Most activist organizations working to advance the human rights of LGBTI people in the region are small with limited geographical reach, diverse agendas, unpaid or poorly paid staff, and inadequate funding for the ambitious agendas and programmes they have set. These structural constraints have not stopped the enormous dedication and courage of activists and organizations, who have made enormous progress to advance the interests of the communities for which they work.

Southern Africa is now near a tipping point of change in recognizing the citizenship of LGBTI people. Almost half the countries in the region (i.e. South Africa, Seychelles, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, and Botswana) have either decriminalized homosexual sex or are in the process of reviewing laws that discriminate against LGBTI people, either through voluntary legal reform or challenges in the courts (taking decriminalization of homosexual sex as a proxy indicator of progress). In addition, a legal challenge to allow same-sex marriage has been initiated in Namibia. 

Sustained progress to tip the balance towards equality and freedom for LGBTI citizens in the region now at once requires more joined-up, strategically smart, and hard-hitting public advocacy capability by LGBTI human rights activists (especially intersex, lesbian, and transgender groups who are the least organized, visible, and resourced), and more robust direct engagement of duty bearers in the public, private, and social spheres – for deep and lasting change in public policies and attitudes.

kopano – Expanding Space for LGBTI Activism in Southern Africa recognizes the growth, increased voice and visibility, and successes of LGBTI activism across the region; recognizes the new political, social and economic opportunities that are emerging to advance LGBTI equality and freedom in southern Africa; and recognizes new threats facing frontline LGBTI activists – and provides a platform for LGBTI activists and allies across diverse fields across the whole region to join up to evolve their activism towards a new depth and scale of impact.

kopano, meaning a family gathering to address an important issue in seSotho – provides a once-every-two-year collective strategy development space in which a range of LGBTI activists and allies come together to critically analyze changes that have happened in southern Africa’s social, economic, and political context as well as in the LGBTI movements in the region; consider the best ways to evolve in advancing equality, freedom, and social inclusion for LGBTI people in the region; learn from each other and develop strong relationships of solidarity.

A once-in-two-years gathering, the kopano brings together LGBTI community leaders; community organizations and members; interested individuals from the mass media, business, religious groups, academic institutions and development agencies; social justice and economic empowerment activists; policymakers; and donors, to critically consider the best way to move forward in advancing equality and freedom of LGBTI people in southern Africa.  Discussants at any level of exposure, interest, experience, or knowledge – and from any field – across southern Africa can register to participate in the kopano.

Each kopano is framed in response to the most pressing current issues and trends affecting the lives and activism of LGBTI people, organizations and movements in southern Africa. It is a space where people, ideas, and places meet to catalyze change at a particular time and in a particular context.

More than simply a conference, the kopano is a solutions-focused community gathering with a deliberative process – in which attendees are invited to take leading roles as panelists, facilitators, rapporteurs, volunteers, and discussants – to address the contextual developments informing and affecting LGBTI activism in southern Africa and to help advance movement building.

No invitations are sent out to attend the kopano. An open call for registration gives anyone the opportunity to attend the kopano as a panelist, facilitator, rapporteur, volunteer or discussant. Each role is framed as follows:

  • Panelists provide information and analysis to set the frame for deeper discussions in working sessions.
  • Facilitators lead working session deliberations.
  • Rapporteurs capture high-level themes and critical points and report back to the larger group about the concrete ideas and strategies that emerge from deliberations.
  • Discussants engage in deliberations to co-create strategies that advance LGBTI equality, freedom, and social inclusion.

The kopano combines panel discussions that frame smaller group discussions and deliberations; keynote presentations by guest speakers; self-organized spaces for discussants to network and caucus; an exhibition space, providing discussants with creative ways to share their work; and public events including opening and closing receptions to enable strong relationship building amongst discussants and the broader LGBTI and ally community.

With an emphasis on self-empowerment and community building, the kopano strives for full and diverse participation. Particular attention is given to promote the participation of activists from faith groups, social justice movements, the mass media, parents and families of LGBTI people, development practitioners; human rights promotion and defence practitioners, business groups, service providers, policymakers, artists, researchers, and scholars.

The kopano is residential for most discussants. To ensure a diversity of participation, the Other Foundation provides a limited number of full and partial scholarships to some discussants. Panelists, facilitators, rapporteurs and other volunteers receive full scholarships. Participants from the host city can be daytime participants who benefit from a reduced registration fee. International, regional and local donors are full paying participants.

kopano – Expanding Space for LGBTI Activism in Southern Africa, will take place over a four-day period at the Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng (outside Johannesburg), South Africa, from 17 to 21 September 2019.

It will bring together about 200 participants from across southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, South Africa, and Swaziland) and a few other international participants, to engage in regional level sharing of experience and knowledge, analysis, peer learning, reflection, and relationship strengthening  – to support the evolution of strategies used by LGBTI activists and allies in a growing movement.

The specific goals of kopano – Expanding Space for LGBTI Activism in Southern Africa are to:

  • Assess the positive and negative changes that have happened in the political, social, and economic landscape in southern Africa – as well as in the LGBTI activist movements in the region.
  • Explore regional level advocacy opportunities and strategies.
  • Plan for increased preventive and responsive security protections for frontline LGBTI activists.
  • Evolve the strategies used by LGBTI activist groups for greater depth and scale of impact.

The expected outcomes of this kopano are:

  • Renewed collective energy amongst LGBTI activist organizations, their members and allies for evolved activism – especially amongst lesbian and intersex groups;
  • More joined-up strategic relationships amongst LGBTI activist groups and allies across the region;
  • A shared agenda for regional level advocacy to advance equality and freedom for LGBTI people in southern Africa; and
  • Increased preventive and responsive security for frontline activists.



Click the thumbnail to download a copy of the draft programme for kopano – Expanding space for LGBTI activism in southern Africa, and get a sense of how the convening will evolve.



There are five ways to participate in our kopano:


Register and make your own travel and accommodation arrangements. The registration fee is R5,000 for individual/organizational representatives;


Register as a host city daytime participant at a reduced registration fee with no travel and accommodation arrangements. The discounted registration fee is R1,500;

facilitator fc


Facilitator applications are now closed.

volunteer v


Volunteer applications are now closed.



Scholarship applications are now closed.


You must register online even if you are also applying for to be a facilitator, a volunteer, or for a scholarship to participate in the kopano.



kopano – Expanding Space for LGBTI Activism in southern Africa, an LGBTI strategy space where people, places, and ideas meet to help make freedom a reality for all in southern Africa.


Everyone should be free to live a safe and dignified life, have a family and make their contribution to society – no matter who they are or who they love. The purpose of this kopano was to find ways to speed up change to make this a lived reality for LGBTI people in southern Africa.

kopano – Accelerating Change, a gathering of groups that are working to advance equality, social inclusion, and wellbeing of homosexual and bisexual women and men, and transgender and intersex people in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, was convened to address this need. We would like to thank the co-convenors Iranti-Org​, LambdaMoz​, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO)​, Namibia Diverse Women’s Association (NDWA​), Pan Africa ILGA​ (PAI), and Gender DynamiX​, for their incredible support.

With such an incredible team of individuals, groups and organizations behind kopano to ensure its success, it is no surprise that we received positive feedback from the more than 200 activists from 12 African countries.

‘I learnt a lot of skills on participatory community partnerships and strategic spaces.’

‘Great job, accommodated people even from rural areas.’

‘Working groups allowed for expression and sharing of ideas and working ways.’

‘Balanced and varied as well as stimulating conversations coming out of it.’

In keeping with the innovative formatting of the inaugural kopano in 2015, Accelerating Change was also documented in video so as to be able to share the experience far beyond the immediate participants in the kopano. After watching this opening video, click on the links below to watch recordings of the key plenary sessions and outcomes over the four day convening.

Our context: What changes have been happening for and against LGBTI people in southern Africa?

Framing the nature – both negative and positive – of changes in the social, political, economic, cultural, legal and civic context for LGBTI people in southern Africa.

Moderator: Bongani Bingwa – Journalist.

Panelists: Ricki Kgositau – Gender DynamiX; Linda Baumann – NDWA; Danilo da Silva – LambdaMoz.


Our Movement: How is our movement driving of hindering these changes?

An exploration of how the LGBTI movement is driving, hindering, or indifferent to  changes in our environment, with a focus on strategies and actions that amplify or mitigate these changes.

Moderator: Melanie Judge – Queer and feminist activist.

Panelists: Chesterfield Samba – GALZ; Nonhlanhla Mkhize – Gay Centre.


Public narratives: How does the public see and hear LGBTI people and activism in our region?

What is informing public narratives about LGBTI people and activism in the region, and what implications do these narratives have for our activism?

Moderator: Bongani Sibeko – Independent activist.

Panelists: Ragies Gunda – Independent consultant; Zini Godden – Interim Chair, PLUS the LGBTI+ Business Network; Bourne Kanyumwa – Malawi Police Service.


Reclaiming an African Narrative for LGBTI equality and inclusion: A dialogue.

Dialogue to explore African perspectives and narratives that could be used to integrate LGBTI freedom and equality within the broader African social and economic justice struggles.

Moderator: Bella Matambanadzo – Co-chair of the Other Foundation.

Panelists: Pansy Tlakula – former Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights; Lenny Lebon – former MP, Seychelles National Assembly; Deyonce Naris – Trans, Intersex and Androgynous Movemenet of Namibia (TIAMON); Caine Youngman – LEGABIBO.

Vote of thanks: Gary Rhoda – Human Rights Officer, Commonwealth Secretariat.

Shaping new narratives: Refining our messaging for different regions.

An assessment of the public messaging that LGBTI activists in the region use to engage the public, to evaluate whether those messages adequately engage the prevailing public narratives about, and social attitudes towards, LGBTI people.

Moderator: Dawn Cavanagh – Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).

Respondent: Martha Tholanah – Independent consultant.


Accelerating Change: What should we do anew to drive faster and deeper change?

Framing of the main types of actions and partnerships needed to make social, political, economic, and cultural change in favour of LGBTI happen faster and in a lasting way.

Moderator: Ian Southey-Swartz – Open Society Foundations.

Panelists: Paula Sebastiâo – Independent activist; Diana Katu – Pakasipiti; Mclean Kabwe – The Lotus Identity.


The journey we have walked: Review of kopano discussions.

Video summary of outcomes from working group discussions.



Envisioning Change: Scenarios for the future.

Envisioning change for LGBTI people in the next three years: What may we be able to achieve and what do we need to do to get there in terms of actions and messaging?

Moderator: Anzio Jacobs – SCOPE.

Panelists: Jabu Pereira – Iranti- Org; Tiffany Mugo – Holaafrica; Carina Capitine – LambdaMoz.


Closure: Our voices have power.

Video presentation of what discussants found unique about our kopano, with a closing message from co-chair of the Other Foundation’s board of trustees, Xhanti Payi.



Graphic harvest of all the plenary sessions at kopano – Accelerating Change (click to enlarge)

















kopano – ACCELERATING CHANGE – an LGBTI strategy space where people, places, and ideas meet to help make freedom a reality for all in southern Africa

Kopano LOGO
• SOUTH AFRICA • 28 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2015 

Everyone should be free to live a safe and dignified life, have a family and make their contribution to society – no matter who they are or who they love. We need to figure out what is working and what does not, to make this a lived reality in southern Africa. That was the purpose for convening this kopano.

Our inaugural kopano Freedom for All provided a unique and empowering strategy space for groups that are working to advance and protect the human rights, social inclusion, and wellbeing of homosexual and bisexual women and men, as well as transgender and intersex people in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Remarkably positive feedback has been received from many of the over 100 activists from 11 African countries, who engaged in facilitated strategy discussions geared towards shifting the paradigm of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] activism from individual sexual rights to transformative social change.

“What an amazing conference! So much motivation for us as African social movements.” Alain Redcliffe, OUT!ology Network

“It was a delightful experience.” Melusi Simelani, Swaziland

“I am truly grateful to the Other Foundation for being part of this amazing conference.” Ricky Nathanson, Zimbabwe

Breaking away from dreary conference formats, the kopano was purposefully designed as a community gathering, to facilitate as much soul-searching, interaction and discussion between participants as possible. It was defined by collaborative organizing, enough time for remembering those who have gone before us, and great moments for celebration of new milestones that have been reached. 1 in 4 participants was actively engaged in the running of the kopano – by being a co-facilitator, volunteer, or intern. There was emphasis on self-empowerment and community building through working with activists from the media, faith groups, organizations focused on human rights defense from a legal perspective, health and wellbeing organizations, and social justice movements.  In addition, high profile panelists and moderators in plenary sessions helped to unpack the possibilities of alliance building with non-LGBTI groups and challenge participants to re-invent their approaches.

Our kopano was also innovatively documented in video by a cohort of media interns working with more experienced media professionals, so as to be able to share the experience far beyond the immediate participants in the kopano. In the interest of those who couldn’t attend our kopano (and for those who wish to relive some moments), we have uploaded footage of the plenary sessions, which can be viewed on our kopano-dedicated YouTube channel. Click on the links below to watch recordings of the key plenary sessions.

Prospects for Progress & Lessons from Setbacks

Gains made from across the region over the last 12 to 18 months are interrogated for lessons to strengthen our work.
Moderator: Eusebius McKaiser – Social Commentator.
Panelists: Danilo Da Silva – LAMBDA; Fadzai Muparutsa – Coalition of African Lesbians; Ricky Nathanson – Southern Africa Regional Trans Forum; Monica Tabengwa – Activist;  Steve Letsike – National Task Team, South Africa, Access Chapter 2.


Finding Shared Values in a Fractured World

Presentation: Carla Sutherland – The Other Foundation

Speakers: Miguel De Brito – Trustee; Neville Gabriel – The Other Foundation.


Alliance Building for the Future

Exploring what it will take to build strong alliances with related sectors.
Moderator: Alice Mogwe – Trustee.
Panelists: Malusi Mpumlwana – South African Council of Churches; Edwin Cameron – Constitutional Court of South Africa; Karima Brown – Independent Media; Lindiwe Zikhali – Anglo American.

Opportunities for Innovation

Short inputs on new and innovative work happening in the region.
Moderator: Ian Southey-Swartz – Open Society Foundations.
Panelists: Faraaz Mohamed – South African Human Rights Commission; Mukami Marate – UHAIThe East Africa Sexual Health and Rights Initiative; Swelakhe Shelembe – KwaZulu Natal Christian Council; Finn Reygan – Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action; Jabu Pereira – Iranti.


IMG_5450Outcomes: Approaches to Social Change

What is needed to achieve sustainable social change, from human resources to strategy and everything in-between?

IMG_5549Outcomes: Thematic Areas for Strategic Interventions

Given limited resources and trying environments, which areas of focus have been proven best at effecting change ?



IMG_5574Outcomes: Opportunities for Action

Many hands make light work – are you aware of these opportunities?


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kopano FREEDOM FOR ALL – an LGBTI strategy space where people, places, and ideas meet to help make freedom a reality for all in southern Africa.

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