2013 April 16: Not just a handsome butch lesbian

by Kopano Sibeko

A smile that warms up the room and a walk that encourages a stare, Cordelia Mfazwe fondly known as ‘Collen’ is out-spoken. She greets me shyly as she plays with her cap to avoid eye contact.

Collen Mfazwe outside Women's Jail, Constitution Hill. Braamfontein, Johannesburg. 2013.04.20 Photo by Zanele Muholi

Collen Mfazwe outside Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill. Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Photo by Zanele Muholi

She giggles briefly and explains that she got the name ‘Collen’ at Primary school. Growing up, Collen identified more with boys and when she got the name Collen from the group of guys who were her friends at the time she was overly excited because she too felt that she was a boy. “It’s amazing how that name took power over my life, because although at home they were pretty much offish about this name, they realised that it has become a part of my identity and now they also call me Collen” she said.

Collen Mfazwe. (2012.12.12) Photo by Zanele Muholi

Collen Mfazwe. (2012.12.12)
Photo by Zanele Muholi

Ubuhle bo muntu ukuzithanda kwakhe” which means the beauty of a person is the love they give themselves” she expresses.  “I am not defined by clothes, most people tend to think that expensive clothes create an image or define beauty, but I am defined by cleanliness because cleanliness is close to godliness” she added.

She tells me about the beauty that she possesses on and off the stage. Collen is crowned
Mr. Les Valentine and also as the 2nd prince of Mr. Uthingo, an initiative by an LGBTI organisation titled Uthingo  – The Rainbow.

“I am not just about beauty” she declares, she explains that modeling also known as beauty contests are a way of creating awareness and building relations with the community and also keeping away from the dusty streets of Daveyton for her.

Collen tells me that building a relationship with the community is treating people the way you want to be treated.  “We have created awareness by being involved with the police stations and the clinics by washing their cars, as means of accumulating funds to sustain the organisation and the beauty pageants were a way to give back to the community ” she says.

The 25 year old explains that life has not been a bed of roses for her; she walks me through a tale about the year that she lost her mother, who was her confidant and her world “Losing her made me miserable “she says.  She describes her mother as a strong woman who raised her and her four siblings as a single parent. “Though her passing was life changing I drew strength from it” as she looks away with sadness in her face and eyes that glittered with tears.

As I try to drift away from the emotional moment, I ask her how she thinks her life would be if her mom was still around and she says, “I would be a graduate”. She continues to say that she is not however justifying where she is in life at the moment, but things would’ve been way different with the love of a mother basking in her ambience.  She went on to tell me about her sister Nomthandazo Mfazwe, she calls her, her hero, “Thando does everything for us, after the passing of our mom, she took the responsibility of giving us that motherly love” she says.   With a huge sigh she confesses that growing up wasn’t as easy as she grew up as a delinquent for a child, disappearing from home and alcoholism became her second nature.  Collen stares into space in deep thought and I could read from her face that if she ever lost her sister that that would be the end of her.

She slowly directs me back to her life as a driving force of change in her community “With the contests we held, I have seen change “she admits gently with a smile. She utters that, the aim is not to get everyone to understand homosexuality but the three or four people that understand it now, that is an achievement for her. She tells me that being a member of Uthingo has made her a leader because now she is able to educate young fellow lesbians.

She shares that her leadership nature has led her to where she is now, “I don’t let my financial instability define who I want to be”. She says she has done gardening, painting and played chess as means to make money to sustain her life and that of her siblings.

Colleen is a soccer fanatic and a soccer player, not only is she good on the field but she’s also good in the kitchen. She says that the absence of her mother in her life has worked to some advantage because she had to learn to be more domesticated and responsible as her eldest sister had to go to work to ensure that they are well fed and clothed.

Her bodily gestures express that she’s an energetic being, as she gets up to stretch her body, while expressing that now she’s on a venture to explore photography. “I am a proud member of Inkanyiso, and I am really grateful for this opportunity presented to me by Zanele Muholi”. She adds that her quest for success is slowly showing face.

I also captured from the tone of her voice and from the tale of her past that she is a courageous young woman, her life might have not been the easiest to live, but she carries with her the quality of hope that keeps her going.

 Previous by Kopano
2013 April 9: I refuse to be abused

Related article

2013 April 17: Collen’s black & white album

This entry was posted in Black Lesbians, Collaborations, Community, Community Mobilizing, Daveyton, Exposure, Expression, Friendships, Hope, Inkanyiso crew, Kopano Sibeko, Lack of Resources, Lesbian beauty contests, Networking, Organizations, Our lives in the picture, Questions & Answers, Readings, Records and histories, South Africa, Uthingo - The Rainbow, Visual history, Women; Voices; Writings; Education; Traditions; Struggles; Cultures, Zanele Muholi and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to 2013 April 16: Not just a handsome butch lesbian

  1. nelishia motha says:

    We proud colly

  2. Lerato says:

    Well written,catchy phrases!

  3. Ramazan Ngobese says:

    Wow our young stars. Ubuhle bomuntu abuchazwa Izingubo I like that

  4. Lungile says:

    Enjoyed reading this.

    Very well written and all the best to you Collen.

  5. Thuli says:

    Oh wow!
    I’m so touched by Collen’s story. I love the part where she appreciates her sister. Actually I love the whole interview.
    I wish her all the best in everything she wants to acquire in life. May the Almighty guide and protect her all the time.
    The writter did a good job.
    We would love to see more stories please.

    Thank you

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    since i enjoy to find out more and more.

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