Brilliant Kodie is the genius behind Setabane, an online digital archive of the experiences of Queer people in Botswana. A breath of fresh air, he made me laugh by commenting on the Westernization of his second name, “It has now become Cody.”
An engaging and captivating storyteller from Kalfontein, Brilliant has moved around Botswana and currently resides in Gaborone, the capital. He is a photographer who has dedicated the past two years to documenting the bodies, stories, and essence of Queer people living in Botswana. The impact of his work is truly far-reaching, and through Setabane we are able to see the power storytelling holds as a form of activism - writing, photography, and an upcoming podcast in collaboration with the Queer African Network.
Kodie’s always had a passion for photography and storytelling but it was only until his final year of college that he chose to pursue his passion full time. In his earlier years as a storyteller, he was often displeased with how he was represented whenever he told his story. “The lack of depth was limiting, and that is when the activist side of me grew (exponentially),” he remarks. Kodie is intolerant of the stereotypical representations of Queer people and their stories. “If it is (limiting) we must call it out,” he states, “because it is what will inform the future generations, you know...” and this is what gave birth to Setabane.
As we delved deeper into how he came into his Queerness, I was able to see why he is so passionate about this cause. Kodie is a complex and multi-faceted person, like anyone else, but one that has always hated the mandatory categorizations of bodies based on labels. He told us about his childhood, where he was often expected to play football because he was a boy,“I hated it,” he says with a chuckle. Brilliant much rather preferred watching and listening to stories. “Growing up, I watched a lot of soap operas.” It was only until high school that he was forced to navigate the usual labels allotted to Queer people, in his particular case the G in TLGBIQ+, “gay”.
As he watched and listened to more stories, he was always upset that he never saw someone that represented his particular identity. “And the only time you saw that was when it was being ridiculed or it being shamed,” he says,“which makes it so hard to accept who you are.”
Even worse for him, as he went to church he faced more discrimination. “the policy of love in the church is so weird...it’s like I love you but I don't love you.” Despite all that, Kodie later learned to accept himself, and by joining the fashion industry, hoped that he would channel his storytelling but he was so upset with how the industry forces Queer people into heteronormative roles, or what he called a “hot mess.” He painfully recounts a campaign he was a part of where he was forced to present himself in a heteronormative way. “I am a flamboyant man and I love color, but I looked like someone completely different.” They would later cut him off, “(the managers) said that they felt like I represent generation Z which is not their target right now,” and we as African Queers can all acknowledge, this was Queerphobia in its most subliminal form -covered and smothered in excuses.
Yet Brilliant is certainly a resilient soul, you can pick it from his enthusiasm, which I call a whole vibe. When enough was enough he decided that telling the stories of Queer people was something he wanted to pursue as a lifelong project. He approached a TLGBIQ+ organization in Botswana to get the site up and running for the first year, but unfortunately, as he narrates, his experience with them was terrible.
“I want to be open with you and tell you about the discrimination that we as Queer people place upon ourselves,” he said, “we are slowing down the process of activism.”
The organization said that they had no money to offer, and would later tell Kodie that they can only allow it if it goes up on their website, which was not in line with his vision to represent the complex identities of Queer people in a new light. Kodie’s vision would have been limited by having Setabane run under a Queer organization as it was trying to break away from the normalized stories, faces, experiences, and people. “I decided to look into my own purse,” he says as he laughs, “and Setabane was born.”
Setabane is a derogatory term for a Queer person, and in choosing that name to launch his platform, brilliant Brilliant was making a statement: a reclamation, a humanization, and a celebration of Queer lives and Queer love in Botswana. “Setabane could now mean freedom - freeing us from whatever inhibits us, Queer people, in Botswana.” True to his vision, setabane.com is a truly beautiful digital platform that displays Queer people in a way I had never seen before. I would encourage you all to have a look and listen to our podcast with Brilliant Kodie where I made a new friend and heard one of the most entertaining people ever.
Connect with Brilliant @babe.x on the queerafricannetwork.com