Her work was recognized with a major international freedom of expression prize at the Index on Censorship Awards, which, according to chairman Jonathan Dimbleby, celebrate the fundamental right to “Write, blog, tweet, speak out, protest and create art and literature and music.”
Other winners announced at the annual prizegiving evening in London included Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and Greek editor Kostas Vaxevanis.
Muholi said that South Africa was country of huge contrasts for gay people: on the one hand it has been enormously progressive and in 1996 became the first country in the world to constitutionally prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; on the other, there is a culture of fear if you are gay and serious hate crime is a huge problem, including “corrective” rape to “straighten out” lesbians. In the last year, four women have been murdered because of their sexuality, including Phumeza Nkolonzi, 22, who was shot dead in front of her grandmother and niece, and Sihle Sikoji, aged 19 when she was stabbed to death.
Getting the award comes at a particularly poignant time for Muholi, she said, because it is six years after the death of Busi Sigasa and seven after the death of Buhle Msibi – both black lesbian activists who were survivors of rape but who ended up HIV-positive. Both were activist colleagues and featured in her photography.
Muholi hopes that her work helps other lesbians in South Africa. “The minute you see likeness is when you realise that no matter what you’re going through in your own life, you are not alone,” she said.
Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index, said: “Zanele has shown tremendous bravery in the face of criticism and harassment for ground-breaking images which include intimate portraits of gay women in South Africa, where homosexuality is still taboo and lesbians are the target of horrific hate crimes. She has won the award both for her courage and the powerful statements made by her work.”
The other awards given out last night were an advocacy award to the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was deliberately targeted and shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating education for girls. She was flown to the UK for life-saving surgery and now lives in Birmingham.
The journalism award, sponsored by the Guardian, went to Kostas Vaxevanis, the journalist who was arrested last October after he published the “Lagarde List” of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts in his weekly magazine, Hot Doc.
The digital freedom award went to Palestinian-born Syrian software engineer Bassel Khartabil for his work as a champion of web freedom and as a computer engineer who specialises in the development of open source software.
Khartabil has been held in prison in Syria for over a year and his friend, film-maker Dana Trometer, was due to collect the award on his behalf.
article by Mark Brown via guardian.co.uk