Monday, April 29, 2013

Violent Society Blocks South Africa's Lesbians From Fully Celebrating Freedom

Thanduxolo Buti

I believe that freedom is a right that should be enjoyed by everyone and not only by a select few. As much as South Africa has worked hard in ensuring human rights, but hate crimes and corrective rape seem to overshadow the many achievements and strides made by government. The LGBTI community continues to be robbed of the chance to fully enjoy their right to freedom. As much as there are other reasons to celebrate this month, I can’t help but think of the society that still lives in fear even with nineteen years of freedom.

Last week I met a young handsome lesbian in Thokoza. Mbali has been lesbian all her life and growing up she would only play with boys because for some reason she felt more comfortable around them. Being a lesbian in a township had never been easy for Mbali and faced hate and discrimination daily in her community. As she grew older she became exposed to the ugly side of being a butch lesbian in the township, she would hear of violence and rape towards lesbians. “You know now as much as I am proud of my sexuality, I constantly live in fear. I don’t even trust the boys who are close [to me], my friends anymore because of fear of what they might do to me when no one is around,” she says.

As a result of her fear Mbali, like many other lesbians, chooses to live mostly in confinement and hardly attends social gatherings. Mbali’s fear was further escalated when a close friend was raped and murdered. Her body was found with broken bottle pieces inside her vagina. “I mean these people are still walking freely around here even after they killed my friend.
“This is not fair at all because I too want to live freely without worry or fear of what might happen”. After talking to Mbali, my theory that we have a long way to go to freedom was further heightened.

Through my work as an arts and lifestyle journalist, I have become acquainted with some of the bravest lesbian artists. These are the artists who have taken the role of sparking dialogue through their work to make sure stories of young lesbians are heard.  They too have sharpened their knives to fight for freedom as people of the LGBTI community. One of these brave young artists is award winning dancer Mamela Nyamza who has been labelled an activist because of her work for the LGBTI community.

I spoke to Nyamza when she was in Johannesburg to perform her piece, I Stand Corrected. In the piece she addresses the escalating issue of hate crimes and corrective rape in her beloved country. She asks with the piece: “What happens when you kill me because of my sexuality? Am I corrected or do I just die?”
Nyamza says that South Africa has a long way to go before members of the LGBTI society are truly free. She says as a result of that, she is constantly finding new ways to join in the protest for freedom. She further explains that although she loves performing her pieces to various audiences, she would however forever cherish the day she joined other LGBTI protesters and performed her piece Kutheni outside the Johannesburg magistrate court.

“The stage is usually where I protest but that day I joined the masses because I was tired of us being killed. The message was so much stronger because it was within the protest. This country needs us to speak out because the LGBTI is still not heard and as a gay artist I bravely take on that role”.

Index award winner for freedom of speech Zanele uses her work to fight for the freedom of the LGBTI community in South Africa. Through her photography she depicts the world of the LGBTI people in South Africa. Speaking to her recently she expressed about our violent communities. “South Africa is the best country and I am proud to be a South African,” she says. “Although South Africa has the best constitution and gay rights in the world, violence is a huge problem.”

It’s through these conversations that I came to decision that I wouldn’t celebrate Freedom Day this year. It’s difficult to celebrate achievements made when I strongly feel that South Africans are still turning a blind eye to the rights of the LBGTI society. Why is it that even with nineteen years of Freedom we still have a society that still lives in fear of living free in their country? Freedom should not be for all and not only for those that society has approved.

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