Friday, April 4, 2014

Top Billing on South African public television celebrates gay wedding of fashion designer Gert-Johan Coetzee - as the rest of African TV shy away from making a gay faux pas.

On Thursday night the long running weekly entertainment magazine show Top Billing on SABC3 not only showed, but celebrated, the gay wedding of the South African fashion designer Gert-Johan Coetzee - a real-life South African television tableau that's still inconceivable for public broadcasters and on TV screens elsewhere on the African continent.

With an aggressive and ever-increasing anti-gay sentiment sweeping across Africa from Nigeria to Uganda as governments are ramping up the prosecution of homosexuals and grappling with legislative issues regarding the sexual preference of citizens, the mere broadcast - let alone celebration - of a gay wedding between two men on a national broadcaster is as groundbreaking as it is impossible outside of South Africa's borders.

On Thursday night's episode the entertainment show from Tswelope Productions - known for its almost constantly shirtless male presenters in a type of tit-for-tat gender objectification - showed the forest wedding of Gert-Johan Coetzee and his lover, Vicky Visagie.

Vicky Visagie is a software developer and works as the brand manager of the in vogue fashion designer with his recognisable croissant coif.

The men got married at the Buisfontein Safari Lodge in the Northwest Province with not just one but two Top Billing presenters in attendance - Jonathan Boynton-Lee who is currently South Africa's "sexiest man", and Bonang Matheba, South Africa's ascendant queen of all media as a wedding guest.

By doing this Top Billing - largely seen as South African television's most influential programme over the past two decades and holding sway over the national consciousness of fashion, trends, conspicuous consumption and indicative of what constitutes current high society - normalises something which similar TV shows and broadcasters in Africa won't touch.

Indeed South African television seems a separate island compared to the rest of Africa with its inclusion, depiction and celebration of gay characters.

While verboten and shunned on TV screens elsewhere on the continent, flipping through TV channels, South African viewers have become used to seeing a spectrum of gay people in any number of ongoing usual and unusual circumstances.

This range from public broadcaster, free-to-air and pay-TV soaps like Generations and Isidingo on the SABC which have included gay characters for a number of years now, to's Rhythm City and Scandal! - even Mzansi Magic's Inkaba.

Even serialised local dramas like After Nine and eKasi: Our Stories on the SABC and have shown that South African broadcasters, unlike their African counterparts, are not shying away from telling stories with and about gay characters on local television.

The popular pay-TV reality show Survivor South Africa: Champions on M-Net currently includes the gay wedding planner and rugby player contestant Zavion Kotze, presenting an image of a real-life gay man on television to a South African public they've never seen before.