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Dark and Lovely, Soft and Free

Zakhi is a gay young man living in Johannesburg, South Africa. He lives in the city but wonders what life is like for gay people living in the country side. Martin is Zakhi’s friend. He knows so many gay people in South Africa. In this documentary Zakhi goes on a journey with Martin and discovers what life is like for people like them living in the rural areas of South Africa.
Martin is a member of the Randbur Community Church Choir where he is known as ‘The Diva’. He sings like an angel and is flamboyantly gay. Martin will put Zakhi in contact with several other gay hair stylists in different townships in South Africa. Martin tells this documentary that the secret to living a full life as a gay man is accepting and loving yourself then others will love you too. Many of Martins clients open up to him about their marital problems. Somehow he helps them solve them although he is not married himself. Martin gives Zakhi’s hair a makeover as we can see in the documentary. While at it he fills the air with his melodious rendition.
From Randbur the documentary follows the diva’s trail to Balfour. The dusty road off the town leads them to the rural township of Siyathemba, evidently socially and culturally secluded. Here we meet Peter, a hair stylist. Peter says in his township it’s difficult to hide ones identity for long. People start pointing fingers as soon as they can tell you are different. Peter loves socializing with heterosexual. In fact he tells this documentary that he loves dating straight men. He says he loves them because of their masculine characteristics. Peter is looking forward to starting a family with his gay partner. He wants to have two adopted children a boy and a girl. In peters township of Siyathemba gay people hang out in nightclubs, bars and taverns. They are accepted as long as they behave themselves. Peter lives a free life knowing his rights are protected by the South Africa’s constitution.
From Balfour the documentary follows the diva’s trail yet again to a new town –Heidelberg where they are supposed to meet another hair stylist. Since he is unwilling to be interviewed in camera, they contact Stephen founder of GLORA (Gay and Lesbian Organization of Ratanda). He notifies them that a member of their organization has just died. The crew goes to the funeral. Stephen is very close to his sisters Child Ntokozo. Around the village everyone thinks she is his although they know he doesn’t have a kid. For Stephen he does not like to be flamboyant, rather he is laid back and just acts ‘normal’.
This documentary caught wind of unique ‘gay family’ living in Mpumalanga. The family is entirely composed of ‘women’. Bafana a hair stylist is part of the Gay and Lesbian Organization of Sakhile, Standerton. He explains this ‘family’s structure’ which is also seen in this documentary. They are about 20 members. Colin is the family’s granny. ‘She’ is older than all of them and teaches the other family members about gay stuff. Masota is Bafana’s sister. Bafana considers him a sister because when he first arrived in Standerton it was Masota who gave him a home to sleep and live. Thabo is very close to Bafana. He calls him mum. Thabo works as a traditional healer (sangoma) in Platrand. The crew pays him a visit. Along the way they get lost but everyone here knows Thabo so at last they find him. Platrand is a very remote area as we can see in the documentary.
So how did Thabo start his work as a sangoma? An old woman appeared to him in a dream. She told him to go to a huge mountain at Ermelo where he trained to become a traditional healer. All these happened after Thabo visited his grandmother’s grave. Thabo narrates that the old woman who appeared in his dream even directed him to ask his aunt for the money to travel to Ermelo, where he would train as sangoma. Thabo tells this documentary that many of his clients ask him about his wife. He has only come out to his mother. Since childhood, Thabo has always felt like a woman. Actually he does everything like a woman. Thabo met his boyfriend his initiation party as a traditional healer. He is also from Platrand.
Ermelo is a small town 240 km east of Johannesburg. Here Zakhile and the crew will meet Mbogeni a hair stylist. Mbogeni lives with his mother and 5 siblings. His father passed on. He tells this documentary that he realized he was attracted to men during adolescence. He was 16 years. Growing up Mbogeni would play with girls a lot. In church he would sit in the girls’ section. He used to wear trouser until he got older. Now as we can see in the documentary he only wears dresses even when he goes to church or funerals. At his local Zion Church Mbogeni is the treasurer. They trust him with the finances a lot. He is always involved in all church activities. Mbogeni’s boyfriend also lives in Ermelo. Mbogeni tells this documentary that although life is ok for him in Ermelo some people still have a problem with homosexuals. He recalls how a woman recently called in on a radio program on Zulu Radio. She condemned homosexuals using the bible and said they should stop being gay. Mbogeni says there are about 11 gay people living in Ermelo. Mbogeni is open to the idea of adopting children with his partner when the right time comes. Just like Martin from Randbur, Mbogeni’s clients also come to him with marital issues.
The crew has learnt about another gay hair stylist working in Amsterdam. S’thembele has travelled half way across the country from King Williams Town to take up the job. On arrival things were tough for S’thembele. One of his workmates was very negative towards him he tells this documentary. He turned clients against him. S’themebele therefore decided to move from Amsterdam to Mayflower. Zakhile is interested to meet some of S’thembele’s friends. S’thembele shares the same room and bed with two male friends. Both of them are straight. They use the same bathroom as well. In the documentary S’thembele recalls a day when one of them took a bath right in front of him. He was so ‘turned on’ he could not take it any longer. he had to go out and take a walk. S’themble’s friends have never asked him about his sexuality although he suspects they know.
The crew decides to trace back S’thembele’s steps to King Williams Town. On the way they stop over at Virginia to meet Pule, a well-known socialite who describes himself as a wife and a mother. Pule’s husband is a married man from Lesotho. He has a wife and 2 kids back home. Pule is accepted there as the man’s second wife. He has met his ‘co-wife’ too and they have a cordial relationship. Pule has 2 adopted children from his late sister and brother. They accept him as he is. His ‘son’ Simon says Pule and his husband are just like heterosexual parents. They do everything together and he is happy to live with them. Pule shares with this documentary how he met his husband. It was 1987 and he had just started working at a mining company when this man from Lesotho started hitting on him. After a month Pule gave in and they started a relationship. His boyfriend then rented him a flat in town as he had a challenge sharing the bathrooms with other mine workers.
On the way to King Williams Town the crew makes another stop over at Queenstown, named after Queen Elizabeth. Recently in a beauty pageant held in the town hall, Mthetho, the new Miss Gay Queenstown was installed. Zakhi wants to talk to him. Mthetho is filmed in this documentary with his boyfriend Vukile. Mamdunjeni is Mthetho’s mother. Speaking to this documentary she says Mthetho grew up like a girl. He always wanted to wear dresses and high heels. She accepted her son the way he was. Mthetho’s mother says she would love to receive bride price for her son as she hasn’t gotten any from her daughters. She is very proud of Mthetho for winning the Miss Gay Queenstown title.
Finally Zakhi and crew arrive in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape where they meet Mbulelo, the former Miss Gay Queenstown. He shares his coming out story with Zakhi in this documentary. It was 1992; one of his friends called hi parents and told them he was having an affair with some man. His parents followed him and found him halving sex with the man. They took him to a police station. His own mother asked the police to beat him. But Mbulelo stood his ground and told them he had not done anything wrong. Luckily he was freed of the charges. Mbulelo says he always uses condoms when he has sex with his partner. He is afraid of contracting HIV. Mbulelo complains about white gay people in the Eastern Cape. He accuses them of being racist. He point out that in the pageant for instance they were biased against the blacks.
Zakhi has had a feel of the small towns. He admits they too have their own attractions. But at the end of the day he is a ‘city girl’. It’s time for him to wrap up the documentary and find the way back to Johannesburg.

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