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01/11/2017 14:32 SAST | Updated 01/11/2017 14:32 SAST

Preserving South Africa's Queer Archive

We look inside the invaluable Gala collection.

2017 sees the 20th anniversary of Gay and Lesbian Memory In Action (Gala) -- an invaluable storehouse of South Africa's queer history, and home to some of the country's most passionate LGBTQ+ advocates.

Kept within its archives are touchstones of the LGBTQ+ struggle legacy –– like apartheid activist Simon Nkoli's letters to his lover from prison; the boots of raped and murdered soccer player Eudy Simelane; and rooms full of books, posters, and recordings that capture the legacy of the LGBTQ+ journey from illegality to constitutional protection against discrimination.

Huffpost SA met Keval Harie, the director of Gala, ahead of their upcoming exhibition to celebrate this important milestone in their history. As a young student, he tells us, the Gala archive was a safe space for him to be himself.

"I think of being the closeted young person I was at the time, coming to Gala for the first time, and reading Simon Nkoli's letters whilst he was in prison, which were incredibly moving. " Harie says from the seventh floor of the University of the Witwatersrand's University Corner, where Gala's headquarters are located.

Harie holds the keys to South Africa's queer history –– a history, he says, that tells an extraordinary story of the country's struggle toward equality for all its citizens.

"Our core purpose is to ensure against the erasure of LGBTQI history on the continent, and we do this by ensuring that we have a space that provides a platform for LGBTQI people, and activism, and a kind of movement-building." He says.

Gala's programmes, like the youth forum and LGBTI refugee forum, have also created a community space where people can feel safe in spite of the challenges they are facing.

"In this space, we try to provide an environment where young people can talk about their lives –– and it ranges from questions of identity, to questions of bodies, and how they are dealing with that. A lot of people might not necessarily be out to their families, but at least this provides an opportunity for them to provide support for other queer youth."

For Keval, Eudy Simelane's boots are one for the most important aspects of the collection.

"One of the most powerful things we worked with while planning our upcoming exhibition belonged to Eudy Simelane, who faced the most horrible and gruesome death as a result of her gender identity and sexual orientation."

"The Similane family donated Eudy's boots to Gala, and her soccer togs. It's so moving to have them as apart of the archive, because I think it really speaks to the lives of Eudy and others, who really just wanted to be their best –– and it speaks the innate tragedy in senseless deaths like Eudy's."

"I'm just glad we can provide Eudy with some sense of a story, and know her legacy will never be forgotten."