Setabane an online platform founded by Brilliant Kodie, aims to disseminate and archive the stories of LGBTI+ people in Botswana. With self-narration as the primary channel, each author is able to construct their own puzzle piece in the collective representation of their previously muffled voices. The rejection of negative and misguided understandings of LGBTI+ people is communicated by claiming and giving new meaning to ‘setabane’, a term that Kodie explains to be a derogatory term for a gay person in Setswana. In a country where same-sex intimacy is criminalized, the power and relevance of the platform is amplified.
As a photographer Kodie felt the need to use his skills towards creating a new point of view. Stemming from a sense of responsibility to change the narrative surrounding LGBTI+ people, coupled with the fact that there are few images online that represent them well, Kodie moved towards taking photographs of people with stories to share.
The stories are shared as poems, letters and affirmations, speaking to the freedom that comes through self-acceptance and showing kindness towards oneself. They also highlight the layered, interconnected and strategic composition of oppressive systems and policies.
I had an interview with Kodie to unpack this further.
Share more about the experiences of LGBTI+ people in Botswana, particularly referring to the criminalization of same-sex relationships and the disregard for LGBTI+ rights?
What’s interesting is that the constitution of Botswana only criminalizes people of the same sex engaging in any sexual activities, which sometimes seems funny because it’s not like the system has policemen raiding our bedrooms but the system was smart because in alienating our sexual activities they were aware that structures such as religion will play a great role in making sure that neither one of us can walk the streets freely. Now we have so many gay men in particular, in churches battling depression, I say this because just a couple of years back, this was me and a couple of my friends. It’s a combination of all these structures, one’s religion and the constitution, working hand in hand to make one fear living their truth. Also the systems makes it hard for those living their truth to progress in their relationships, the system does not recognize the status of our sexual relationships making it hard for a gay couple to get loans together or even get health services together as a couple, I say this because back when me and my partner went for HIV testing at a public health facility, our interest was to do the couple testing but we were denied that option.
Continuing from the previous question, share more about where the idea for the platform came from and how people have reacted to it (reactions of those in LGBTI+ community)?
I always search the internet for stories and it was very odd that we lacked a platform that shared stories of the LGBTQI persons in Botswana and also, the word Setabane, which is a derogatory term for a gay person in Setswana, has always been that one word that always made me uncomfortable to live my truth because every time it’s uttered I would be reminded of my past where it was always used when I was being bullied. That is when I saw the need to set up this platform and call it by this word with an aim to have me and anyone who will be featured on it own their truth, it’s bad and good, boldly because we are the only ones who can change the narrative and the time is now. So far the feedback from the community has been positive and we are looking forward to sharing more stories of our persons.
Please share more about the people who have already shared their story/written content for the platform?
So far everyone I have featured on the site are people I have crossed paths with at one point in my life. Someone like Keletso Lawrence, a student at the University of Botswana, where I also happen to be studying, has always been so bold with his identity especially online. With such a character I saw it ideal to have him on the platform to prove to anyone out there, [most] importantly a Motswana kid who has been searching the internet hoping to find if people who boldly live their truth exist in Botswana. Another person whose poetry I am obsessed with is CJ Cassim, also a student at the University of Botswana. Having him write about self-love for us was really amazing.
How would you like the platform to evolve or expand over time?
We are looking into starting a podcast platform as well, to have our subjects also narrate their stories out loud because there is also power in hearing someone’s voice as they narrate their own story. We are also hoping to make this a social thing where people can meet maybe every two months to engage with those featured on our site and get to know them better and ask questions on stuff they needed more clarity on.
Photography: Brilliant Kodie
Lighting assistant: Yame Ntswaneng