SETABANE: TAKING BACK POWER FOR THE LGBTQI+ COMMUNITY
June 26, 2019
Public space can be harrowing for the LGBTQ+ community as we are often made to feel either strange or unwelcome in our embodiment of queerness.
Devious stares, fetishization… these are things that we experience within public space. We feel the gaze narrowing in on us as I kiss a girl in the dimly lit bar and a 20-something-year-old white cis-gendered male is staring at me and my partner.
Online is not much better, I’m afraid. When I came out publicly online, an ex attacked me brutally with homophobic slurs. If only this was as far as the violence projected itself. Unfortunately, so many of my fellow members of the queer community have experienced pains and violence so much more than this; unspeakable acts of violence.
Sure, we can all agree that queer culture is present in every aspect of culture (a diluted term that has practically lost all sense of meaning), but it is, in my opinion, a surface-level acceptance. Then, there are initiatives such as Setabane. An online space of acceptance, Setabane gives a voice to the members of the LGBTQ+ community within Botswana to speak their truth as well as archive their narratives of queer resilience.
Each account on Setabane is self-narrated, allowing individuals the ability to self-represent within the collective representation of previously stifled voices. Brilliant Kodie has taken “setabane,” a derogatory term in Setswana for a gay person, as the name of the digital platform thereby taking back its power. “Setabane has always been that one word that always made me uncomfortable to live my truth, because every time it’s uttered I would be reminded of my past where it was always used when I was being bullied.”
In a spearhead ruling by Botswana’s High Court, same-sex relations were decriminalized last week, making Botswana the seventh country within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the 22nd within Africa to do so. Section 164 of the country’s Penal Code, inherited from colonialism, criminalized same-sex intimacy and individuals found guilty of this act could face up to seven years of jail time. Botswana is now among an increasing number of African countries that have decriminalized same-sex relations including Angola.
Setabane grew from a need for an accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community and their stories specifically within Botswana where, up until recently, same-sex intimacy was criminalized. Poems, letters, affirmations share a space of acceptance and kindness bearing light to the links and strategically composed systems and policies of oppression.
On the change in recent legislation, Kodie shares: “With gay sex being decriminalized, I believe this amendment of the penal code gives us the confidence we have been lacking as the LGBTQI in Botswana. Being backed by the constitution is going to enable us to indeed deem ourselves as equals with the heterosexuals and it also proves that indeed homosexuality is African and it’s part of the African narrative.
“Setabane wants to focus on telling more stories and increasing our visibility online because what seems to be lacking in education amongst the societies we belong to. Batswana deserve to know our stories and understand that we are normal just like them.”