first Pride March the following year in 1990, Simon made the speech that was to have an everlasting impact on Bev. She saw that her oppression was two fold, first as a lesbian and then as black. She aligned herself to Simonís personal struggle when he declared "I must fight for both".

The film bears witness to the role of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in lobbying for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Bill of Rights and ultimately in the new Constitution. Nevertheless, after the fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing, Bev left GLOW, angry that members of her own movement did not see why they should be represented at such an event. She and Simon became estranged as he increasingly came to represent people living with AIDS.

Reconciled shortly before his death in 1998, these formidable characters bear witness to the enormous sacrifices required of human rights activism. This searing testament shows us two different, powerful personalities, but only one struggle. ©SABC/STEPS


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