A very close friend of Zandile Motsoeneng, Activator 2015, was shot and killed. This happened shortly after arguing with a group of men about her sexuality, on the street next to her house. At the time Zandile’s friend was working and looking after her parents. Until this day, no arrests have been made. Zandile is convinced that the men who killed her friend are the ones she argued with few minutes before she was gunned down at her gate. “These men decided to end my friend’s life because she was a lesbian,” Zandile said with a shaking voice.
The loss still haunts Zandile. The thought of how women are seen and treated, the expectations and standards that the world has created for women; all these things upset Zandile. In the past few weeks during the ACTIVATE! SWITCH training, the facilitator talked about looking professional when meeting with funders. The facilitator, then, made an example that women should cover all part of their breasts. Zandile raised her hand quickly saying she is against the idea that women have to conform to certain standards put before them by other people.
The facilitator tried to explain that, in this case, it’s not only about women, men too, are expected to wear in a particular way. Zandile wasn’t convinced but had to accept that maybe her point isn’t relevant in this particular conversation, “Ok, maybe I overreacted, it’s just that I’ve grown up in a very patriarchal society,” she said with her deep hoarse voice.
Like many other women in her community, Zandile experiences patriarchy daily, but it’s not just patriarchy for her. “Imagine being a black woman in the township and on top of that being a lesbian or bisexual, you can only imagine. It’s hard,” she said. However, Zandile’s pain led her into helping other women and men who are in danger- like her friend- who was killed and discriminated against because of her sexual orientation. She joined the Forum for the Empowerment of Women and later started her own organisation.
Dikgoro Dibutswe was started in 2014, with the aim to defend, support and rehabilitate gays and lesbians in Naledi and Soweto surroundings. Also, to advocate for their rights. The team is made up of eight members. Some of them are feminists and some are LGBTI activists.
“I chose to focus on gays and lesbians because they are the out of the closet people in my township and they are outspoken about their sexuality. But we’re open to cater for the whole LGBTQIA+ community if the need arises in my community,” she clarified.
Keitumetse Finger, 28, a member of Dikgoro Dibutswe, says people are not educated about sexualities. “When you’re part of the LGBTI community you face a lot of challenges out there. You’re always at risk of being physically and emotionally abused, or even killed. The people around you consistently look at you like you’re crazy,” she said.
“Some of my friends became enemies the day I told them the truth about my sexuality. My extended family doesn’t want me. People start asking questions like: So, you won’t have babies? Hayi maybe you haven’t been done well by a guy. Are you sure about this thing? And they don’t understand what these questions do to you”, Keitumetse explained.
But, since she joined Dikgoro Dibutswe, Keitumetsi doesn’t feel like she owns anyone the answer. She is grateful of the family she has found in this organisation, “I have come to realise that you don’t have to educate people who are not willing to learn. For you to learn about other people’s sexual orientations you need to open your mind.”
Some of Dikgoro Dibutswe members are disowned by their families- they are homeless and jobless. Zandile is lucky to be supported by her family. She informally started housing friends with problems at her house so her parents got used to their house being a stop center for abused gays and lesbians.
The need and determination to do more makes Zandile feel like she isn’t doing enough. “Presently I can’t claim any success stories as I feel I haven’t done enough like when someone comes and I find them a place but they can’t stay there forever. It hurts when I can’t give them food parcels at that time because I don’t have anything to give,” she said.
“I would love it if ACTIVATE! could plead with people within the network for donations or physical space we could utilise, social workers to come to the table and we can see what we can do. We also accept donations in the form of second hand computers that can be used for CV and training others how to type and do administrative work”, she added
Dikgoro Dibutswe is currently running on zero budget, but how can Zandile give up? With her colleagues , they donate R100 and non-perishable foods every month and give to who ever is really in need at that time.
Upwards and downwards for Zandile and members of her organisation. Their stories are what millions of other people within the LGBTQIA+ community have to go through every day. The South African Constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against based on his or her social status and identity, including sexual orientation. However this doesn’t protect them from the abuse and crime they face every day.