Report by Christie van Zyl
As fellow South Africans especially members of African National Congress commemorates 20 years of Chris Hani’s brutal killing in Boksburg, Johannesburg
(April 10, 2013).
Freegender members, allies and the black lesbian community at large gathered at Khayelitsha Site B X Section, Cape Town to celebrate the life of Nomawabo Mahlungulu, who was an HIV activist. I can’t ignore the thought that rushes through my mind, if Nomawabo will be remembered 20 years to come as her death coincdes with that of Hani’s.
She was a member of TAC (Treatment Action Campaign), as well as Freegender member and was a lesbian herself. The dearly loved Nomawabo, nicknamed ‘Wawa’ was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and her illness took a turn for the worst in November 2012. She was diagnosed with second term of TB (tuberculosis) and unfortunately passed away on the 30th of March 2013 at the Khayelitsha district hospital. We gathered for her memorial service today on the 10 April 2013 at 16:00pm.
Though sad, It was a lovely service with a lot of joy in celebrating Nomawabo’s life but I could not erase the thoughts I had in my mind about the difficulties that the family are having with putting her to rest. I spoke with Siya Mcuta of Free Gender, Khayelitsha who has been in liaison with the family about the burial of their daughter, sister and aunt. Siya tells me that it has been difficult to plan this funeral because the family does not have any money, no insurance and Nomawabo also had no funeral policy.
She went on to tell me that Nomawabo’s mother had appealed to her Umbutho (stokvel) to cover the costs of her daughter’s funeral but her appeal was rejected; partial costs of the funeral were covered by a friend of Nomawabo’s, who was willing and was able to put Nomawabo down as a beneficiary of her stokvel and in this way the cost of the coffin and the umkence (mortuary) were paid. Siya tells me that they are still in need of money to pay for food and transport for the funeral. They need to cover transport for the family to get to the church and the cemetery and for the funeral attendants to get to the cemetery too.
The desperation has gotten to such a point that there have been suggestions to make attendants pay for transport to get to the cemetery. She further went on to say that they are still also looking for venue to hold the service of the funeral and hopes that it will not cost anything even though they are struggling to secure a church because Nomawabo was not a church goer.
As I went on to question the lack of support in laying Nomawabo to rest, Siya told me that Nomawabo was not affiliated with any church and did not attend church. This makes it difficult to find a church that is willing to help with a service and venue, as it stands she is still not sure where Nomawabo will be buried either. It strikes me hard that even at a time when someone needs to be laid to rest petty politics about whether someone attended church or not can get in the way of making sure they have a respectable sending off; and this is in Christian faith is beyond understanding to me because Jesus said ‘my children come as you are’.
As I began to suggest to Siya that maybe it would work if we put a tent in the yard and have the service there as had been done for Sihle Sikhoji last year in November. She mentions that Nomawabo’s family lives embacweni (in a tightly knit cluster of housing), therefore there would be no space to erect a tent for the service. She further mentions that she is not even sure what is going to happen when the body is brought home on the morning of the funeral because of the space limitation at Nomawabo’s home. She assumes that we will meet directly at the church. Siya ends our conversation by telling me that she finds it sad that the people that would usually be willing to help were not interested in helping due to the stigma of HIV and lesbianism. The honour of of giving someone a respectable send-off can be jeopardized by the boundaries of discrimination even when a person is no longer part of this world, it makes me feel shame and guilt and heartbreak; how do we ensure that one’s passing receives the respect that is due to each individual.
Of the many speakers that were present at the service today, I was sincerely shocked by the statement made by Norute Nobula of the TAC (Treatment action campaign) who spoke about Nomawabo’s struggle with HIV. Norute stated distinctly that she had seen the reports from the hospital and made a clear distinction that even though Nomawabo was a great activist in our communities and made a huge difference in the lives of LGBTI and HIV members of the community. Nomawabo was however not taking her treatment correctly and that death is the result of that kind of negligence.
As a HIV positive community and nation we need to be more aware of taking care of ourselves and taking care of the ones who feel too weak to take care of themselves.
This statement takes me to a comment made by Funeka ‘Tafura’ Soldaat, who made a plea with the lesbian community that we need to stop stigmatizing HIV, Funeka appeals to lesbians to be more open in giving support to our HIV positive community members. A very true plea indeed, it is rather strange that as lesbians we fight so hard to not be discriminated against yet it is so easy to shun an HIV positive person as if being associated with them is a death trap, when will we learn that HIV positive members need as much support as possible; such as do we when we come out of the closet and face rejection from our own family members. Lesbians we need to check ourselves before we wreck the ones we love and care for around us.
Hymns were chanted repeatedly one after the other during speeches and between speeches, the one hymn that particularly stood out for me said: “Zonke izizwe zisondelene, bonke abantu basondelene, ewe sisondelene” (All nations are close together, all people are close together, yes we are close together); this hymn was chanted incessantly and on one account joyfully accompanied by members of the community forming a close knit circle and throwing their hands into the centre of the circle to symbolize unity and togetherness.
A beautifully administered service lead by a female pastor (Mamfundisi) of the Imboniselo Zion Apostolic church who ended the service by telling us that ‘uNomawabo wayekhona emzabalezweni’ (Nomawabo was present during the struggles); and that as we walk out of the church heading home and we fear for our lives thinking about rape and death, we should remember Paul’s words that say ‘I know pain, I know hunger; I have taught myself contentment’. Mamfundisi further went on to make an appeal to the parents of the community to support the youth and be without discrimination as every thought should be that they are parents first.
Nomawabo ‘Wawa’ Mahlungulu will always be celebrated as never liking to talk but always loving to sing!
Born: 10 June 1978
Deceased: 30 March 2013
Memorial Service: Khayelitsha Site B, 10 April 2013
Funeral: Khayelitsha Site B, venue still to be confirmed, 13 April 2013
Some previous articles by Christie
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