Women Take Ownership Of Their Sexuality And The Streets

The following piece was written by Cheryl Roberts on the Sparkling Women Facebook page – This is the kind of piece that should be written and to which I was referring to my post from yesterday “Telling other people’s stories” .

Fighting Homophobia, Women Take Ownership Of Their Sexuality And The Streets

Given our non-racial democratic South African society, our very progressive constitution, our defense of human rights, coupled with our brutal past… of violence, we can be forgiven to think that 16 years on, violence against girls and women should not be occurring at all.
However, despite freedom and personal choice of sexuality being enshrined in South Africa’s non-racial, democratic constitution, hate crime and gay abuse/violence are realities in several township residential areas of South Africa and young, black, gay women are particularly vulnerable to such attacks.
Although any and every person in any South African community, whatever their gender, class or colour, must have the right to life and sexuality, as they choose, and no other person has any right to determine otherwise for them or to terminate their life because they don’t approve of their sexuality or lifestyle, several cases of death, as a result of hate crime, have already occurred. And many violent attacks have also gone unreported because the victims are too scared to report their attackers.
Numerous protests against hate crime and gay violence have followed the attacks, with LGBT activists- mainly LGBT sympathetic NGO’s, women’s and gay and lesbian groups- delivering the protest action. Despite the protests, every gay girl or woman in a black township remains a potential victim of hate crime.
But women in Guguletu and Nyanga are not allowing their sexuality to be prescribed, imposed, determined or abused by any brute or thug of a man. Ndumie Funda and Leletu Ntanjana are two women LGBT activists who are ensuring programmes are set in motion which articulate the protection and support of township-based young, gay, black women.

Over the past five years at least two young Cape Town women footballers are known and recorded victims of violent hate crime because of their sexuality. Zoliswa Nkonyana, 19 did not survive being a victim of hate crime and anti-gay violence. She was tragically murdered by youths who stoned her, threw bricks at her and stabbed her whilst she fell to the ground and died.
Luleka Makiwane, 25 was a fun-loving, educated woman, working as a sound engineer and also a sports commentator for Radio Zibonele in Khayalitsha. She was a woman footballer, a member of Winnie’s Ladies FC in Guguletu, enjoying our non-racial democratic South Africa, until she was violently abused and brutally raped by a member of her family. Luleka was not even into men, she was not sexually attracted to men but it took this thug of a man ‘to show her what a man could do to a woman who did not like men’. Luleka was not only raped, she also became another HIV/ aids statistic. Two years after the rape, she died in 2005.
Audrey Lorde’s account of how she felt as a gay, black teenage girl in the United States, still reverberates today in South African society. “I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell,” is how feminist, poet, activist, writer Audre Lorde recalls her young adult life 50 yrs ago. These feelings are still very prevalent today in most African countries and South Africa, particularly for young black women who face consistent verbal/physical attacks.

But just being aware of the social experiences of young black women in township residential areas is not enough. Support, advise and information is vital and must be filtered to the women so that they can be empowered and be able to defend and advance their human rights and sexuality.
Ndumie and Leletu are two young women, lesbian by choice, who are also choosing to defend and protect the human rights of girls and women who dare to choose their sexuality outside of the heterosexual norm.
Both Ndumie and Leletu are LGBT activists. They confront potential violence and attacks head on, not by walking the townships residential streets with pangas (although I’m sure they would love to do that) but via programmes of social activism which give confidence and dignity to the gay sports girl.
An indoor women’s soccer tournament was staged in Guguletu in August on a Saturday afternoon and organized by Leletu’s township-based entertainment business, Ledzatainment Events. But this was not just another sports event. It wasn’t premised on who would be the champion team, but on participation by gay girls who could feel safe and protected on the sports terrain.
The girls need support and protection. They love the sport of football, not because they want to be boys, but because it’s their free choice to choose participation in a sport without their gender being a restriction. But organized sport does not protect the girls from violence because playing sport does not necessarily mean you will be looked after. What this means is that you can be a victim of violence and abuse, particularly hate crime in the form of death at any given time.
‘Being gay and living in a township, surrounded by homophobic boys and men who are ignorant because of non-education, socialization and mis-information, is not easy. It can be very daunting where you actually get scared to walk out of your house or go to school. And that’s because you are a potential victim of hate crime,” says Ndumie.
Although they interact with LGBT and human rights NGO’s outside of the townships, both Ndumie and Leletu organize their activities in the township where the girls stay and where are they are most susceptible to abuse.
The soccer tournament attracted several girls and young adult women, all gathered by the love of football and a common sexuality. As I interact with the women, I realize immediately how good and positive this is. I meet Pamella Ngwabeni, an exciting young actress currently appearing in her debut solo performance ‘Kiss of a Woman’. She has just arrived from performing in Johannesburg but she is here to support the LGBT day of activism and to be the referee. There is Loyiso, a matric pupil who loves being a photographer, dreams of owning her own camera and can’t decide whether to pursue a career in law or photography. The footballers are kitted out and play gets underway.
Leletu has arranged a full programme of football, poetry and music. The girls are safe here. They are protected. Ndumie and Leletu move around with confidence, positive feelings reverberating all around. A girl catches my eye. She is seated on her own. Leletu tells me she is 12 years old and desperately wants to play football. She has been drawn to the event because its football for girls. Her eyes are fixated on the goings on, lighting up as the football kicks into action.
And when I see this, I realize how important this event is to the girls. I compliment Ndumie and Leleti, tell them this is success that will grow much bigger because they are protecting the girls and women against homophobia, not waiting for hate crimes to happen and then to protest at court.

Leletu and Ndumie are grassroots activists so vitally needed. They are a beacon of hope and support for girls and women who fear their choice of sexuality will make them victims of hate crime. Although Leletu and Ndumie are aware that their challenge is a massive one, they not giving in or giving up.
‘We must fight hate crime,’ says Ndumie. ‘We must protect ourselves as women and provide supportive spaces for our girls to be safe’, adds Leletu. And this is exactly what they are doing!
As for me, the little contribution I can make, is to create more awareness via my writings and to allow more voices to be heard and read.