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Constitution Hill is a former prison that used to hold political prisoners during apartheid, including both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

Now the prison, a repurposed art space, faces a new controversy. Lulu Xingwana, a South African government minister, walked away from her official speaking engagement because she considered the images of lesbians immoral and “against nation-building”.

Zanele Muholi, an award-winning activist and artist has expressed her disappointment.

As the Guardian reports:

Xingwana’s spokeswoman, Lisa Combrinck, told the Times of South Africa, “Minister Xingwana was concerned that there were children present at the event and that children should not be exposed to some of the images on exhibit.”

This is an understandable position.

The Guardina summarises:

The incident prompted criticism in a country where, uniquely in Africa, discrimination on the basis of sexuality is specifically outlawed by the constitution. Despite this, and the legalisation of gay marriage, lesbians have been the targets of murder and co-called “corrective rape”.

It is within this context of ongoing violence toward women, that I think Muholi’s pitched her response to Xingwana perfectly,

“There is nothing pornographic. We live in a space where rape is a common thing, so there is nothing we can hide from our children. Those pictures are based on experience and issues. Where else can we express ourselves if not in our democratic country? Children need to know about these things. A lot of people have no understanding of sexual orientation, people are suffering in silence.”

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