A disaster looms when politicians who have partisan party affiliations are perceived as spokespersons for all.
By Melanie Nathan, May 29, 2012.
Mr. Gay South Africa is a privately run enterprise, a competition, a money maker, with lucrative sponsorships and a keen eye on the next “South African LGBTI Ambassador.” While the competition has provided a great opportunity for visibility to the South African gay community and has done well to take up local issues through the forwarding of platform causes for contestants and by providing donations to local South African NGO’s, it is not an organization that fits its mission statement. This is proved here on two levels. Firstly, the nature of the competition speaks for itself and secondly through the alienating remarks and silencing tactics of the organizer and the winner of the 2011 contest during the gay community’s time of need.
The Mission Statement for Mr. Gay SA reads:- “Mr. Gay South Africa™ is a registered competition aiming to find an ambassador and spokesperson for LGBTI rights in South Africa.”
Yet by its very nature and name it cannot claim this mission.
According to the company director Mr. Coenie Kukkuk, in a 2009 online announcement, “the Company was formed after numerous discussions with interested parties in the South African Beauty Pageant industry. It was realised that a need exists to have a well organised, well presented, well supported pageant for gay men in South Africa.”
In introducing the newly formed brand at the time, attorney Coenie Kukkuk, Mr. Gay SA director, was very clear in his choice of words, finding the formation of Mr GAY SA in the misfortune and failure of other pageants as he notes:-
“In the past various attempts were made with various successes and failures. We went about finding out what the reasons for this were. Many issues arose from these discussions. The major problems/issues in the past were (1) lack of professionalism on the part of the organisers (2) the disrespect towards the gay community where people are just chosen to represent the SA gay community randomly and (3) the disrespect towards the contestants and sponsors…. With this in mind a few players in the industry got together to discuss this at length and decided to do something positive about it so the newly registered and trademarked Mr. Gay South Africa was formed to try and rectify this situation.”
Right at the outset MR GAY SA exhibits business competitiveness and hence divisiveness. What this demonstrates is alienating tactics which over the years permeated on many levels in the LGBTI community. It prevents others from sharing the spoils of the lucrative industry by not itself being an NGO and what better way to do it than to market one’s brand in a manner that purports to “own” the nation’s gay voice. Most will believe it, especially when one cross-brands with one seemingly uunconnected brand promoting another. (Mr. GAY SA / The Pink Loerie/ GayEzine.)
Trademarking the name Mr. GAY South Africa for private or corporate ownership and then using the brand to find the next Gay ambassador for all of South Africa is a marketing dream. Soon all would believe that this ambassadorship and brand in fact represented the South African Community, especially the overseas community who knows no better.
But nothing could be further from the truth Mr. Gay South africa is all but representative of South Africa’s LGBTI community. It is a drop in the ocean of South Africa’s diverse LGBTI groups.
Indeed from the very start of the Mr. GAY S.A. enterprise, the brand noted its intent in an online promo:-
“We need to celebrate the gay man in SA. We need to find a winner to represent us in the rest of the world. We need to find the MAN the entire gay community can look up to, support and love for the year of his reign – we have the systems in place and we are ready to take on the challenge to make the LGBTI community in SA proud. The Mr. Gay South Africa is ready and work have already started. ”
And then the absolute promise to divide the market place of pageants, Mr. Gay SA wanted to separate from the other pageants:-
We promise to run a fair and transparent pageant that will not only compare to the best in SA, but will outdo the best in SA.” noted Kukkuk.
That may have been perfectly fine and legitimate until the insertion of the slogan that the mission of the pageant is to find the ultimate ‘South African ambassador to represent all LGBTI rights’ in the country. However the organizers have failed miserably to include the whole country on many levels.
If you are not a gay man, if you are a lesbian, transgender, or if a GAY man and do not have a computer or the savvy to upload a You Tube Video, if you cannot afford R280.00 and another about R2,000 in time off work, travel expenses, transport, cell phone and clothes, then you are probably not qualified to be the next Mr. Gay South Africa, and hence are unlikely to be South Africa’s LGBTI Ambassador!
While Mr. GAY SA PTY LTD corners the pageantry market and sets all up to believe that this format of ambassador for sale selection and competition – shirtless muscle bound men – touting gym values – an occasional visit to Soweto – an AIDS clinic and some added self serving photo op – little more than a debutante with a cause, where is the room to recognize South Africa’s legitimate LGBTI spokespersons?
If you read on you will note that Mr. GAY S.A. is not only lacking inclusiveness but also systematically attempts to silence voices of those who do not fit their mold of activism.
I commend the occasional Mr. GAY SA auction and money that provides to select non-profits. The causes it supports are in need of the extra cash. The amounts which are donated remain unclear as this revelation has yet to form that part of the transparency that the group promised during its formation. Charitable missions in and of itself would provide a wonderful mission statement for the group, but instead the charity seems to be an aside or offshoot, with the quest for “MR GAY SA Ambassador to the World for all of SA LGBTI rights” being at the fore.
Well behind the rah rah and hoopla, star studded productions of the rich gay white man are poorly serviced Townships with many apt young gays, lesbians and transgender people who simply do not qualify and cannot afford to participate in the competition for an ambassador. By virtue of its very premise the pageant is exclusive and yet it seeks this ambassador for all?
Many South Africans are stunted by high priced internet access, lack of equipment, transport, unemployment and are often the survivors of harassment and hate crimes. They have no access and their voice is under represented not only in South Africa generally, but internationally and now even further with the isolating mission of MR GAY SA.
After 50 superficial qualifying questions, and a gathering at a production venue, Judges are brought into the competition some three days after the start to help effect what is left of the design – the actual winner from a whittled down group of 15 after so called regional contests that we barely hear about. They then pick the ‘ambassador’ for all of South African LGBTI interests to represent the country on LGBTI rights and human rights issues, without any real test of that person’s ability to fully represent all of the SA LGBTI interests:
Let us face facts as in the words of its director in 2009:- “The idea is not only to find the most gorgeous boy in the land we will look after him mentally, physically and emotionally groom him from top to toe during his reign. He will have the best there is to offer in SA and in return he will have to bring the best he can to the table as well.”
So here we have the handlers with Coenie Kukkuk in the lead, a man known for sending out cease and desist letters to those who complain about the pageant, who will “groom” our new ambassador, Coenie style – so he can lead us while the world thinks that is what South Africa has to offer; a pretty man with muscles and maybe some knowledge and experience of the issues that face the South African LGBTI community.
This paterfamilias – the father to us all – the ONE who will take care of us and rob us of self empowerment in so doing seems a lurking! In fact paterfamilias oozes out of every communication we see. In the style of Coenie Kukkuk and his Mr. GAY SA , this is just what we need as an all inclusive community. After all we are surrounded by paternalists- the Traditional leaders, – Mr. GAY SA- they will go at it and look after us all! Thanks, Mr. GSA, just what we need in South Africa – empowerment via paternalism, not to mention the Xenophobia and lest we forget, it will indeed be a good day when we separate our community too because that will give us even more power to be the commercial enterprise we strive to become!
But let’s play ball for a moment; if we were to lend any legitimacy to Mr. GAY SA with the benefit of the doubt for a single moment, to presume that the winner of the gallant pageant could indeed be considered a legitimate ambassador for LGBTI rights and the community at large, this latest winner has shown just how dangerous such presumed leadership could be to the South African LGBTI community:-
Lance Weyer (24), was the perfect winning candidate for the Mr. GAY SA Competition mould. His physical looks, body build, station in life and intelligence all clearly marking him for the win.
In fact it would seem that the Pty Ltd. had found an added advantage in Lance Weyer – an elected City official would certainly add legitimacy and pomp to the already elitist title.
Mr. GAY SA 2011, “Lance Weyer, a Democratic Alliance councillor from Buffalo City (East London) won the title of Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 in Johannesburg on Saturday 26 Nov. 2011. Lance also won the Bone Wear Model of the year prize as well as the SMS popular and Best Charity Work.”
But no pageant judge could have been expected to have the foresight – of what was about to occur even if they did know Weyer is a career politician.
Who could have known that the Traditional leaders of South Africa, under the leadership of MP Holomisa, would succeed in launching a review by the CRC of LGBTI rights which are enshrined the South African Constitution; and when the LGBTI community protested, who would have known that because a member of Lance Weyer’s political party denigrated the LGBT protests, Weyer himself would weigh in and alienate the LGBTI community, tallowing politics to usurp his reign as ambassador to ALL.
Giving a so called leadership position to a career politician who happens to have his career based on his party platform – that is the Democratic Alliance Party Platform, could indeed one day pit Lance Weyer in his so called ambassadorial capacity against the rest of the SA LGBTI community at large. And it did!
A leader in this position should be non-partisan and Weyer’s partisanship became abundantly clear when he attacked me for writing an article criticizing the DA MP Manny DeFreitas for mocking the LGBTI marches:
After I wrote the article I received this letter from Kukkuk followed by a threat from Lance Weyer via Kukkuk:
“—– Original Message —–
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 4:54 AM
Subject: NB: Recent Articles – SA Constitutional Discussions to Retract LGBTI Rights from Constitution
Hope you are well. (PS I want to keep this between us, so am not sharing with anyone). Perhaps you did you know, but Mr de Freitas is an openly gay man and his partner Steve Williams, the current Mr Mardi Gras Pink Loerie, was in the Jhb parade with me. Steve is also entering Mr GSA this year – the type of candidate (like Lance) out of the political ranks that we could not dream of having before. Manny is one of only two openly gay MPs that we have, who participate actively at gay events such as Mr GSA, Mr Gay World, Pink Loerie and others and it is very dangerous for the community to alienate him and loose a staunch ally. Not only that, if we attack him, it will justify the reasons why the other gay MPs (another 6 we know of) do not come out publicly. There are more at stake than just this issue.
I agree that his letter was perhaps not well thought through and that his wording was perhaps not well chosen, that it conveys a message that I am sure he did not intend, but he is actually one of only 2 openly gay allies we have inside Parliament.
And then this forward of a threat of Weyer to withdraw his support for the LGBT community simply on the basis of my criticizing the Manny Defreitas remarks against the LGBT community, accusing me of “bad taste” and the audacity to use his Democratic Alliance designation signature to sign off on the communication. In what capacity did Weyer write this piece? As Mr. Gay SA? As a DA Councillor? Well the letter was written to Coenie Kukkuk who passed it on to me. Conflicts of interest abound, dare I say:-
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:46 AM
Subject: bad taste
This is what is going to make people like myself, Manny and Ian step away from the LGBTI community.
COUNCILLOR LANCE C. WEYER
PR Councillor: Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality
Shadow Councillor: BCMM Ward 28
Member: Municipal Public Accounts Committee
Member: Frere Hospital Board of Directors
DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE CAUCUS
As one can imagine I was shocked to see the intricate alliances, and maybe a birds eye view into some favoritism for the next Mr. GAY SA. A political MP’s boyfriend getting some nice prizes and a stage and we must make nice nice to exert some political influence the BOETIism way! This e-mail was audacious and it certainly did not put the LGBTI interests first. It is boet for boet to say the least!
The political bed sharing and pandering by Mr. GAY SA with the Democratic Alliance and the threats of Lance Weyer against the community – the overall alliance to the DA and their overt attempts to silence my right to free speech against DeFreitas enraged me and alerted me to delve more deeply into Mr. GAY SA.
The idea that we the gay community should shut up because we have a few gay MPs is ludicrous. And so I responded:
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 6:54 PM
Subject: Re: bad taste
I find this threat quotes below by Lance Weyer more than distasteful and a huge slap in the face to all those in the LGBTQI communuity who supported him through his Mr. Gay SA and Mr. Gay World journey:
The fact that he is politician with the DA party does not serve him well to make threats of this nature and is indicative of a conflict of interests. How can he threaten to turn his back on the SA gay community while their constitutional rights are being debated, after all the community has done to support him? Does it question is part as an activist vs his part as a politician with a DA career?
Perhaps Lance should stay in politics just as Mr. de Freitas has chosen to do – yes one can do both but do not sacrifice of the LGBTI community with mild and meagre expression unless you are willing to allow other more radical activists such as myself our freedom of expression without threat.
Clearly some politicians do not believe they can do both – be politicians and be activists. That is fine then – but make the choice without trying to silence the others. There is room for us all. Perhaps this denotes a conflict between Lance’s political career as an elected official of the DA and his desire to present himself as an LGBTI activist cannot go hand in hand?
The point, Coenie, is that you do NOT threaten to walk out on your community simply because one loud mouthed activist like myself has the courage to speak out, knowing that I will get flack for my words.
Do you think I did not realize the risks in taking a GAY politician like de Freitas to task?
But I do have a large SA following and yes I am influential and it is because people are sick of paternalistic “lets tread quietly” politics.
De Freitas as a GAY man especially should have been on the frontline with the LGBT community before these protests even started, instead of diminishing them with his words.
But I do not care if de Freitas is gay, straight, bi, trans, pink white or brown – the point is he does not understand the enormity of the attack on the Constitution or his community if he dismisses the protests as mere “gay parade.”
It looks to me as if he is pacing his own political affiliation, fears and possibly internalized homophobia as we so often see amongst our own, before the interests of the larger SA community.
I will speak out against his words and him until he apologizes and sets the record straight.
If that means alienating you, de Freitas and Lance, I would fully understand your choice to do things differently, but to say you will ditch the SA gay community is just unfathomable.
I will certainly make it clear to the SA community that we have different forms of activism. That is not divisive just a choice – but to say you will walk away because you do not like how someone expresses themselves is so divisive it is beyond my frame of understanding.
You well know that I wrote that initial letter calling for a Coalition to protect the SA Constitution and so many organizations jumped on board, put aside their internal differences and all came together for a fantastic national event. True leaders will be jumping into that coalition not dividing it, not walking away from it – and not telling people how to run their activism out of FEAR of alienation.
If my freedom of expression alienates a single member of parliament who is supposed to be on my side, I would assert he/she was not on my side to start with. Do not offer us crumbs – by saying Gays have one or two friends in parliament and they are only the GAY ones?
I would hope that a unified coalition to protect the Constitution now has the enormous opportunity to win the hearts and minds of more politicians in parliament, by using this anti-woman and anti-gay manoeuvrings of the Traditional leaders to show how important it is to eradicate Constitutional reviews.
That should be the entire focus. This Coalition should forge this path instead of Lance telling everyone how to behave. I repeat for there to be any movement in this regard the radical element such as myself becomes an imperative element – not one that should be shut up! There is room for us all!
Unity is what is called for right now and the SA LGBTQI community is angry and they need to be able to channel their anger through what the democratic process allows – that includes freedom of speech to express fully through writing, media, marches, events etc.
Lance can choose his own form of leadership, and I will have all the respect in the world for him for doing that, but do NOT criticize my freedom of speech and my right to protest , nor my form of leadership or anyone else’s. Who says things need to happen only one way? That is the kind of thinking that always sinks the ship! I do not appreciate this paternalistic attitude of “shut up and let this ride we have it under control.” That is NOT the democratiuc way.
I cannot imagine why anyone who truly believes in a cause would step away from your own community as he has threatened here, just because someone legitimately criticizes a politician for insensitive remarks. I refuse to play footsie just because some people think I ought to be diplomatic about it. My expression is not that of everyone. We all have our own way. Differences in how we express ourselves does not derogate from UNITY in cause and the benchmark we seek to attain.
This is my way of doing things and those who chose to follow my way are most welcome to board this bus. Lance has his way and those who board his bus I am sure are welcome. BUT hopefully our goal is in sync and the same and if it is then we are indeed unified.
Because de Freitas is as you say is openly GAY himself makes his lack of leadership worse. He distanced himself from his own community by pointing the finger and diminishing the protests the way he did and he ought to be ashamed.
If anything, Coenie you and Lance will be seen as if in “bed” together, if you will. Mr. SA is a business which I have supported vehemently with enormous amount of overseas publicity – more than you would have got from anyone. I see great value in what you have done. But this is a tide shift and you are either on board for the BIG benchmark or not.
If Lance cannot see Unity in this ocean of complexity in the same way as I do then there is great risk as to me is seems Lance Weyer, Mr. GAY SA and runner up in Mr. Gay World is a member of the DA Party and protecting his party at the expense of his community.
That does not look good. He should step back from his involvement as activist and keep on with his politics and quiet paternalistic way of representing the LGBT community within his party.
Clearly by his statement here he cannot do both. He has taken the side of his party if he thinks for one minute that anything I have said is not worthy of remark.
There is room for all manner of expression when it comes to a community – there is room for radical, moderate and for those who do not care and stay at home and let others do the work. There is room for us all. That is just the way it is. Perhaps I am radical. But I have never been afraid to say what I believe when it comes to politics. But then I do not have my feet steeped in either political party – so I can perhaps be that one voice that says it like it is.
If you think my right to exercise my freedom of speech should be impeded in any way just because Lance has his way of doing things I would ask you to revisit that thinking. I do not think that I should be reprimanded when I exercise my freedom of speech 100% in community interest. I have nothing to gain – my blog and my activism is self funded, I have no party affiliation, and do not make one cent from any of this. I just follow what I believe is right.
Notwithstanding my disappointment at the narrow frame painted by the e-mail under reply, I send this in the spirit of democracy, in pink pride and with the hope that we can find a way to respect each other’s manner of doing business as not derogating from Unity of message and goal to be attained.
In Pride and Solidarity,
MELANIE NATHAN B.A. LL.B
Private Courts Inc.
A Human Rights Advocacy Firm
Coenie Kukkuk never responded to the contents of my e-mail response to him, and instead launched an orchestrated attack against me on Facebook where he wrote to NGO’s who had received money from PTY Ltd. and other finalists and supporters of Mr. GAY SA asking them to attack me and motivation. My only motive is truth. I get no money from this BLOG, in fact it costs me money and many hours that are unpaid. My motivation is to ensure that this conflict of interest, attempts to silence people and injustice stop and that all those in South Africa receive an equal opportunity to express and be heard. To stop draconian paternalism and Xenophobia which does little more than rob others of power.
And now this went even further:-
To add insult to injury not only did Weyer alienate the community in this way, he also sent out a divisive letter attacking the NGO’s from the LGBTI task team which he has never had any participation in at all. Worse yet he launched his attack during the midst of the unprecedented unity formed by a myriad of LGBTI groups which formed, ad hoc, to protest against the Traditional leaders’ attack on the LGBTI Constitutional rights.
What ambassador attacks his community during a time of crisis? Yet Weyer saw fit to send out a letter alienating the “corrective rape” NGO’s by criticizing their years of work and effort, and purporting to have had a front row seat. In fact he evn suggested that the Task team was at an end and that he would be the one to reinvigorate it. This infuriated some of the activists who had never ever met or even spoken with Weyer.
In the time of crisis Weyer is asserting his idea of new goals for the LGBTI community instead of focusing on the unity and the problem at hand.
So from all of this it is clear that the MR.GAY SA pageant, while doing some amazing work, think in return they own the community and the words that we are allowed to employ; and what better than to set you all up to think that Mr. GAY S.A. is actually YOUR VOICE.
The organizers and previous winner pander to the few gay men in Parliament who have done nothing but insult their own and then issue half baked apologies. My late mom used to say, “with friends like this who need enemies?”
So it is clear not only is the Mr. GAY SA Pageant nothing more than a marketing ploy but also an inappropriate venue for the selection of a South African ambassador. In this particular case the so called ambassador has shirked his so called duties and run off into the sunset holding the hand of his political comrades.
If South Africa is going to have any LGBTI representative it cannot be in the form of one person from one walk of life selected through commercial enterprises who happens to be a career politician representing a particular party in his daily work. It must emanate from an all inclusive group of persons who have earned their place though proven activism and an expertise about the topics in question.
So in conclusion I wish Mr. GAY South Africa well and hope that it continues to do the good work it is doing, but it must change its mission statement to better suit its commodity.
A Cautionary note – take heed South Africa when you are tempted to think those MP and City Councillors ‘s are your unconditional friends just because they are GAY:-
I have been on this planet more than 30 years longer than Lance Weyer – and my experience has taught me – “Politicians and appointees can never be our spokespeople. Activists need to hold onto their movement. Electing people to office or pushing for political appointments may seem like a useful strategy for change, but when it results in politicians and appointees becoming spokespeople for grass roots, it’s a disaster, especially because politicians have partisan party affiliations that may not serve all interests and views. Lance Weyer and Manny Defreitas fit that mold have proved that they are not qualified to speak for the LGBTI community of South Africa.”
I recommend that Mr. GAY S.A. continue in the business of competitive pageantry and continue to do the good work of looking out for local causes and charities and GAY visibility- but please do not continue this farce of pretending to be what you are not! Mr. GAY S.A. does not represent the South African LGBTI community as its spokesperson – its a great insult to all activists who have been excluded from its pageantry process. Oh and please stay out of politics it does not serve your brand!
Note- Mr. Kukkuk has failed to respond to my e-mail, requesting a list of current Board and Directors of Mr. GAY South Africa PTY LTD. But he did come on this page to comment using he name Rudirainbow see below