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Here are 5 Contemporary South African Books by Queer Writers You Need to Read

These daring books by queer writers describe the intersectionality of identities in LGBTQ culture.

Representation matters. In the same way that the voices of Black and African writers have been necessary in revolutionizing the world of literature and pushing back against dominant Eurocentric narratives, it has been equally important to witness the rise in stories that speak to the lives and experiences of queer people.


The works of writers such as Chinua Achebe, Es'kia Mphahlele,Tsitsi Dangarembga and Buchi Emecheta have undoubtedly produced seminal works which have cast African Literature into the spotlight.

5 Books by African Writers You Need To Read This Summer

However, the work of writers such as the late Binyavanga Wainaina and even a contemporary such as Romeo Origun, have endeavored to go further and reconcile what it means to be African and queer against the backdrop where so many having portrayed the two as mutually exclusive identities. This also extends South African writers, of course. For far too long, queer people have been excluded from literature and prevented from telling their own stories in their own way. The tide is turning and the past two decades have seen the steady increase in the number of works produced by queer people—and it's been yet another glorious revolution.

From the works of the late K. Sello Duiker to one of South Africa's most successful poetry books by Koleka Putuma, here are just five (there are plenty more) books which center the narrative of queer people.

'Collective Amnesia' by Koleka Putuma

"How many abortions have fallen out of your mouth while counting the men in your life?" These are among the first words that the reader is confronted with in Putuma's debut collection of poems. Her exploration of womanhood, Blackness, queerness, traditionalism, trauma and everything in between has been so incredibly compelling that Collective Amnesia is the first poetry collection to have a 9th print run in the country. The collection has even been translated into Spanish and adopted as reading material for students across the country. Women protesting against the rampant gender-based violence in the country have often used Putuma's words, "I don't want to die with my hands up or legs open" as an impassioned plea to have their voices heard. One of the many notable poems, No Easter Sunday for Queers, was developed into a theatrical production which was showcased at Joburg's Market Theater back in August of this year. African Books Collective has rightly described Putuma's work as "incendiary poems [that] demand justice, insist on visibility and offer healing."

'Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction', an anthology by MaThoko Books

Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction is a South African collection of 18 queer stories by writers from all over the African continent which was published by MaThoko Books, an imprint of the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), a center for LGBT culture and education in South Africa. This evocative collection of stories which portray queerness in varied settings has been described as a celebration of the "diversity and fluidity of queer and African identities, offering a sometimes radical re­-imagining of life on the continent." Back in 2014, It was awarded the Lambda Literary Award in the "Best Anthology" category and has become influential in the teaching of queer theory at a number of universities in South Africa.

'The Quiet Violence of Dreams' by K. Sello Duiker

The late Duiker is one of the greatest South African writers there ever was. He was a writer that was unafraid to plunge into the abysmal depths of human emotions and write them on paper as genuinely as he felt them. Before he died, he published Thirteen Cents and The Quiet Violence of Dreams. The latter was a raw and haunting book that followed the life of its main character, Tshepo, a young university student who is troubled by his mind after a past traumatic event in his life. He delves into the world of sex work and grapples with his sexuality, spirituality and what seem to be mythical powers in his possession. It is admittedly a heavy read which transports the reader to a place that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. South African writer Siphiwo Mahala described Duiker as being "to literature what Steve Biko is to politics, both having died at the tender age of thirty but leaving indelible footprints in our collective memory."

'You've Got to be Gay to Know God' by Siyathokoza Khumalo

The contents of this book is as provocative as its title. It is in part a biography of sorts which sees Khumalo describing to the reader personal accounts of what life was like as a young boy trying to figure out his sexuality at a same-sex school. Additionally, the book provides commentary on a number of important topics including religion, politics, sexuality and patriarchy. Speaking in an interview, Khumalo says the book was supposed to be a "nice, polite book for Christians about the Bible" and spoke about queer people finding meaning in the same organised religion that often condemned them. It is an honest and unapologetic work that has been praised by some and criticized by others because of the uncomfortable conversations it confronts directly and unflinchingly.

'Black Bull, Ancestors and Me' by Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde

This memoir tells the story of Nkabinde who is held in high esteem because she is a sangoma (traditional healer) but also treated with contempt because she is lesbian. It is yet another work that speaks to the challenges and discomfort that come with intersectional identities especially when one of those identities is still considered "unAfrican". The book details a number of the traditional practices and rituals that sangomas engage in as the healers in their communities while also describing the hardships and indignities that Nkabinde herself endures because of her sexuality.

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In Ghana, there is a staunch stereotype that comes with riding a motorcycle. The notion persists that people who ride them are vagabonds, criminals, and social misfits. This mindset has slowly festered and is now deep-rooted in the typical Ghanaian society. Aside from the negatives, there is the fear for life when one mounts a motorcycle and, as such, many Ghanaian homes have been against motorbikes.

Enter Jessica Opare-Saforo, who is redefining what this means with Biker Girls Gh, a women-led biker collective she founded in 2018. In a fairly conservative society like Ghana, to see women riding around freely attracted quite the attention.

However, be it one of indignance or admiration, Opare-Saforo didn’t really care about the conjecture people had about the group. “For me, creating this group wasn’t about what people thought," Opare-Saforo tells OkayAfrica. "OK, if you thought women weren’t supposed to ride. That was your headache, not mine.”

How it all began

motorcycle

Most bikes are manufactured with men’s physique in mind. Women might find it difficult to find the right fit for them.

Photo Courtesy of Biker Girls Gh

Biker Girls Gh was created after Opare-Saforo's mother passed away in February 2018. Losing someone she was extremely close to devastated her and she found solace on the wheels of a motorcycle.

“I lost my mother and I figured, you know, I had this passion that I wanted to pursue for the longest time. And I felt you only live once. Why don't you just embark on something that you have always wanted to do?," Opare-Saforo said. "Because time is not given. And, tomorrow's not guaranteed.”

She reached out to Rosina Kwawukume Ashirifie, one of the very few women actively biking at the time. Ashirifie's husband offered biking lessons and Opare-Saforo learned from there. Over time, Opare-Saforo found that being on bike helped alleviate her pain.

“On the motorcycle, you cannot multitask," she said. “So whenever I was on a motorcycle, I didn’t think about her and the pain too much. That helped me cope better. You just learn to live with the pain and hope they are in a better place.”

Biker Girls Gh riding in streets

“Before you officially join the group, we take you out on a fun ride to assess how you ride and also gel with the girls," Opare-Saforo said. "This is done like three times."

Photo Courtesy of Biker Girls Gh

She decided then to form a community of women who simply loved riding like herself. Interestingly, she didn’t have to convince women to join. Representation really does matter. Women got the nudge they needed when they saw her — unapologetically being herself — on the motorcycle.

“You would see people on television or maybe on the internet who would ride and you'd think, 'Oh, that's such an interesting sport or an interesting hobby to have.' But you would think it was out of reach," Opare-Saforo said. "'Till you realize your next-door neighbor is a female rider and then you‘re like, 'Oh, wait, it's not so far out of reach.' And then you say to yourself, 'OK, this is something I can do, too.’”

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The group doesn’t offer bike lessons and new members must have their own motorcycles as a prerequisite. They must also be experienced riders or ideally be above beginner level. A motorcycling license is also a prerequisite.

“Before you officially join the group, we take you out on a fun ride to assess how you ride and also gel with the girls," Opare-Saforo said. "This is done like three times."

Charitable Ladies on the Bike

A group of women in bike group

Biker Girls Gh features bankers, content creators, electrical engineers, managing directors, and CEOs.

Photo Courtesy of Biker Girls Gh

A noticeable feature of the group is how most of the women come from different professional backgrounds. There are bankers, content creators, electrical engineers, managing directors, and CEOs. Targeting this peculiar bevy of ladies was deliberate for Opare-Saforo. She didn’t want to be like other groups, so standing out was imperative to the group.

“Being able to pull women from various spheres of life helps us and gives us the necessary leverage we need to move further,” she said.

The core objective of the group has always been about riding. But they have also embraced philanthropy. In 2019, they rode all the way from Accra to Prampram where they donated immensely to the Kinder Paradise Orphanage. In 2021, they paid the medical bills of women stuck in the hospital for owing medical fees and donated to prison inmates at Akuse who couldn’t afford healthy meals. They also collaborated with the “Kenkey for the Needy” project in 2022 to provide food for street kids in Accra.

Inspirational sisters spurring each other up

black women with mask

The core objective of Biker Girls Gh has always been about riding. But they have also embraced philanthropy.

Photo Courtesy of Biker Girls Gh

The camaraderie and sisterhood in the group is profound, which encapsulate a solid support system that inspire members to be the best versions of themselves.

“Ninety-five percent of the group are in leadership or mid-level roles in their respective careers,” Opare-Saforo said. “We have a WhatsApp group where we discuss socio-economic issues, sometimes issues concerning women just to stimulate the sisterhood. Once a month, we meet to have breakfast or lunch to catch up. We do acknowledge that times are hard in Ghana and everyone is struggling. Sometimes you don’t just want to text anything in a WhatsApp group but if you meet your sister you can tell her about it.”

Beyond that, personal friendships are also forming within the group which just firmly grounds the group the more. Biker Girls Gh are currently 17 women and Opare-Saforo iterates the fact that she doesn’t care about the number necessarily — all she strives for is quality in the group.

Photo by: Yuri Kriventsoff

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According to the Morocco World News, the Moroccan government is optimistic that this new development will help to improve the lifestyles of farmers, and increase their livelihoods amid a growing legal global market for the element. The global cannabis demand is growing and is projected to reach over US$ 100 billion in the next five years. If more African countries legalize legal cannabis, the industry could be worth more than $7 billion by 2023.

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Before the legalization was implemented, Moroccan farmers indicated that they wanted the implementation to be sped up. In an earlier statement, Mohamed Abbout, head of the Rif Mountains Association said that the legalization would be a step in the right direction for the country

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