Newtown ‘moffie’ murals are a show of hypermasculinity mixed with hate speech

Angelo C Louw says Joburg’s graffiti artists playing a dangerous game by painting homophobic slurs on the walls of our economic hub.

While thousands celebrated the Constitutional grains of LGBTQ people at Johannesburg Pride this weekend, just down the road a toxic battle brewing between graffiti artists continued to infringe on the very rights being observed.

It was a day like any other: I was running a bit late for work, I grabbed my lunchbox off the back seat and proceeded to the front door of our Newtown office. As I opened the door, I glanced back to see if anyone was behind me and went cold; across the road from my work place stood graffiti all over the wall of an abandoned building which read, “PLEASE NO MOFFIES”.This is not the first time I’ve seen graffiti like this in the area; on the very next block, on a pillar holding up the M1 highway near the entrance of Newtown Junction, “DON’T BE A MOFFIE” reads under a mural in glaring black and yellow paint.

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO 🍌 By @DMOGOTSI #moffie #gaysa #gayblack #gaybeard #gaybear #lgbt #menaretrash #patriarchymustfall

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Cause communicator and LGBTQ activist Angelo C Louw responded to the first “moffie” mural in Newtown by posting a video online of him deep throating a banana in front of it.

When I first saw it, as wasn’t sure what to make of it. I tried not to make a fuss in the name of artistic freedom, convincing myself that the artist was being sarcastic or trying to make a point of sort about patriarchy in South Africa. But, the emergence of a second mural only justifies my uneasiness about the first; I had no business trying to legitimise the use of hate speech in the public domain.

As an advocate for LGBTQ rights, I know very well the consequences of letting attacks on the community slide, and we have come way too far – legally, anyways – to allow such degradation.

Just last month, another video made rounds on social media showing a group of school children assaulting a male classmate. Speaking to the Weekend Argus, the pupil’s father said that, leading up to assault: “My son has been called a moffie. He is much smaller than the other kids and hangs out with girls.”

Also in recent months, The Citizen exposed hate speech by several conservative Afrikaners on social media who claimed that “moffies” were to blame for natural disasters in the world, and more specifically in Knysna. According to one bigot, runaway fires which left six people dead, were apparently the wrath of God being meted out on a town that had shown far too much tolerance towards homosexuality and gay weddings.

Three more examples of these displays of hypermasculinity around the Newtown precinct, all of which are loaded homophobic or gender prejudice.

With every new “moffie” mural or tag – and there have been several since – it is becoming clearer that at the helm of this whole debacle is tiff between rival graffiti artists, as many of the newer ones sought to deface existing artwork in the area.

Graffiti has a history in the reclamation of public space by marginalised urban communities. However, this callous display of hypermasculinity, which is deeply rooted in hip hop culture, has no place in a society that strives to remedy to the symptoms of patriarchy. We cannot give play-play gangsters hyped up on trap music bravado the room to act out these toxic displays.

When City of Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba introduced bylaws restricting the production of street art last year, graffiti artists accused his administration of not differentiating between gang graffiti and legal graffiti productions – their proverbial bread and butter. However, in this case, hate speech infringing on the constitutional rights of LGBTQ individuals, are present in both commissioned work and incidents of vandalism.

Graffiti murals are an integral part of the aesthetic that is Newtown; they once masked urban decay caused by corporate’s exodus from downtown Joburg in the 90s – and are a drawcard in its increasing gentrification. One looks forward to seeing new work which showcase an incredible amount of skill and talent; however, artists have begun to play a very dangerous game by throwing around homophobic slurs on the walls of our economic hub.

Thousands of people travel in and out of the city daily and allowing this rhetoric to grace our walls endorses violence against LGBTQ people – because this in itself in a form of violence.

I don’t, however, believe that new bylaws are a solution to the problem, since we already have pretty clear laws around the right dignity enjoyed by every citizen in our country – including an outlaw on hate speech. What is needed is for authorities to enforce these laws, which is pretty much the song LGBTQ activists have sung with every new legal victory overlooked by society.

Angelo C Louw is the advocacy officer at Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII). He is also a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship 2016-2017 awardee. He writes in his personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policies.