The Queer Johannesburg tour

18 December 2003

The liberation struggle in South Africa was carried out on many fronts: one seldom mentioned area was the fight for gay and lesbian equality.

Celebrating and acknowledging this often hidden history, the Queer Johannesburg tour takes visitors on a journey around the city and into the past.

The homosexual history of Johannesburg is vast and varied, and it is the aim of the Gay and Lesbian Archives (Gala), the organisation that runs the Queer Johannesburg tour, to introduce people to this wealth of information.

“We aim to popularise gay and lesbian history”, says Gala archivist and tour guide Anthony Manion.

The tour takes in all of gay Johannesburg’s famous landmarks: Harrison Reef Hotel in Hillbrow, the oldest gay bar and home to the first gay and lesbian church for blacks; Forest Town, where a gay party was raided by police in 1966, leading to the implementation of harsh measures aimed at stamping out homosexuality; Simon Nkoli Corner, on the corner of Twist and Pretorius streets in Hillbrow, dedicated to the memory of the gay anti-apartheid crusader, who was tried for treason; and the Soweto homes of gay and lesbian activists.

During the tour, guides take visitors through the events pertaining to the city’s gay and lesbian community, from its earliest days through the apartheid struggle and into the 1990s and Africa’s first Gay Pride march in Johannesburg.

One stop, says Manion, is at Constitutional Hill – now the home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court – where thousands of men were incarcerated in the city’s Old Fort for “immorality”.

Another stop along the route is the Soweto home of Busi Kheswa, a lesbian campaigner and oral historian. She shares her own experiences, interspersed with information about the gay and lesbian history of the township.

Visitors are also taken to the Meadowlands surgery of traditional healer Nkunzi Nkabinde.

Then it’s time for a pit stop for refreshments at Wandi’s Restaurant, the best-known shebeen in the township, before returning home.

Tours cost R300 per person, with a minimum of eight people, and last for four hours.

To book, or for more information on the Queer Johannesburg Tour, contact Anthony Manion on (011) 717-1963.

Source: City of Johannesburg website