By: Aluta Humbane
From the dusty sugar cane fields of Ndwedwe, to the bustling metropolis city of Johannesburg. It seems like a Cinderella story when you see one of South Africa’s celebrated performers, musician, actor, and fashion icon, Mzamo Gcabashe every night on ETV’s Rhythm City, in his wholesome splendour and fabulosity.
I yet again caught up with this larger than life character and got him to flip through the pages of his tumultuous life. In my interview with him, Mzamo not only reveals his sexuality, but also his life, struggles, fame, love and dreams.
Who is Mzamo and where was he born? Mzamo Gcabashe – popularly known as Mzamie or Jamaica on ETV’s Rhythm City, is a very ambitious ‘Queen, Fag’ or whatever previously derogatory titles that were ascribed to homosexuals you may choose to clarify me – I’ve taken ownership of them all.
I was born in Ndwedwe, eMsunduzi. I grew up loving entertainment particularly singing. From crèche, I was often requested to stand up and sing- even in primary I was often asked to sing. That was the birth of my voice.
Where and what did you study? My academic life started in a Catholic school 27kms North of Durban, in a small town called Verulam at a School called Sacred Heart Primary. It was the best years of my life; young, supple and innocent. One would think a Catholic school to be a place where homosexuals would be ostracised, however it was the exact opposite. And I think what made the environment so welcoming was my personality which is larger than life. Another bonus was the fact that I sang, at the beginning of the assembly; in school events- and was an over achiever academically. Perhaps that’s what overshadowed any ideas of discrimination and or homophobia. I also didn’t really know the concepts of sexuality – as we do now. I was just a flamboyant butterfly. Who only knew that there was a fascination for boys rather than girls. I was ‘the boy who was always hanging with the girls’. In fact I never had to come out to my family because, I was lucky to be in a family and environment which was so accepting. I didn’t theorize my sexuality as being homosexual, I was encouraged to BE!
However, things changed when I reached High School. I was late to apply, therefore had to settle for a school that was in the heart of Zululand, Empangeni. And the first term of my Grade 8, at age 13, I got a wake-up call to the realities and shifts in culture and acceptance. It was my first time in non-mixed racial school. And my, oh my! It was hell! For the first time in my life, I had to restrict and reserve myself as I feared I would suffer persecution and discrimination from other learners. I also felt enormous pressure to adjust myself and toe the line because my dad was one of the teachers at that school. That helped in ensuring a civil reception from other teachers; however a totally different treatment came from the learners. None the less, it was a total culture shock. Khula High School opened me to the harshness and reality of a somewhat different society; hostile – and in need of change.
The fact that I had to restrict myself saw me dying inside. My mom saw that I wasn’t coping, had lost weight and was just deteriorating as I couldn’t be myself. She removed me at the end of term 1- and I finished the remainder of the year in another school. The following year, grade 9 I was enrolled at Northwood Boys High, in Durban North. One would think such a posh environment would be enabling, however, it was HORRIFIC! In my whole entire life, that was the first time I actually experienced blatant homophobia. At the time I assumed they just didn’t understand why I cat-walked, why I spoke the way I did – which was innately flamboyant. Growing-up in world where you are accepted, shields you from the harshness of the sun. For the first time in my life I felt little, I felt I was different from others – I felt inferior. Especially when I walked in the corridor and all the boys would step aside and laugh at me. It was a rough and sore awakening. And because I didn’t know how to be any other way, I had to suck it up.
The relief would only come when I went back home after school in Umlazi ‘B’ Section where I was staying with my aunt at the time. And I must acknowledge my family for the love and support I received. A lot of gays or lesbians often suffer injustices- not only by society and communities they live in, but very much from their families whom would further oppress and discriminate them.
I consider High school as a real turning point of my perception of the world – especially through the lens of a HOMOSEXUAL. It was a series of difficulties. I recall when I was admitted at Northwood; how I was put into the ‘D’ class as I had been attending a previously black only school. Regardless of the fact that I was an A student – all of a sudden I was in a sense demoted. The juxtaposition of Primary school and High school was enormous. However, I believe the challenges I endured where a preparation for what was to come.
What was very funny, was how in the midst of such homophobia and indifference – I had boyfriends; your so called ‘Down Lows.’ Society is so irrational at times because, as gay or lesbians, we don’t play alone – play meaning dating or copulating. We play with boys, not with ourselves, they may not want to embrace it openly, but I recall incidents of many closeted boys who were assumed to be straight. In a sense, we are with those that are of the same sex as ours. However, the stones are often thrown to those exhibiting their sexuality externally. It’s an interesting paradox.
One realisation I credit to going to an all-boys school is that it opened my eyes to the complexity of sexuality. A lot of guys would want to do things with you sometimes, like kissing and whatever else. But, it is something that is done on the hush, hush. The fear of confronting sexuality, as directly as it exists is enormous. There exists an ignorance to the reality that homosexuality is a part of everyone’s existence. Even though as gay people, we are still part of the world that everybody lives in, its somewhat made to seem like we live separately to our society, but we engage in relations with these assumedly straight people. We even find and explore our sexuality through them. So where is the rationality of throwing stones?
In the next edition of Uniq magazine, Mzamo’s Diary, A Journey to Fame and love, Mzamo reveals his experience at University, his big move to Johannesburg, his plans to conquer the entertainment industry, his rise to fame on Idols, Big Brother S.A and Rhythm City.