Khayelitsha-hailing musician S-Kay Mafu flies his queer flag high every day of the year and talks finding happiness in owning your truth

On the 2nd of October, to celebrate the kick off of Pride Month, a particularly colourful clique of queers made their way up Joburg’s Constitution Hill to hoist the rainbow Pride flag, which will remain proudly hoisted for the duration of the month.

With some of the most progressive LGBTQ+ laws in the world, including full constitutional protections against discrimination, it certainly is something worth celebrating.

On the opposite end of the country, about 30km from Cape Town — Africa’s Gay Capital — Khayelitsha-hailing singer, songwriter, and performing artist S-Kay Mafu has been flying his flag loud and proud, every day of every month, for as long as he can remember.

“I knew I was queer probably when I was a toddler. I was always drawn to feminine clothing and products. I would always dress up in my mom’s heels and I only ever socialised or played with girls,” S-Kay admits with a smile. “I completely disassociated with masculinity and heteronormativity. People must have thought I was a little rebel, but I was truly living out life the way it felt right and natural to me.”

Despite enjoying the aesthetic side of femininity, despite disassociating with masculinity, S-Kay identifies as a gay man, and answers to pronouns “he” and “him”.

S-Kay lost his father at the age of nine, and was raised, one of four children, by a single mother who, he explains, passed away this year on her birthday. I offer my condolences and comment on the cruel irony, but he respectfully brushes it off saying, “There has been quite a lot of death in my family; I haven’t allowed that to steal my zeal for life though. I love being alive and I feel like I have so much to offer to the world.”

I am amazed by his genuine positivity. But I’ve listened to S-Kay’s music, so I’m not surprised.

He explains that his mother was only ever supportive of him embracing his sexuality, an armour he wore to ward of homophobic harassment in his community. “I’ve never really cared for my community’s opinions on my sexuality and feminine demeanour, to be honest. This is not to say I am not affected by the rife homophobia that we all experience as members of the LGBTQI+ community in South Africa,” he confesses.

As a queer person of colour myself, I’ve experienced racism within my Mother City bubble, so I ask about S-Kay’s experience in Khayelitsha and his response reminds me of how tiny and privileged my little bubble is. “Racism is unheard of in the township gay scene because, well, we are all black AF,” he laughs. “But classism is definitely a thing. And that is a big joke because look at us — we are all living in a disadvantaged area with limited resources and opportunities. We all belong in one marginalised group. But I guess hierarchy is somewhat human nature, no?”

S-Kay explains how, while they don’t really have the luxury of having queer-exclusive entertainment, there are some venues that are more queer-friendly than others. “There are various queer activist groups who are trying their best to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people such as mini Pride parades and drag shows or beauty contests. I hold such people at a very high regard because we need more of those for our people,” S-Kay reassures me with a smile and a glimmer of hope.

We talk about music and its associated challenges and S-Kay doesn’t hold back as he explains, “Society generously serves me three strikes of not-so-good luck almost on a daily basis: I am black, queer and fat. But the most difficult challenge that I have had to battle with comes from being a femme queer artist trying to pursue a musical journey in a field that still struggling to fully accept me.”

But S-Kay has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Music is something that has been within him since he can remember, and music is what ignites his spirit, and gives him true joy. His most recent single, “Ndihoye” is a feel-good fusion of romance and love, of Afro-pop beats and reggae elements, and it’s every bit as positive as S-Kay’s energy. It’s exactly this energy that he exudes that he knows will never allow him to quit pursuing his talent, not just for himself, but for anyone he might inspire in the process.

He talks about all the local legends in entertainment who have inspired his queer journey, Brenda Fassie and Somizi being his favourites. “When 3sum joined the entertainment scene, I was over the moon. I remember thinking, ‘Finally! Someone that looks and lives like me!’ I wanted to see more of that,” he explains excitedly.

But the local queer entertainment scene is cooking right now, with people of colour leading the charge, and in conclusion S-Kay acknowledges their necessary contributions. “Recently, queer talent has started being more prominent in the entertainment media space. People like, FAKA, Dope Saint Jude, Angel-Ho, Olwee and Sandi Blouse really make me happy. So I am here to offer my contribution as well. The community needs more of us.”