Gay Rights and Anti-apartheid Activist Tseko Simon Nkoli dies

Simon Nkoli holding a sign representing the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) at a pride march. Image source

Monday, 30 November 1998

On 30 November 1998, Gay rights and anti-Apartheid activist Tseko Simon Nkoli died of an AIDS related illness. Nkoli was one of the first Black anti-Apartheid activists to come out as gay and HIV positive and was one of the founding members of the first multiracial gay-rights organisation in South Africa, the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW). GLOW organised South Africa’s first Gay Pride march in Johannesburg in 1990 and was instrumental in advocating for including freedom of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in South Africa’s democratic constitution.

Nkoli fought for the recognition and inclusion of gay and lesbian rights in the struggle against Apartheid, stating that “If you are Black and gay in South Africa, then it really is all the same closet…inside is darkness and oppression. Outside is freedom”. He was tried and acquitted alongside 21 others in the 1986 Delmas trial but was imprisoned for four years for his participation in various anti-Apartheid demonstrations. Nkoli’s homosexuality was inseparable from his identity as an activist; in the Delmas trial, some of his fellow accused did not want to be tried alongside Nkoli. During interrogations by police his homosexuality was used as a tactic where he remembers interrogators asking: “Do you really think the ANC…would be mad enough to take a moffie on?”.

Nkoli was diagnosed with HIV whilst in prison and was one of the first South Africans to disclose that he was living with AIDS. He did so in the early 1990s, a time when AIDS was stigmatised by white South Africans as divine retribution against homosexuality and among Black South Africans as a European disease. It was in this homophobic climate that Nkoli disclosed his status and worked with various organisations to educate about and destigmatise HIV/AIDS. A few days after his death, a protest on the steps of St George’s Cathedral saw the birth of the Treatment Action Campaign but unfortunately, Nkoli did not live to see the South African government treat the HIV/AIDS epidemic seriously.

• GALA, “The GLOW Collection”, Gay and Lesbian Archives, Accessed 27 January 2017,
• South African History Online, “Biography of Tseko Simon Nkoli”, South African History Online, accessed 30 January 2017,
• South African History Online, “The History of LGBT Legislation”, South African History Online. 17 December 2014,

Last updated : 11-Apr-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 11-Apr-2017

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