Somewhere in the country someone might have heard in passing the story of another lesbian being buried on Saturday. For Phumeza Nkotonzi’s family and friends in Nyanga, it was a sad goodbye to a beloved daughter and a caring friend. The pastor at the Monravian Church in Mandalay where a last farewell memorial was held for Phumeza reminded mourners of a beautiful soul and respectful manners of a young woman in a coffin in the church. It is for this reason that he and many others still don’t understand how anyone could knock at door of her family home and gun her down – all because she was openly lesbian.
Phumeza was a member of Free Gender, a gay and lesbian activist group in Cape Town’s townships. Founder Funeka Soldaat has been the driving force being the voices of the homosexual people. Most of Free Gender members are young women who live in fear of their lives, seemingly with little protection from those who are in the position to help. Phumeza’s death is not the only one that has hit them this close.
Two months ago on my way to attend a public hearing on the Traditional Courts Bill, a legislation that if passed could have serious implications on the rights of women, I was attracted to a protest by a handful people wearing Free Gender t-shirts. The protest outside parliament was about a case involving a young lesbian woman who was found murdered in Khayelitsha and the lack of progress in the case by the police. Free Gender was demanding better protection from police. I am told that Phumeza was among the few who persevered in song until, eventually two police officials came outside to receive their memorandum. Shortly after the memorandum was signed for the crowd dispersed. Free Gender in their group headed to catch a train back to Khayelitsha, their base. For the curious onlookers who appeared to be unaffected by reasons behind the protest it was business as usual.
During the trail of Zoliswa Nkonyane’s killers Phumeza was one of the Free Gender activists who consistently attended the court proceeding until the case was ultimately finalised early this year.
Following Phumeza’s death many of us were exposed for the first time to the plight of young women and men who are openly homosexual and living in townships. Their bravery is displayed in the fact that against all the (mis)judgment and hateful attitudes, mostly by males, they can still come out and embrace their sexuality. Mourners who attended a mid week memorial were threatened and intimidated by men around there. Many like Phumeza should be celebrated for meeting these kinds of attitude that proved to be fatally dangerous with understanding and bravery.
At the cemetery members of the Free Gender gave a moving tribute for Phumeza through song and dancing. Young lesbian women stepped out in style for a final send off to their friend, knowing fully that they return to their daily lives and they will be exposed to similar attitudes that resulted in Phumeza’s life being brutally cut short.
I said it elsewhere that unless the conservative heterosexual community strongly comes out and speak against homophobic tendencies that strive among them, we are going nowhere slowly. The silence must not be translated by criminals as saying the lynching of young men and women is fine. Voices among government, religious and cultural bodies are conspicuous in their absence in the face of this new form of oppression. South Africa pride itself on having one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Surely freedom means less if even a single person among us is not free to live their life and choose whom they love.