South Africa’s Leading LGBTQ Activist On What It Actually Takes To Change The World

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By Hannah Meyer

In 2008, Ndumie Funda found herself grappling with the deaths of her fiancé, Nosizwe Nomsa Bizana, and close friend, Luleka Makiwane. Both women had died of AIDS contracted during violent corrective rapes. No one had paid much attention.

Corrective rape is a hate crime, where men rape women thought or known to be gay, ostensibly to “cure” them of their homosexuality. Though up to 10 gay women are raped each week in Cape Town alone, in 2008 it was still an obscure issue; part of the long-ignored epidemic of violence that terrorizes South Africa’s LGBT community.

Being ignored was not however, part of Ndumie’s constitution. A product of South Africa’s student resistance and long-serving politician, the only response she ever considered, was to fight for justice. Ndumie founded a grassroots NGO named Luleki Sizwe, to support victims of corrective rape, and commenced what is now a nearly decade-long campaign of intensive and outspoken activism against the violent oppression of South Africa’s LGBT community.

But in today’s interview, Ndumie does not want to dwell on the horror of the crimes she has worked so hard to end. Instead, she chooses to share how one woman has succeeded in gaining so much for the LGBT community in South Africa and her thoughts on where today’s young activists are going astray in their efforts to bring about positive change.

It is important, Funda says, to get “you guys to understand, to show some acknowledgement about other countries and the work we are doing. You cannot just turn a blind eye, our work needs to be acknowledged.”

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Forcing willfully blind eyes to see is something of Ndumie’s specialty. Her activism is unrelenting and has transformed the once marginalized issue of corrective rape into a symbol of the violent persecution of South Africa’s LGBT community. The result has been a series of extraordinary triumphs for LGBT rights.

Since founding Luleki Sizwe, Ndumie has led a Change.org petition that earned 170 000 signatures and pushed the South African Government to recognize corrective rape as a hate crime. She has fought for and participated in a new Government task force on homophobic and gender-based violence. And she has secured the participation of South Africa’s religious leaders in addressing violence against the LGBT community.

“It simply means that persistence and perseverance does work if you know your story and you are dedicated and committed, and you pray a lot to get the energy to continue doing the work that you do,” she said.

Though Ndumie has grown accustomed to working alongside the upper echelons of South Africa’s leadership, she has remained loyal to her people on the ground. Ndumie works in the townships with Luleki Sizwe to rescue, support and nurse victims of corrective rape and uses her own home as a safe-house; an act of generosity that has put her life in considerable danger.

“Selling the house, moving to another area I don’t know how many times trying to get to a place of safety. So to speak, yes, my life is in danger, which I’m very much aware of. But this is my calling and I will live my struggle as a terrain and the terrain is in the townships,” she said.

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It is however, the survival of grassroots organizations like Luleki Sizwe that causes Funda the most concern. “You cannot sideline [grassroots organizations], those are the people who know every corner of this country where I live and in the black community, the townships, and the lifestyle of the people in those black communities.

But this appears to be exactly what has happened. While Ndumie’s work with the South African government has seen her awarded France’s Ordre National du Merite, her grassroots efforts with Luleki Sizwe still struggle to obtain adequate support. Likewise, for all the recent attention paid to protecting LGBT rights in South’s Africa’s legislation, young black gay men and women in the townships continue to suffer increasingly violent forms of discrimination.

“Young gay men and women are being mistreated at school and the first people that are doing that are the teachers…. they end up being dropouts, exposed to drugs, they are raped while at school in the toilets and so forth,” she said.

While Ndumie has successfully engaged young voices within her own community to campaign against the treatment of gay men and women in South Africa’s schools, she wonders about the state of activism among the youth further afield.

“I have traveled overseas and I have been granted opportunities of addressing different audiences. In the US… you will find the young generation nowadays are very vibrant, but they lack the knowledge of understanding who they are. There is energy there, but they need to be trained, they need to understand all the issues that affect the youth, that affect the society,” she said.

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Ndumie points especially to the limits of online activism. She warns that while young people are connecting with issues overseas in ways that were previously not possible, they are lacking important connections with those who are “hands on with issues” on the ground.

“I tend to differ with other people and their way of thinking. It is not about having 5000 people in your database and saying you are making an impact. The very same people who are working with the database, they are making no impact.”

Nonetheless, Ndumie does not hesitate to offer us the guidance we need to start making real change; get back to grassroots activism, stay committed, connect with as many other organizations as you can, work at all levels – from the ground up to the highest rungs of parliament. Effective and smart activism puts pressure on as many points as possible.

“Who are we changing? I am not changing my own gay people. Transformation should be made in people who are having a problem with gender issues; the perpetrators, the community, the Government,” she insists.

But the most insistent of all Ndumie’s advice, is to take action on the issues that matter, just because it is a vital “part of being a principled person”. And perhaps, there should be no motivation more compelling than that.

 

hannah-meyer

Hannah Meyer recently graduated from an M.A in human rights and now intends to engage her pen with her passion for feminism. She lives out of a backpack and has traveled around the globe, including stretches working with refugee communities in Thailand and India. Follow her on Twitter @hannahin140

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  1. Pingback: Indie Film 'Love Is All You Need' Shows What Discrimination Would Look Like If Being Straight Was "Unnatural?" - GirlTalkHQ

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