‘You literally have to watch your back’ – Being LGBTQI+ in the North West

LGBTQI colours painted on a lawn surface
South Africa's progressive laws are not reflected in the daily experiences of the LGBTQI+ community. (File)
Written by Nthusang Lefafa

Anele Xhati shares her experiences of being an LGBTQI+ activist and transwoman in the North West. Xhati talks about the real-life dangers in communities, and discrimination in the workplace, and how lockdown has made life harder for the province’s LGBTQI+ community.

“You literally have to watch your back everywhere you go, we do not feel safe because our brothers and sisters are being raped, beaten or killed,” says Anele Xhati, an LGBTQI+ activist in the North West.

The 32-year-old and other activists hold regular awareness campaign in the North West, but yet discrimination remains rife in the province. LGBTIQI+ people still experience hate crimes in their communities, she says.

Xhati is a transgender woman who also does public speaking to raise awareness about queer issues.

South Africa is one of only 27 countries around the world that recognises same-sex marriage, according to Amnesty International. The country’s progressive constitution also protects the dignity of the LGBTQI+ community. Yet, the experience on the ground for activists like Xhati does not always reflect this.

No support from police

In many communities police are the perpetrators of hate crimes, rather than protecting LGBTQI+ people.

“There are police officers who mock us when we go to open cases because we look and dress differently. When the very same people who are supposed to protect you are violating your rights it presents a complex situation,” she says.

Last year, parliament heard that only 8.4% of police stations in the North West meet the United Nations recommended police to citizen ratio of 1 officer to every 220 citizens. Xhati says police are not educated on how to provide service to the LGBTQI+ community.

“Some of our friends end up not opening cases because of the intimidation from incapacitated officers,” says Xhati.


Daily discrimination

The LGBTQI+ community also faces daily discrimination at home and in the workplace. While Xhati has supportive colleagues, she has to deal with discriminatory policies.

“Take for example your standard Z83 form [a requirement for applying for a job in the public sector]. It only makes provision for males and females. What about transgender women? I find that the private sector is more tolerant towards the LGBTQI+ community as compared to the public sector.”

There are high unemployment rates among the North West’s LGBTQI+ community. Discriminatory practices like this make it harder to find work.

“It is crucial that government is assisted with the drafting and implementation of more policies that will ensure that people are not discriminated due to their sexual orientation,” says Xhati.

Access to healthcare during lockdown

Many in the LGBTQI+ community rely on the public health care system for a range of treatments. The lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has made access to vital medication much harder.

“It has been difficult to get access to some forms of treatment and surgeries during the harsh stages of lockdown,” says Xhati. “We are a broad community who are drinking different forms of chronic medication due to our different ailments and conditions. The lockdown has led to some defaulting on their treatment which is a real danger to your health and personal wellbeing.” – Health-e News

About the author

Nthusang Lefafa