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Lesego Tlhabi is Coconut Kelz: "We need to keep the Blacks away from our suburbs."

Coconut Kelz is the hilarious political satirist shaking up all things to do with race in South Africa.

Three years ago, Black students at the Pretoria Girls' High protested after they were told that their natural hair was not in line with the school's obviously racist hair codes.

Thirty-year-old Lesego Tlhabi, whose day job was a television script writer at the time, found herself seeing the same old tired comments on social media, especially from white people. She posted her own long rants hoping that people would see why the high school was being racist. It wasn't until she created the over-the-top character that is Coconut Kelz that she started gaining traction.

If you haven't come across one of Coconut Kelz's videos on social media yet, you're missing out on South African political comedy and satire at its very best. The wig-wearing, white-people-can't-do-no wrong Coconut Kelz is the poster child for the White political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Once you get over the ridiculousness of Coconut Kelz, you begin to see how she attempts to highlight a variety of South Africa's social and political issues in a way that people can easily understand. For those who find themselves scoffing at her comedy, it's usually because she's white (I mean right) and has probably hit a nerve.

We ventured to the suburb of Sandton to catch up with both Lesego and Coconut Kelz.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


How would you as Lesego describe Coconut Kelz? Give me just three words.

She's passionate, ill-informed but likable.

I think South Africans and Africans in general are familiar with the concept of a coconut. For everyone else, what is a coconut, especially with reference to Coconut Kelz?

Coconut Kelz is Black but her political affiliation and standard for herself is all Caucasian-inspired. It's all to do with White people. She thinks how they vote, how they speak, how they think and what they say is the best. She just doesn't identify with anything to do with Blackness. I went to school with a lot of Black people like this.

Coconut Kelz x H&Mwww.youtube.com

What was that one thing you wanted to become and is it in contrast to Coconut Kelz?

From the jump, I knew I wanted to be on stage, I just didn't know how. When I was six, I used to make my parents sit down and watch me do a show at home for the family and when my grandmother would come visit. Everything that has led up to this moment has been in my dream journal, in the bucket list, in my vision board—everything. I just think it's weird because I didn't think my career would be in a character.

You were told to rather stay behind the scenes and yet you're so insanely talented. Where do you think the industry is getting it wrong?

In South Africa, it's really about the looks which is also not to say that people in the industry don't have talent. I automatically get the role of someone's funny or sassy best friend. I think that they get it wrong in terms of plus size women can't be lead roles. And so many comedians will have a set that sounds self-deprecating because it's a defense mechanism in a way and I get it.

But personally, none of my jokes are about weight or size. I won't allow myself to be a punchline.

Tonight with Jane Dutton | Coconut Kelz discusses the state of the nation | 18 March 2019www.youtube.com

Usually when South Africans think of political satire, Zapiro and his racist cartoons come to mind first. Do you think you have peers in the political satire game?

If I were to say I have a peer, I would say it's more something like Chester Missing, I guess, although he's a puppet and Kelz is a real human being. I think Evita Bezuidenhout passed the baton to the two of us in a sense. And maybe even Trevor Noah now that he's doing The Daily Show.

I didn't set out to be a comedian and I think that's okay. I just wanted to comment on politics but in a satirical way.

Our national election is on the 8th of May. We all know who Coconut Kelz will vote for. What about Lesego?

I just think we need to shake up the majority shareholding, if you will. When I look at Ramaphosa and the ANC, I feel like there's something suspicious if White people like you a lot. Who is he protecting? I think even though Zuma was as corrupt as he was and I really didn't enjoy his time in power, his Blackness really irritated White people.

I kind of had positive things about the EFF when they first came out. But for me, a party that starts from a jilted ex-member doesn't really bode well. Same with Patricia de Lille and the DA.

I'll never, ever, ever vote for the DA. That just will never happen. I think my vote is leaning somewhere at the United Democratic Front. I just don't want to waste my vote.

Coconut Kelz x #PresidentsKeeperwww.youtube.com

As Lesego, do you think that Apartheid would come back under the DA as some Black South Africans fear?

Not really, well economically speaking. I do think there'd be a lot of things that would make life super itchy for us though. I know that a lot of people who work at certain companies wouldn't even look at a Black person's CV. I mean most of the Black people I know are twice qualified at the minimum and yet some white people don't even have a Matric and they would still be looked at first.

And as Coconut Kelz?

I don't mind watching it come back. I think it was wonderful actually because it just kept the Black's away from our suburbs. Now look, you just came here with your scary dreads and security didn't even ask me. The DA would clean up the streets and make South Africa great again.

On that note, what are you hoping to achieve with your election special with BET Africa?

First and foremost, I always want to make people laugh. I mainly just went around the different neighborhoods (as Coconut Kelz) and just spoke to mainly young people about who they want to vote for and what is it they want in a government.

There was some playing around with them calling them maids and whatever. Some people knew me before the interview, so it was playful. But, one girl wanted to fight me because I told her we were both wearing wigs because we both wanted to be White.

COCONUT KELZ ELECTION SPECIAL PARKHURSTwww.youtube.com

A number of White people really don't find you funny. Why do you think that is?

I actually deal with more White people who enjoy the content than those who don't. But I think the honest reason why they don't find my content funny is because they may see themselves in it and they don't want to change their thinking and are of course offended by it. Black people also get very offended because they think I'm making fun of Black struggle. And I'm not. I'm actually using Black struggle as the content, but making fun of the White upper-middle class.

What are your big plans for Coconut Kelz right now?

Donovan Goliath was the person on my list and I worked with him this weekend and he was so dope because I've always been such a fan. That was the bucket list moment of my life. Obviously, I'd like to work with more female comedians like Celeste Ntuli and Tumi Morake.

I'd love to do a daily show of sorts on a weekly basis. I would love to interview people as Coconut Kelz because she's a lot more fun. I've also been asked to do this gig in Botswana with SADC region comedians from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. I want to broaden the audience and maybe even have an American segment and make fun of them too, you know.

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Photo by Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

8 Queer-Owned African Fashion Brands to Check Out For Pride

In honor of pride month, we highlight eight African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

In the last decade, there have been an emergent of fashion designers who aren’t just queer but have aligned their fashion vision with their identity, creating demystifying collections and criss-crossing their concepts and ideologies to represent the inscape of non-conformity, fluidity, queerness and androgyny — whilst maintaining a quick balance with their cultural roots. Despite the numerous fabric experimentations and collections, these designers never forget to tell stories that align with them, especially those that resonate with queer people in queer unfriendly countries.

In honor of pride month, OkayAfrica highlights 8 African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

Rich Mnisi

South African designer Rich Mnisi is part of a new wave of designers putting African stories on the global map. Founded in 2015, the brand Rich Mnisi is immersed at offering fluid expression to gender, celebrating youthful excellence and exploring extremist design elements with minimalist cultural tailoring. For pride month, the brand released a limited edition capsule titled “Out." The capsule visualizes a fine-line between elegance and fluidity whilst boldly emphasizing on the act of struggle and resilience as an outfit.

Udiahgebi

For a fashion brand like Udiahgebi, identity is very important. And offering that form of visibility to femme queer Nigerians is not just a form of visual activism but a detailed story of essence. The brand was founded by Emerie Udiahgebi, a gender non-forming fashion designer who wanted to give queer, non-binary and non-conforming individuals more options to express themselves fashionably. Udiahgebi’s fashion concept is extremely bold, fierce, and unconventional.

Lagos Space Programme

Designer Adeju Thompson fuses traditionalist concepts with genderless possibilities. Founded in 2018, Lagos Space Programme is a gender-neutral fashion brand that enveloped aesthetic designs using local craftsmanship. The brand appreciates West African unique fabric and communicates compelling stories of identity, gender and queerness — a ideology that has garnered them not just audience but earned them a spot at the LVMH prize.

Muyishime

Patrick Muyishime is a fashion innovator. Not only does he know how to source excellent fabrics but his designs are authentically vibrant. Founded in 2016, Muyishime is a Kenyan fashion label that introduces conversations surrounding androgynous and explores aesthetically fabric inventions that commands fluidity, feminine wiles and constructive elegance.

Bola Yahaya

Founded in 2019, Bola Taofeek Yahaya's fashion label aligns thought provoking pieces that elevate the discusses around queer representation, sexuality and feminity. The brands merges sustainability and explore eccentric fabric experimentations.

Nao Serati

Founded by South African designer Nao Serati Mofammere in 2014, the fashion brand Nao Serati explores the versatility of gender and the fine margin of sexuality whilst finding its balance with their South African heritage. Mofammere wants his brand to explore masculinity and the different ways it takes to wear a fragile look.

Vangei

Lolu Vangei has different recipes to gender fluidity and she has used fashion to express that. Founded in 2018, Vangei is a fashion label that unites modern ideology of afro-centricism to produce pieces that dismantle cliched ideas about gender.

Mayetobs

There is no explaining the sort of talent Emmanuel Tobiloba possesses. Founded in 2020, Mayetobs' eccentric approach in reinstating androgynous norms is interesting. From oversized pants that speaks of fabric maximalism to fast flowing robes, the fashion brand is an ode to redefining modern masculinity.

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Photo Credit: Screengrab from Ìfé

The 10 Best African LGBTQ+ Films to Watch This Pride Month

From lesbian love stories to documentaries about South African queer love, here is a list of LGBTQ+ films to watch for Pride month.

Historically, LGBTQ+ films have never been in the mainstream in countries around Africa, mainly because of the intolerance of the various film industries around the continent.

However, over the past decade, there has been progress, with significant representation of LGBTQ+ people on screen. These examples come mostly from independent filmmakers within several countries in the continent. But it hasn't been easy. Throughout Africa, there have been laws that not only ban these films but put a jail term that punishes the filmmakers who have put efforts to produce a nuance story of the lived experiences of queer people in films.

To celebrate the efforts of these filmmakers and to acknowledge these thought provoking stories that are inspired from the realities of LGBTQ+ individuals, OkayAfrica put in a list on the 10 LGBTQ+ films to watch for Pride month.

Braids on a Bald Head (2010)

Braids on a Bald Head is an award-winning Nigerian film directed by Isahaya Bako. It tells the story of a submissive wife who does everything for her husband. But having a new neighbor, who is much different from her, begins to change her perception. When things in her marriage get sour, she finds the strength to ask for better treatment after an experience that makes her question her sexuality.

Difficult Love (2010)

Zanele Muholi’s power as an artist and activist is beyond this planet. Difficult Love introduces us to Muholi’s life, while capturing the lives of several Black lesbians and their lived experiences in South Africa.

Coming out of the Nkuta (2011)

Coming out of the Nkuta tells the tale of a Cameroonian defense attorney who boldly defends arrested queer folks. The heartbreaking documentary speaks about the situation in Cameroon and the LGBTQ community who live in great fear.

Stories of Our Lives (2014)

Created by an art collective in Nairobi called The Nest Collective, Stories of Our Lives details the lived experiences of queer people in Kenya. The movie is an anthology that features five short films.

While You Weren’t Looking (2014)

While You Weren’t Looking aligns queerness with race and speaks on the struggle of queer women in South Africa. Twenty years after apartheid, two lesbian couples who live in Cape Town get separated. While they explore their different lives apart, their adopted daughter gets caught up in her own world, exploring her bi-sexuality. Her dilemma? She isn’t black enough — something her girlfriend helps her navigate.

Reluctantly Queer (2016)

Akosua Adoma Owusu'sReluctantly Queer, an eight minute short film, tells the story of a young Ghanaian man who struggles to keep two personal-contrasting factors balanced: his love for his mother and his sexuality.

The Wound (2017)

Directed by John Trengove, The Wound is a powerful movie that navigates masculinity. The movie is centered around a group of young boys from South Africa who get sent to a rural, remote camp where they will be initiated into manhood, in various ways.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2018)

We Don’t Live Here Anymore centers on two teenage boys who are caught in a romantic scandal that turns into tragedy. The film shows the reality of the class divide that exists in Nigeria and the capitalist hypocrisy that is accompanied with it.

Ìfé (2020)

Ìfé is a fascinating film that shows the intimacy between two queer women. The movie uses dialogue to tell the story of two women navigating a homophobic society. Written and directed by Uyaiedu Ike-Etim — and produced by Pamela Adie — the 37- minutes film communicates love and family.

Country Love (2022)

Wapah Ezeigwe's Country love is a story about two men who, after years of being apart, rekindle their love. But everything doesn’t go as planned. In the end, one is wafting for continuity, the other pirouettes away because of societal perception towards queerness. The film is a joyful celebration of the femme identity and communicates themes like departure, homophobia and the frill of belonging.

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Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

This Photographer is Capturing the Femininity of Congo’s La Sape Movement

Once a male-centric domain, women in Congo are disturbing the gender boundaries of La Sape, and photojournalist Victoire Douniama wants them recognized.

Even though the African fashion industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves, many under-the-surface subcultures that foster community and creativity expression still exist. One of those subcultures thrive in the Republic of Congo, where Congolese dandy culture, called La Sape (La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes), finds provenance.

Its history dates back to the early 1920s and 1930s during the period of the French colonial era. Notably, it was a form of protest against French colonialism. La Sape or Sapologie is a movement of unique complexity. It is more than just a catwalk of sapeurs who dress ostentatiously in colorful suits but represents the socioeconomic and political knot that ties the population.

Messani Grace in blue tux

Messani Grace, in a tuxedo. She says: "My husband is a sapeur as well and he is part of the main reason I feel confident to do this because he supports me alot and teaches me all I need to know about fashion."

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Since its inception, La Sape has had a masculine presence. Although women showed interest in La Sape, it was strictly reserved for men. Congolese women were expected to wear African print dresses and be housekeepers. Despite the challenges and backlash, a group of Congolese women kept challenging the status quo, fighting for their style of expression. Today, hundreds of women have joined the movement, dressing in suits, tuxedos, and bow ties.

Victoire Douniama wearing white

As a photojournalist, Victoire Douniama centers her project on female sapeurs because there was a gap in representation by other photographers.

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Documenting these women is Congolese photojournalist Victoire Douniama. Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Douniama has always been inclined towards art from a young age. She was inspired by her older sister’s sketchbook. “I was so fascinated by her art and her drawing talent," Douniama told OkayAfrica. "So visual arts has always been a passion of mine." Douniama's gift for drawing was evident by fifth grade and ,during her adolescent years, she developed a passion for photography.

As she settled back in the Republic of Congo, she was struck by the lack of representation of the nation in the media which mostly depicted negative aspects of the country. For Douniama, centering her craft in her native country is important, as it not only represents her roots but also it's an opportunity to use her passion to showcase the rich natural resources and cultures of the Congo. The neighboring country, Democratic Republic of the Congo, has also been a stage for Douniama to practice her work alongside various NGOs.

\u200bTsiba Mary Jane wears blue suit

Tsiba Mary Jane works as a thrift cloth vendor at the market of Mikalou in Brazzaville. He says: “I use my hair as a form of identity, as you can tell my hair is colored green, yellow, and red. Which represents the Congolese flag."

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Her tenacity is certainly unmatched as she navigates her craft in a country faced with various economic challenges, especially since the pandemic. Being an independent photographer under such hurdles can be discouraging for some, but her portfolio speaks for itself. When asked about her secret to success, she said: “You have to develop your own style and clients will hire if it corresponds to their brand."

Of the various projects under Douniama's belt is her photo journal, Les Saupeuse du Congo. For Douniama, La Sape is more than just a fashion statement. She recognizes the political elements of the visuals. The emergence of female sapeurs is revolutionary and, without a doubt, impressive.

“It originated as a political protest during the colonial era and a movement that called for change in Congo Brazzaville and the DRC," Douniama said. “It challenges the conservative role of women in Congo and it normalizes freedom of expression, which is vital for Congolese people to become more open-minded."

Kourissa and her son Okili Dojido

A portrait of Kourissa and her son Okili Dojido at a funeral outside a home at “La tchiemé.”

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

As a photojournalist, Douniama centers her project on female sapeurs because there was a gap in representation by other photographers. “I wanted to give the ladies a space to share their experiences and what exactly inspired them to join this movement, and how people within their societal circle responded to this," she said. "Because at some point, this conservative movement was only reserved for men."

This photo project has given her a look into the dynamic of La Saupeuse and their self-fashioning practices. The exuberant sapeuse is in her mid '30s to early '50s. She’s a wife, mother, and can be found in various walks of life as a market vendor, police officer, thrift clothes vendor, or government official. She carves her hair into an undercut or taper fade, with touches of different dye, borrowing masculine-considered accouterments and accessories like smoking pipes, hats, and umbrellas.

In colorful suave suits, these women are overturning gender norms, which require them to dress in traditional “lady-like” attire known as Liputta — a bold move for a conservative country as Congo. For this reason, regardless of how liberal much of society has become, some women are scorned, discriminated against, or even receive backlash.

So, can Les Saupeuse translate into a social upgrade for the lives of Congolese women? As the world continues to interrogate patriarchal standards, it’s a movement that is still forging its identity within the culture. “Many people did not think women can do all of this," Douniama said. "That is why they mostly wanted women to be reserved and submissive."

Film
(YouTube)

10 African Documentary Films You Should Check Out

Featuring Music Is Life, African Moot, Cesária Évora and many more.

For its 24th edition, the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival,running from June 23 to July 3, returns to physical locations in Johannesburg and Cape Town for the first time in two years. OkayAfrica took a deep dive into the festival’s program and presents ten of the most anticipated films playing. You don’t want to miss these titles.

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