by Thobeka Bhengu
It has been over a hundred days since the implementation of a lockdown due to the Covid–19 pandemic that has infected more than 11 million people, with fatalities over 500 000 worldwide. South Africa is one of the recent countries at the beginning of a worrying surge and according to leading experts, the worst is yet to come. As of this week, the cumulative number of confirmed cases in South Africa is over 200 000 and more than 3 500 confirmed fatalities. There is a justified fear roaming endlessly and the hollowness of loss. Every day we hear of people we know who have testedpositive, loved ones who have succumbed to Covid-19 and close friends and families are now testing positive and some are already recovering.
The new normal is not normal to millions of people as the catastrophic impact of Covid–19 has had its firm grip on an economy that has been strained pre-COVID-19. Many people have lost jobs, in a country where the unemployment rate was at 29,1 % before the pandemic arrived on its shores. In some parts of the country, there have been endless power cuts and shortage of water for months and members of the communityhave been striking daily, closing roads and burning tyres. Queer people are amongst millions who are struggling at this time and several LGBTQ+ Civil Society organizations have been providing support to LGBTQ+ constituents across the country.
This week we conducted a virtual conversation with Sazi Jali, the executive Director of a Durban based non-profit organization Trans Hope which was founded on the 6th of June 2019. Trans Hope’s initial founding idea was to advocate for transgender and gender diverse people’s rights due to the exclusion of trans and gender diverse people in many LGBTQ+ organizations. As the organization grows, it has expanded its reach to all LGBTQ people with a particular focus on transgender and gender diverse people’s needs that have been overlooked. When the pandemic started, the organization had no source of funding but survived on small donations received from different donors and now it currently has 18 active volunteers that are heading various projects.
They have managed to source out funding for food parcels, which has been one of their effective responses in assisting LGBTQ+ people; with close to 300 people directly benefitting from the response and Gender Dynamix also pitched in to assist with food parcels for transgender people in need. Gender Links also donated funding to transport 26 transgender people to health care facilities for the collection of much-needed medication in different parts of eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg. PMB is where the only hospital that offers health care services to transgender people is situated in the entire province.
In collaboration with KwaZulu-Natal Progressive Health Care, a door to door awareness campaign lead by educational officers was initiated to raise awareness, reinforce appropriate behavioural patterns and safety protocols about Covi19. In addition to discussing COVID related measures, the door to door educational programme included conversations on gender and sexuality. This ongoing campaign has managed to reach 11,057 households.
The organization has actively held constructive conversations with the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature speaker Hon. Nontombeko Boyce, as means to lobby the KZN legislature office to support a call for developing policies around employment for queer people, monitoring and reporting discrimination in the workspace which is one of the maincauses of high unemployment rate within the queer community.
Trans Hope currently has multiple cases that have been made public as a means to garner support. The first case that requires an urgent response is a case of a transman at Umlazi who has over the years offered shelter in his two-room shack to LGBTQ+ people. For years he has offered his home to LGBTQ+ people but due to more people seeking shelter, it has become difficult for him to provide necessities to keep it going. The call put out by Trans Hope is for individuals, private entities, organizations to donate or offer any kind of assistance towards renovations, fencing and building of extra rooms at the shelter to accommodate 11 people currently living there and food donations are still welcome so as to continue providing daily meals through a soup kitchen.
There are also two active sexual assault cases that Trans Hope has been working on that require public support, where both perpetrators were given bail and in one case the docket went missing in the hands of a system meant to protect women,children, and queer bodies. Trans Hope has demanded critical engagements on the reform of substantive law relating to sexual offences, a reform of our reactive legal system in response to sexual assault cases, and much-needed amendments of the sentencing framework in sexual offences to avoid prosecutorial and legislation discrepancies.
In addition to all these projects that respond to numerous issues confronting the queer community at this time, Trans Hope is in talks about instituting a Health Care Facility that will ensure access to health care in a safe environment without the fear of discrimination for LGBTI+ individuals. This will still include psychological support in response to the mental health and well-being of queer people.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit South Africa in the gut and many Civil Society Organizations are struggling to keep their doors open and many will have to close their doors due to financial implications this pandemic has invariably had on Civil Society Organizations in the time of Covid-19. Inkanyiso media will be acknowledging the work done by several organizations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the face of adversity, we must show gratitude to those who have held our hands through this hard time. We salute Trans Hope and all organizations that have been at the forefront in the Covid-19 response and have opened their doors to queer people.