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Photography by Daniel Schaefer

Lee Mokobe – slam poet, TED Fellow and LGBTQ activist

“As a performing artist, it is my duty and passion to be able to document life experiences and speak up against injustices. As a slam poet, who explores social injustice and gender identity issues, I am dedicated to shedding light and inspiring change through my art forms,” South African poet Lee Mokobe states in an interview with Fine Acts.

As a slam poet, LGBTQ activist and TED Fellow, Mokobe understands that his medium has the potential to penetrate minds. With energetic vibrations that dance on eardrums and implant themselves into hearts of those listening to or reading his work, as a receiver of his words one cannot ignore the power of his emotional deliveries. He is also the founder and Creative Director of Vocal Revolutionaries, a NGO mentoring and teaching arts to youth in CPT and JHB South Africa

“The first time I uttered a prayer was in a glass-stained cathedral.
I was kneeling long after the congregation was on its feet,
dip both hands into holy water,
trace the trinity across my chest,
my tiny body drooping like a question mark
all over the wooden pew.
I asked Jesus to fix me,
and when he did not answer
I befriended silence in the hopes that my sin would burn
and salve my mouth would dissolve like sugar on tongue,
but shame lingered as an aftertaste.
And in an attempt to reintroduce me to sanctity,
my mother told me of the miracle I was,
said I could grow up to be anything I want.
I decided to be a boy.”

These words are the beginning of one of Lee’s most well-known poems. In this poem he reflects on the his experiences as a transgender person growing up in South Africa, and the responses he has received from other people about his identity. He mentions the internal conflict that came as a result of trying to interpret his identity through the way in which society understands sex and gender.

Having moved to the US, he constructed a poem titled “The Not Yet Burning Country” which has comparative elements to America’s election of Donald Trump and how South Africa has dealt with xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia. The poem highlights how victims are shamed and their experiences belittled. The poem also addresses the hypocrisy of those who have the power to make changes for the better. Have a listen to the full poem below.

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