We are gathered here today not to mourn but to celebrate the extraordinary life of a beautiful butterfly, the incredible Koyo Bala. Since his passing on Monday last week, we have been inundated with messages of condolences from all corners of the country bidding farewell to this colourful personality. This outpouring of tributes testifies to the fact that Koyo indeed touched many lives.
Given his humble beginnings, it would never have been easy to predict the kind of impact that Koyo would have in society. Having grown up in Gugulethu Township, outside Cape Town, he was full of ambition and was determined to rise above the conditions of the township. He knew that to be of any significance he had to associate with the best. This is probably the reason why he sought to link up with the legendary musician, Brenda Fassie. He came to Johannesburg in pursuit of his dreams.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure you would agree with me that it is difficult to talk about Koyo without alluding to the enormous contribution that his group, 3Sum, made in revolutionizing the South African entertainment scene. I am told that this trio – Koyo, Amstel Makwane and the late Jeff Moyo, all met on the dance floor at different times. This should tell us that they had a lot in common and they were determined to leave a mark in the social scene. Even though they had all studied a variety of courses that could have taken them into different career paths, they could not resist the allure of the arts and entertainment industry.
The trio moved from being mere mortals to becoming regulars on the red carpet, gracing some of the most prestigious events in South Africa’s entertainment calendar. They came out of nowhere and won the 2002 Selimathunzi Duku Duku Social Butterfly Award. Like the butterflies that they were, they represented beauty and grace in every event that they attended.
The three butterflies spread their wings and soared to the highest skies of the entertainment industry. They explored almost every avenue in the arts and entertainment industry, traversing the disciplines of music, dance and fashion with their flamboyant lifestyles. Who would not have noticed Koyo with his peroxide hair at social events? You did not have to be a close friend of his to understand that Koyo was full of life. He displayed his zest for life and carefree personality in just about every social event that he attended.
It is not surprising that when they decided to form 3Sum as a music group, their first album was called Dirubele, meaning a butterfly in Setswana. This group soon carved its own unique image and they developed into becoming one of the most formidable forces in the music industry. They may not have been the most talented music group in South Africa, but they surely made their presence felt in the arts and entertainment industry. In fact, 3Sum was more than just a music group. They were a social movement. They were young people who were determined to assert themselves and tell their own story. They wanted to define themselves as opposed to be defined by others.
They were the very first openly gay music group in the entire continent. This is no small feat in a society that remains hostile to gays and lesbians despite our constitutional provisions. It took courage and a strong sense of determination for them as a group to come out and become the proponents of gay rights. Gays and Lesbians have endured years of ridicule, abuse and rejection even by their own families. We have seen gay people over the years forced into living secret lives because of the rejection and harassment that they experience in their communities.
South Africa boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and we were one of the first few countries to recognise same sex marriages. Even the so-called civilized countries are following in our footsteps in this regard. In spite of our country being such a legislatively progressive nation, perceptions take much longer to change. The activism of groups like 3Sum who constantly remind all of us that gay rights are human rights, helps to enlighten our society and change public perceptions.
Koyo’s decision to publicly disclose his HIV positive status was a significant act of courage and selflessness. Similarly, many of us may not have known the kind of cancer that took Koyo. His passing should serve to raise more awareness about anal cancer, and where possible, preventative measures taken in order to avert this kind of disease.
We should find solace in the fact that Koyo lived his life to the fullest and leaves a lasting legacy in the arts and entertainment industry. The celebration of the lives of our departed patriots is not just about the act of commemoration, but is also about the recognition of their impact to those that they leave behind.
In his short life, Koyo became one of the most recognisable personalities in the entertainment industry. His meteoric rise into superstardom was propelled by his innate humility and love for people. However, our grief should not overshadow Koyo’s sterling contribution to society. We were blessed to have him in our lifetime. He gave his friends, family and all those who were touched by his life memories too beautiful to forget.
He gave hope and meaning to lives of thousands of gays and lesbians in our society. He is the flame that burnt bright illuminating the whole of South Africa in our darkest hour of prejudice against gays and lesbians. The life of Koyo should be an inspiration to all of us to expand our horizons, optimise our capabilities and never to impose limits on our dreams.
Koyo was a treasure to South Africa. His passing leaves a gaping hole in our entertainment industry. There are no words to express how we grieve for loosing this young and energetic soul. He can no longer display his flair on the dance floor or grace the red carpet, but we know that the memory of his infectious smile will always shine and lift our spirits.
We convey our heartfelt condolences to the Bala family at this difficult time. Your loss is a loss to the nation and the world at large. Let us rejoice in the realization that Koyo made good use of his talents and contributed meaningfully to humanity during his lifetime.
He may be gone but even death cannot kill the names of great personalities; for they are eternally etched in our hearts and minds. Koyo Bala has left indelible footprints in our collective memory.
The butterfly has flown away. Bye, bye, beautiful butterfly.