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THE ACTIONISTS

‘Nox’ Mtshali – fighting for a world without any kind of discrimination

‘Nox’ Mtshali – fighting for a world without any kind of discrimination
Freedom Nonkululeko ‘Nox’ Mtshali is a founding member of the organisation Vaal LGBTI. (Photo: Thom Pierce / The Actionists)

The work that Freedom Nonkululeko Mtshali is doing is helping to change one mindset at a time.

As the daughter of a preacher, Freedom Nonkululeko “Nox” Mtshali found it particularly difficult to accept, at the age of 15, that she was a lesbian. She was ashamed and embarrassed and she also worried that she had been “attacked by demons”.

She needed support and, in Sebokeng, there was very little immediately available to her. A friend advised her to look online, where she found a Facebook group for Vaal Lesbians and Gays.

It was through this initial social media group that she met a community of similar people in her area and became a founding member of Vaal LGBTI. The organisation was started to provide much-needed support and mobilisation to the queer community in the Vaal, Sedibeng region of Gauteng.

“Just because I am lesbian, I shouldn’t be worried about going to a government facility. I have to be able to go to a clinic and be treated like a lesbian woman. We need the community to be able to provide for us. We saw the loopholes and we saw the need for us to get involved in the way that the community functions. We saw that a lot of people did not know about LGBTQI issues, that they needed information about the people living around them,” says Mtshali.

Vaal LGBTI was formed in 2013 by eight people and formally registered in 2014. There are now only four full-time committee members of the organisation catering to the needs of about 400 people. They use social media to support and mobilise, deal with hate crimes and monitor court proceedings, putting pressure on the legal system to represent them fairly.

They also provide workshops that deal with different aspects of life in the queer community. These workshops range from educating LGBTQI+ groups about their legal rights and the court process to informing the community about the best ways to support others.

We are different organisations from different locations, so the main objectives are that the youth of South Africa can share experiences and unite and capacitate each other and build a movement.

As an organisation, it is currently working on a school project to deal with the high incidence of death by suicide of young LGBTQI+ students. There is a concerning prevalence of discrimination at school between peers, which is often perpetuated through the outdated policies schools have about gender and identity.

Through ActionAid, it has been able to be a part of the “Generation G” project, which is a space for a variety of grassroots youth organisations to come together, support and learn from one another.

“We are different organisations from different locations, so the main objectives are that the youth of South Africa can share experiences and unite and capacitate each other and build a movement.”

Run by Sonke Gender Justice, ActionAid and Activate, the project provides training in capacitation, policy, justice and austerity measures, teaching its beneficiaries how to fundraise, write proposals and pitch to funders. There is a strong focus on austerity measures, especially as they apply to vulnerable communities, making budgeting and mobilising support important aspects of the programme.

“My dream would be first a world without any kind of discrimination in every aspect. Where everyone lives freely in holistic harmony, where they are not violated, or discriminated against for their gender, sexual orientation, size, race, religion or culture. With the work we are doing it is possible, I believe, to change one mindset at a time. With enough resources, we can reach enough minds and create a better world,” says Mtshali. DM

Thom Pierce is an award-winning British portrait photographer, who is based in Johannesburg.

This story is one of a series of articles produced by The Actionists in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Cape Town office to highlight the incredible work of organisations and activists across South Africa in their pursuit of justice and equal rights for all.

This article first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.

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