The AfroGames 2018, set to happen December 8-10th in Durban, South Africa are set to make history as the first ever LGBTI oriented Multi-Sport Event ever held on the African Continent. But, organizing the event hasn’t been easy. Co-founder and lead organizer of the AfroGames and KZN LGBT Recreation, Hlengiwe Buthelezi has been the lead in making the AfroGames happen. She shared with us her inspiration, the process and some of the struggles of organizing the event. Most importantly, she shared with us her vision for the AfroGames, KZN LGBT Recreation and the impact it will have on LGBTI Africans all over the continent.
The AfroGames traces its history back to the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney. Buthelezi at the time was living in the closet in South Africa. South Africa, on a governmental level has been one of the most progressive countries toward adopting LGBT rights. With many laws passed in the 90s and 2000s that made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, striking down anti-gay laws and even adopting same sex marriage in 2006. Despite this however, being LGBTI continues to carry a lot of stigma while homophobia and transphobia are still very much prevalent within South Africa. The 2002 Gay Games in Sydney was Buthelezi’s first experience at an event where gay and lesbian people were able to celebrate openly.
Upon returning home, this inspired Buthelezi to establish the first ever Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Women’s Organization in South Africa. Known as the “Forum for Women Empowerment” it was built upon the inspiration Buthelezi experienced to help empower LGBTI Africans to combat homophobia. Through this organization, the first ever South African LBT Soccer Team was formed, “The Chosen Few” in time for the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. “The Chosen Few” have continued to represent South Africa at every Gay Games since.
At the Gay Games in Chicago, Hlengiwe Buthelezi had a very successful games. In her sport of track and field, she won 7 Gold Medals and was featured in local Chicago Media which was covering the Games. In her interview, she was asked about returning home to Africa and the possibility of an LGBTI Sporting Event for Africans. This is where the idea of the AfroGames really began. In 2009, Buthelezi established KZN LGBT Recreation which promotes Sports and Arts to help empower LGBTI South Africans in her community to be more healthy, active and free to express themselves in a supportive and safe environment.
However, it wasn’t until 2010 at the Gay Games in Cologne where Buthelezi took the next step by connecting with athletes representing other African nations about the potential of hosting a sports event. The initial talks in Cologne were positive, but it became difficult to keep connected due to the varying levels of homophobia within the different countries, as well as the sheer distance that the athletes lived from each other.
While South Africa has made progress on gay rights, many African Countries, homosexuality is still a criminal offense. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender people face the risk of violence and even death throughout Africa. Buthelezi reminds us that it’s not just about one person, but about ensuring that everybody regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity should be accepted.
Buthelezi was inspired by Tom Waddell, the founder of the Gay Games movement. She is working to extend his legacy and passion for empowering the LGBTI community through sports into Africa. Buthelezi emphasized that it is about the “Liberation of the African Gay Nation” and the legacy of fighting for the next generation of LGBTI Africans. The AfroGames foundation is “Education through Sports” and sharing the message that LGBTI Africans do exist, and they deserve equality.
Organizing the first ever AfroGames has not been an easy task for Buthelezi and her team. In 2016, Buthelezi started reaching out to different sports leagues and LGBTI organizations throughout South Africa for support and sponsorship. The plan was to host the first event in 2017, but unfortunately nobody signed on. Fundraising events and efforts held were also as equally unsuccessful.
“They did not want to be associated with an openly gay event.” Buthelezi remarked. Due to lack of funds, the 2017 AfroGames never took place. But, that did not stop Buthelezi and her team from moving forward, as they recollected their efforts to focus on 2018. Still struggling with local sponsorship, Buthelezi took her plan to the Paris 2018 Gay Games where she approached former Federation of the Gay Games board members, Shamey Cramer and Kate Rowe. In addition, she worked hard to spread the word about the AfroGames throughout Paris to ask for support. Kate Rowe and Shamey Cramer helped to organise the GoFundMe account with Daniel Holland, Mike Myers and other FGG members and supported Buthelezi through their vast network of LGBTI Sports throughout the world.
Even with the Cramer’s and Rowe’s help and the funds raised through the GoFundMe, the AfroGames still fell short of their financial goals. Again, that is not stopping Hlengiwe and her team, who are using their own money to help fill the gaps and ensure that the AfroGames will take place. “It has to happen, no matter what.” Buthelezi remarked, showing her passion for the AfroGames not to just exist, but to succeed.
In addition to two days of sports held on the 8th and 9th of December. The AfroGames will also be hosting a symposium on December 10th, for “International Human Rights Day” and the theme is “Decolonizing LGBTI Rights.” With both the sports events and the symposium, the AfroGames are expecting about 150 registered participants. Including many South African participants but also a few representing Nigeria. Buthelezi hopes that the next AfroGames will see increased representation from other African countries as the event continues to grow.
Buthelezi and her team are hard at work on ensuring the first edition of the AfroGames are a success, but they are already looking forward to the next. Planning on a semi-annual schedule, the next AfroGames will be held in 2020. Especially in terms of sponsorship and community support to ensure the AfroGames will be a financially viable event.
The plan is to circulate the event with a different host city, similar to how the EuroGames and Gay Games are hosted. The AfroGames are designed to be a feeder event for the Gay Games, specifically to increase African representation at the Gay Games. Buthelezi explained that the 2018 AfroGames are a learning curve to help them establish a model for future AfroGames. The AfroGames 2018 is organized solely by volunteers, including Hlengiwe Buthelezi and are looking for sponsors to support the event.
With the 2022 Gay Games being held in Asia for the first time ever. We are excited to see the AfroGames continue the legacy and possibly even help bring a future Gay Games to the African continent!
For more information, please visit http://www.kznlgbtrecreation.co.za/ and be sure to follow the AfroGames on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AfroGames2018/
By Dirk Smith