For immediate release
Despite progressive legislation, transgender people continue to endure intolerable levels of violence. This manifests in both physical, as well as emotional forms of violence. The Constitution Act 108 of 1996 offers constitutional protection to all its citizens. The Bill of Rights in Chapter two of the Constitution forms the cornerstone of our democracy.
It makes particular reference to gender: “The Constitution shall prohibit racial, gender and all other forms of discrimination and shall promote racial and gender equality and national unity”. Sadly, the implementation of the Constitution as a broad legal framework in the protection of citizens as a country is a failed belief. This is no more evident in the lives of minority groups like transgender and intersex people in South Africa. The ever continuing rise in hate crimes against transgender and intersex people, especially in rural areas and townships, should be an indicator to our government about the serious and urgent nature of the problem. Transphobia is rampant in our societies and has to be tackled at the roots.
The evidence captured by civil society organisations seems insufficient for a government response. Neo Sobuza is a young transgender woman who was attacked while commuting on a train from her home to the University campus in Boksburg, Johannesburg. She was attacked by security officers on the train, the very people who are supposed to protect us. Needless to say, she suffered physical and emotional trauma following the incident. The Pretoria News on 24 October 2011 wrote: “Neo suffered greatly after the attack. In addition to physical pain, she had trouble sleeping, got headaches and found it difficult to concentrate. The traumatic incident led to hair loss, increased stress, depression and panic attacks. It affected her entire life”. The security officers on the train responded in this manner about Neo’s gender expression:
“These are the kinds of people who needs to be beaten up. There is no woman who shaves”.
Corrective rape is used as a “curative measure” for male-identified transgender persons. In an incident, May 2011, a transgender male individual had been raped in Pretoria. Transgender and Intersex Africa had been instrumental in providing necessary support and assistance to this individual.
In a 2011 report on witnessing the challenges for transgender people, compiled for the Legal Resource Centre, van der Merwe observes:
“Transmen (female to male) are often seen as a threat to the male ego. As it is in South Africa, the male child is raised to be territorial and competitive. Non transgendered men in society find it hard to contend with one another concerning financial, social, romantic, religious, and economic situations – thus a transgender man who is perceived as a woman – despite a gender transition- is yet another threat to an already highly challenged masculinity”.
Civil society organisations mandated with transgender issues continue to record human rights violations against this minority group. Surprisingly, this does not only manifest on an organisational level, but they are also affected by bureaucratic processes within government departments like the Department of Home Affairs who is the implementing body of the provisions of The Sex Description Alteration Act 49 of 2003. This is the legislation that facilitates the alteration of gender markers in the identity documents of transgender and intersex people. The greatest challenge is getting the department to correctly interpret and implement the provisions of the Act. Transgender and intersex people face harsh consequences as a result of the incorrect implementation of the Act and delays in issuing identity documents. Individuals in this minority group cannot claim citizenship in their country and cannot enjoy the benefits of this citizenship. High unemployment statistics is reported as a result of these delays. Similarly, constituencies of these organisations cannot access other basic rights such as government grants and other development opportunities like bursaries, housing, etc.
On this International Day Against Homo and Transphobia, the signatories of this press release, carrying the voices of their respective constituencies call on all stakeholders, including the government, to guarantee transgender and intersex people their basic human rights as enshrined by the Constitution of the Republic. We would like to remind government about its commitment as a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, CEDAW, the SADC Gender Protocol and numerous other human rights instruments articulating the full enjoyment of universal human rights of all people in South Africa. We appeal to the South African government as the central authority in the country to recognise the human rights violations of transgender and people as hate crimes and deal with them accordingly.
Civil society response
Gender Dynamix is a registered non-profit organisation advocating for the human rights of transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming individuals. The organisation, established in 2005, adopted the mandate of working specifically on issues affecting transgender people. It was the first organisation on the African continent to address the unique issues of transgender people.
Transgender and Intersex Africa was established to address the needs of transgender and intersex individuals from black townships and rural areas.
“We as TIA felt that we need an organisation that will be serving for black trans and intersex community in particular because we realised that the language and applicable terminologies are not easily translated in our mother tongue”. Tebogo Nkoana in an article published by Behind the Mask, 14 June 2011
S.H.E, the social, health and empowerment coalition of transgender women in Africa was established from a need to contextualise the lives of transgender women within a feminist framework. For more information, assistance and support, the following organisations can be contacted:
Transgender and Intersex Africa