On 1 August, women and non-conforming people across South Africa took part in the #TotalShutDown march. Daily Maverick spoke to five queer community members in Cape Town who shared their personal stories around gender-based violence, sexual violence and homophobia.
Hundreds of Capetonians marched from Cape Peninsula University of Technology to Parliament on 1 August to take a stand against high femicide rates, gender-based violence and sexual violence in the country.
At the intersectional #TotalShutDown march, men were asked not to take part in the march by organisers who extended an invite only to women and gender non-conforming people. Queer community flags and umbrellas were easily spotted in the crowd of protesters.
Daily Maverick spoke to five queer community members who shared their stories of survival.
Zintle Olayi, 27, Stellenbosch
Last year I was assaulted physically by three black men. It was actually just here in town by KFC. My two friends and I were coming back from Long Street, we wanted to buy (chicken) wings. So we’re standing in line and there are these three guys behind us. They were getting agitated at us because we were standing in front of them and they kept on complaining and making comments. I told them not to speak to us like that. Next thing, this guy slaps me and drags me to the door. I got up and ran into a cab across the street. This guy was so angry he banged on the cab window so hard it broke. That’s how much this guy wanted to beat me up, and it was all because I threatened his masculinity.
I opened a case at the police station and they gave me this piece of paper that I’m supposed to carry with me for the rest of my life. So if I happen to see my perpetrators, I’m supposed to alert a police authority, show them “hey, this is the guy” and only then can they arrest him. I mean ndizokuba bona nini mna aba bantu? (When will I ever see those people again?) The police also said they’d get back to me, they never did.
So yes, I came all the way from Stellenbosch to this march, I’m here because I’m affected by violence. A man looks at me on the street and they’re done with me, they know who I am, just by the way I dress, they’re done. I identify as gender fluid, I’m sure you didn’t know that until now, now you know, but people just assume.
I want to feel safe. I want men to see us the way they see other men, I don’t want them to tell us how to behave. I want to walk eLokshini (township) at 10pm and feel safe. I don’t want to always have to look over my shoulder.
So I agree with the organisers of the march, this is not a space for men. We’re doing this because we don’t want the next generation to go through what we’re going through.
Hannah Williams, Sea Point, 39
I have experienced harassment, I get harassed all the time; I’m lesbian. I get guys who tell me, “You just haven’t met the right guy yet” and I’m just like, trust me guy, I’ve checked that out, I’m pretty sure I’m not into men.
I don’t know if it’s just me but I got harassed a lot more when I was younger, especially as a student. I used to live in Pretoria. There was this guy who used to drive around the neighbourhood. He’d stop random girls and say, “Sorry I’m lost” and ask them for directions. The disgusting thing is he’d actually put a map on his lap and ask the girls to point on the map. I don’t know if he thought he was being funny or what but he got pleasure from that, he was that sick. He stopped me once and asked me and I realised that his penis was out.
There was also another guy. He used to masturbate in public. It was so weird because he was a good looking guy. He was in his 20s, an engineering student. He could’ve gotten any girl he wanted, I think. I probably saw him do it eight to nine times. I tried to ignore it until this one time I saw him doing it in front of a primary school. That’s when I was like, no, this can’t happen any more, little girls don’t deserve to see that, that’s traumatic. I pressed charges but he admitted guilt and got off by just paying a fine. I think more than anything he did it because it was a power thing for him.
I think we’re just becoming so numb to patriarchy, to pain and violence and we need to change that, it shouldn’t be the norm, it shouldn’t be so unreported.
As someone who is queer, my dream is for religious leaders to stand up against homophobia and gender-based violence. They may say that they are not violent but they perpetuate violence when they’re against us and allow these things to happen.
Juliana Davids, 38, and Raedun Engelbrecht, 35, Parklands
(Davids and Engelbrecht are a couple who felt more comfortable doing the interview together)
Engelbrecht: I’m going to tell you what I was telling my partner this morning before we came here. I don’t want to feel scared any more. The other day I greeted her (Davids) and I walked away. But as I walked away, I remembered that there was a group of men behind my back and they saw me kiss her. And then after that I walked down the stairs and I realised that, oh no, I am alone, these men are going to come and hurt me. I don’t want to feel like that any more. I don’t want to feel alone.
Davids: I look at our son and how he is not allowed to express himself at school. The patriarchal system has poisoned everything, it’s even in the school’s policies. He gets shut down in class when he questions why he is not allowed to have long hair, why boys should have short hair. There are all these strict rules and activities that he has to take part in that exclude people who don’t conform. There was a father and son camp just recently that he could not take part in, that excludes same-sex parents.
People make remarks when they see us walking hand in hand. Guys will say, “I don’t mind being a third wheel” or “I’d love to be a part of that”; actually just recently we went to a family wedding and a guest came up to us and asked, “Are there not enough men that you want to be together?” We as women are taught to respect and fear patriarchy. To feel isolated when we don’t conform. It’s time for revelation and a revolution. It’s enough.
Siya Nyulu, Langa, 23
Correctional rape makes me angry because it means that you are taking away my dignity.
People think that homosexuality can’t be part of their communities, especially in the townships. They try to correct us and they leave long-lasting trauma. When someone rapes you, it stays with you for a long time. You start thinking “maybe there is something wrong with me, maybe I do need to be corrected”.
Look, whenever you see politicians addressing the masses, you’ll see them saying we want a non-racial and non-sexist society, but you’ll never hear them saying we want a non-homophobic society.
As a rape survivor, I’m here because I can raise my voice. I’m victimised because I’m a masculine presented woman. I’m also here for the lesbians who have died in Langa, Nyanga and Khayelitsha, I’m here to be their voices.
Men walk up to me and they ask me “are you a boy or a girl?” – that makes me feel uncomfortable and it takes away from my time, I’m not interested in them. I don’t want them. I’m also told that I’m supposed to wear a skirt when I take part in imicimbi (cultural rituals) but I don’t want to, it makes me uncomfortable, and that should not take away from my womanhood.
Men take up too much space in society. They need to sit back and allow us to lead. They should allow us to be who we want to be.
We need more women to lead these movements, especially queer women. This is the first march like this and I think that after this we need to debrief and ask ourselves how can we be more intersectional, how can we improve for the next march. This isn’t the last one. DM
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