Simon Nkoli

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Simon Tseko Nkoli
Simon nkoli.png
Born(1957-11-26)26 November 1957
Died30 November 1998(1998-11-30) (aged 41)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Partner(s)Roy Shepherd

Simon Tseko Nkoli (26 November 1957 – 30 November 1998) was an anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activist in South Africa.

Nkoli was born in Soweto in a seSotho-speaking family. Nkoli became a youth activist against apartheid, joining the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and with the United Democratic Front.


After joining COSAS in 1980, Nkoli became secretary for the Transvaal division of the group. Despite some resistance from within COSAS, he was allowed keep this position after his sexuality was revealed to the group. [1]

In 1983, he joined the mainly white Gay Association of South Africa (GASA). GASA maintained that it was "apolitical", and refused to support Nkoli's activism on race-related issues. Nkoli was ejected from GASA after his 1984 arrest and trial.[1] He later formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa.[citation needed]

Nkoli spoke at rallies in support of rent-boycotts in the Vaal townships and in 1984 he was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with twenty-one other political leaders in the Delmas Treason Trial, including Popo Molefe and Patrick Lekota, collectively known as the Delmas 22. By coming out while a prisoner, he helped change the attitude of the African National Congress to gay rights. He was acquitted and released from prison in 1988.

He founded the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) in 1988.[2] Along with LGBT activist, Beverley Palesa Ditsie, he organised the first pride parade in South Africa held in 1990.[3] He travelled widely and was given several human rights awards in Europe and North America. He was a member of International Lesbian and Gay Association board, representing the African region.

Nkoli was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994. He helped in the campaign for the inclusion of protection from discrimination in the Bill of Rights in the 1994 South African constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law, which happened in May 1998 in his last months.

After becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, he initiated the Positive African Men group based in central Johannesburg. He had been infected with HIV for around 12 years, and had been seriously ill, on and off, for the last four. He died of AIDS in 1998 in Johannesburg.

Personal Life[edit]

Nkoli was one of four children. Although he was born in Soweto, his parents separated early in his life, and Nkoli was sent to live with his grandparents on a farm in the Orange Free State. He lived there for several years before returning to live with his mother in Sebokeng.[1][4]

Nkoli met his partner, Roy Shepherd, at the age of 19. A collection of their letters, written during Nkoli's trial and imprisonment, was published as part of the GALA Queer Archive under the title Till the Time of Trial: The Prison Letters of Simon Nkoli.[5][6]


There is a Simon Nkoli Day in San Francisco. He opened the first Gay Games in New York and was made a freeman of that city by mayor David Dinkins. In 1996 Nkoli was given the Stonewall Award in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Canadian filmmaker John Greyson made a short film about Nkoli titled A Moffie Called Simon in 1987.[7] Nkoli was the subject of Robert Colman's 2003 play, "Your Loving Simon" and Beverley Ditsie's 2002 film "Simon & I".[8] John Greyson's 2009 film Fig Trees, a hybrid documentary/opera includes reference to Nkoli's activism.[9] In addition, Nkoli's account of coming out as a black gay activist in South Africa is included as a chapter in Mark Gevisser's and Edwin Cameron's Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa (1994) pages 249-257.


  1. ^ a b c "Simon Nkoli". South African History Online. Archived from the original on 11 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  2. ^ Hoad, Neville Wallace; Martin, Karen; Reid, Graeme, eds. (2005). Sex and Politics in South Africa. Cape Town: Double Storey. pp. 30–31, 169, 191, 239. ISBN 9781770130159.
  3. ^ Mohlamme, Charity (2006). "It Was Part Of Our Coming Out...". In de Waal, Shaun; Manion, Anthony (eds.). Pride: Protest and Celebration. Fanele. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-77009-261-7.
  4. ^ Mlambo, Dumile; Landman, JC (22 November 2017). "SU to honour equal rights activist, Simon Nkoli". Stellenbosch University. Archived from the original on 11 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  5. ^ Batra, Kanika (7 June 2021). "Love Letters and Legacies of Black Queer Self-Fashioning in South Africa | Kanika Batra | Essay". Brittle Paper. Archived from the original on 12 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  6. ^ De Waal, Shaun; Martin, Karen (eds.), Till the Time of Trial: The Prison Letters of Simon Nkoli (PDF)
  7. ^ Botha, Martin (2002), "Homosexuality and South African Cinema", Kinema (Spring 2002), archived from the original on 29 August 2006
  8. ^ "Bev and Simon: a South African 'love story'", Radio Netherlands Archives, January 23, 2004
  9. ^ "Canadian filmmaker John Greyson Turns Down Offer to Appear at Israeli Film Festival", Imoovizine, 11 April 2009, archived from the original on 12 July 2009
  • Sunday Times, South Africa - Sunday, 6 December 1998
  • Excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, from WWII to Present Day, Routledge, London, 2001

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