Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

Craig_friendly

IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

Craig_smile

BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

Dare to Dream…

VANESSA SMEETS

In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men…  ~Job 4:13


heaven stairway

WHERE TO? My destiny was revealed to me at the age of 8. I haven’t looked back since… PIC: online

I’m not sure if a blog is the right place to do this, but where else can I declare my feelings on writing? I have lost too many friends this year to realise there is only one life and one chance to write this.

If I had my way, all my readers would be sitting in a hall listening to the following:

Just before my parents’ divorce, I dreamt that my brother, our two best friends and I jumped into a pool. We woke up in heaven, but all went our separate ways…
I followed my guardian angel. Her name is Rebecca. She is over 2 metres tall, carries a golden belt around her waist and has the softest golden locks. I know, angels don’t have genders, but she symbolised womanly strength I was seeking at that time.

I asked her to show me Jesus Christ. There, in a beautiful garden filled with palm trees was a white tent. On the other side, I saw blind and paralysed people walking into a building and coming out completely healed. I was anxious to meet Him. My mom was a strong Christian, but I had questioned His existence. His voice was tranquil. He knew my name before even looking at me. My heart was quickly at rest.

The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.  ~Psalms 55:21


His eyes astonished me the most. They were an amazing metallic blue. When He looked at me, I could feel Him looking into my soul. Yet, I was not afraid. An 8-year old doesn’t have much to hide, except maybe guilty feelings of teasing her little brother.

He was busy painting. It was then that I noticed He was painting humanity using His blood. Using His tears, the strokes would be lighter or darker. I could not bear to watch. He was painting mothers, fathers, children covered in blood, crying out in agony. I started to weep, but He told me to be strong and patient; things could change from one day to the next.

I knelt beside Him. “You are ready,” He said. He gave me His paintbrush and it turned into a quill. I haven’t stopped writing since that day. When I left the tent, I felt reassured: I knew my purpose, except I had no idea how to go home.

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.  ~Proverbs 16:9


“Your parents are waiting,” He told me, “But your Father above knows where you’ve been and where you are going.” It has been 17 years since the dream, but remember it as if it was yesterday.
He showed me a corridor that would lead me home. It was a corridor filled with portraits and I have met every single person since then. They don’t just happen as déjà-vus; it’s as if I’ve met them before. Indeed I have and they all came at a time I needed guidance or reassurance.

At the end of the dream, my brother and our two friends meet each other again, but our senses have changed. We speak, listen and see much clearer. Four years ago, after my near-to-death experience, the four of us all found God again. The dream had reached full-circle.

heaven's gate

DARE TO DREAM: Whether we believe in God, Allah, Jehovah… we all have similar dreams and the power to change the world around us by revealing them to others. PIC: online

The dream taught me numerous things:

  • You may be young, but you can awaken at any time.
  • It is on our stillest times, that we hear Him.
  •  Sometimes it’s best to go to your room, pray out aloud and wait. Wait till it all makes sense. It eventually will. Your subconscious will communicate with you via your dreams.
  • I’m a journalist that types with one finger. People laugh at me all the time about it. It’s okay, I received that gifted finger when I was 8 years old.
  •  There is God’s peace in anxious times, God’s love in heartbroken times and God’s hope in uncertain times.
  • Dare to dream about peace, love and destiny…

Behind the mask of xenophobia

SANCTUARY: Zimbabwean refugees make their way to Beit Bridge in hope of food and work across the border. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

VANESSA SMEETS

At the abandoned babies’ home, there are five newborns neatly placed in a row.

One is a white baby, Luke, with tiny pink lips, whose parents are originally German. Two generations ago, the war played a part in his family moving to South Africa. He was the only survivor in a family car crash. Next to him, there’s a little black baby with big round eyes. Thumi is a product of rape. Her mother left her at the home after she was born. Next to Thumi lies Mamoud, a little Muslim boy whose parents had to give up, after they lost everything in Nigeria’s conflict wars. Mamoud’s neighbour, Sandra, is a beautiful coloured baby with piercing blue eyes. Her history is a mystery. She was found here after Christmas. Lastly, there’s tiny Bo, very premature and from Chinese origin. His mother passed away during his birth.

Luke, Thumi, Mamoud, Sandra and Bo have one thing in common: they are products of a new South Africa. Although their blood may not be Afrikaans, Zulu or Sotho, it doesn’t define who they are. They are all survivors and they have a destiny to live here, in a country that embraces them where not even their own parents could.

They all giggle the same as the nurse tickles their tummies. They all cry the same as she leaves. They even look the same with their blue and pink bonnets and tiny socks.
These children will grow up one day to learn about potjie kos, runaways (an African delicacy made of chicken feet), the national anthem and our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.

One child will grow up to be president and one will grow up in jail. It’s their destiny to choose. All, however, will have to defend themselves in a world that is become increasingly cruel to immigrants.

FIRE WITH FIRE: Xenophobia was at its peak in May 2008. Courtesy: online

Xenophobia is not that different to racism, only that one hates the person’s origins more than just his/her skin colour. The person doesn’t belong because, although he/she may be black or white like you, they speak German instead of Afrikaans or Shona instead of Tswana. Parents and children of the same home also speak different languages, the mother speaks in Afrikaans, the child replies in English, yet no one gets kicked out of the house for saying ‘Dankie’ instead of ‘Thank you’.

Yet, one spits at one’s neighbour because they have nowhere else to go. Ask the Zimbabwean student what he had to go through to be here, or if his parents got through the Beit Bridge border in time for his graduation. It took 12 hours in the baking sun and 14 hours of road…

Luke grows up to be a historian. He speaks only when he is spoken to. He is humble and hard-working. He is the epitome of respect.

Thumi grows up to be the soul of the party, she laughs and smiles a lot and makes everyone feel loved. She is the epitome of friendliness.

Mamoud, despite his Muslim name, grows up to be a peer-group leader in a Christian school. He is kind, warm and caring. He is the epitome of compassion.

At sixteen, Bo falls in love with politics. Despite many hardships and financial trouble, he gets a scholarship, meets well-placed people and becomes president. He is the epitome of perseverance.

Sandra grows up to help troubled kids in juvenile prison. In fact, most of her teen years are spent here comforting and caring for others. Yet, she was judged already. “Grows up in jail” meant convict, right? Sandra is, therefore, the epitome of an open mind.

These five innocent babies who grow up to change the world they live in are the five symbols in conquering xenophobia: respect, friendliness, perseverance, compassion and an open mind.

Are we ready as South Africans to put away our judgements and embrace change? Or will we just sit there and mock the foreigner who speaks English strangely?

MIND SETS: Zapiro depicts the South African mindset on different countries in Africa. COURTESY: Zapiro

May 2008 claimed the lives of dozens of Zimbabweans refugees who had come here to flee an oppressed country. They had come to feed and clothe their families. Instead, they were welcomed with bitterness and hatred and fed to the angry masses.

Xenophobia is about our territorial natures. For some of us, it is harder to share our utensils, bedding and clothes with others. For some, it is about our own survival: who are they to take our land, our wives and our jobs? Maybe the story of those five foreign children at the babies’ home could teach us all a lesson. Maybe it’s time to dedicate ourselves sincerely to a zen created through peace and harmony, even after the festivities of the World Cup.