Words: S’bonakaliso ‘Gyre’ Nene
IN MEMORIUM OF THOSE MURDERED THIS YEAR
Liyabona Mabishi, “Jamie” Adnaan Davids, Portia Mtsweni, Gezina van Niekerk, Joey van Niekerk, Kirvan Fortuin, Lindokuhle Cele, Nare Mphela, Portia Simphiwe Mtshweni, Omphemetse Moleme, Madonnah James, Simangaliso Dyasi, Robyn Montsumi
And to those who go unreported and misgendered in death.
It took me so long to imagine a future for myself. I could not see myself past 25 but now at 25 years old, I am compelled to think of a life past my self-set expiry date. Being queer doesn’t make the visualization process any easier. It’s well known that queer folk have constitutionally and through common practices in communities been unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Pleasures such as having children.
Whenever I have come to know of an openly queer person with children, biological or adopted, I feel a greater sense of pride and hope. It is more than I have ever envisioned as a reality for my whole life.
This is what makes the tragic murder of Zwelenkosi Zulu that much more hurtful. Zwelenkosi was a father to a young girl, a young girl who will now grow up without an important figure in her life.
I lead with this because it is a forgotten fact that queer people are more than just social pariahs. We are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and even fathers. Zwelenkosi was brutally axed in his home, on Umlalazi Street in King Dinizulu township, and set a light with him inside it in the early hours of Thursday 11 September 2020. Two suspects have been arrested, but when will society arrest its dehumanization of queer bodies?
Society has been on an eternal mission to dehumanize the queer community. One of the results of centuries of hateful attitudes is loss of life due to homophobia. However, if you were to believe what people on social media say, you too would be convinced otherwise.
‘Why are you lying? He was killed by his boyfriend’ one tweeted at me.
The horrific manner of Zulu’s death has left the community in shock. King Dinuzulu is known as somewhat of a safe space for the queer community of KwaZulu Natal. “We are in fear”, his mourning friend says, “[My neighbourhood is] usually a gay friendly place but I don’t feel safe anymore.”
Here, queer people have even created their own colloquial dialect of ‘Isinqumo’ to communicate with one another in secret. Zwelenkosi had communicated he was in danger this way with his friend as previously reported. Safe space seems a little naive a term to describe any place outside of urban metropolises of South Africa.
The harsh reality is urban areas like Johannesburg and Cape Town, are more diverse in culture and have greater reach to support structures both socially and politically for people of the LGBTQIA+ community than those in small townships and rural areas like Eshowe.
“Life is not the same here in KZN unlike you guys in Joburg. You can go to the news and get coverage and assistance. It’s not the same here.”
There is an undeniable privilege that queer people in urban areas have over those in townships and rural areas. This privilege relates to better managed support structures and greater social buy in to the reality that queer lives matter too.
That is not to say that queer folk in these urban areas are immune from homophobic attacks, however the simple pleasures of Liquid Blue and now KwaMai Mai on a Sunday or Johannesburg and/or Soweto Pride, offer social relief that goes a long way in helping young queer people feel like they belong.
From GLAAD to POWA offices, there is greater access to these support structures that grant greater privilege to those of us in urban spaces. The time has never been more pressing for the queer community to confront, head on, the class struggles that plague our community. These ills are leading to silence when our brothers and sisters in less urban spaces suffer discrimination and in this case the loss of their lives.
The events in King Dinizulu have a ripple effect all over the country as anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments increase.
We are all aware that even our much-celebrated constitution does not stop homophobes from harassing and killing us. Lindokuhle Cele, Kirvan Fortuin and now Zwelenkosi Zulu have all been murdered through stabbings with Fortuin allegedly perishing at the hands of a 14-year-old girl.
All this in 2020 alone and all this without even mention of the reported and unreported cases of homophobic rape and murders of women.
“Zwe was the nicest person ever. He wouldn’t hurt a fly”. The community member who informed me of this tragedy went further to say “people like him always made me realise that our community is so much more evolved and human than the stigmas that surrounds it. I’m really even embarrassed and ashamed.”
Zwelenkosi means word of God in isiZulu. Perhaps this is the time to reimagine what God is articulating to us through Zwe’s life and its tragic end. Surely, there are lessons to be learnt?
If we do not find these lessons now, I fear I will be writing more saddening homage to fallen brothers and sisters. The world around us needs to change but we as the LGBTQIA+ community need to help each other across class and provincial lines.