– Funeka Sol­daat, 52,

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

les­bian rights and com­mu­nity ac­tivist

SEATED in Khayelit­sha’s wet­lands play park with sun­light on her face, Funeka Sol­daat’s warm smile quickly fades as she tells how she, along with many other sur­vivors of what has been dubbed “cor­rec­tive rape”, come from “a very dark place”.

But to­day she be­lieves her jour­ney to fight against vi­o­lent hate crimes and ho­mo­pho­bia has yielded some pos­i­tive change.

“Things are not as harsh as they were be­fore,” she says.

Sol­daat started the NGO Free Gen­der when she re­alised the com­mu­nity stig­ma­tised and lacked an un­der­stand­ing of LGBT (les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der) in­di­vid­u­als.

“In the be­gin­ning of 2005, with the first killing of a les­bian in the town­ship, I started to panic. That’s why I de­cided to start a group with ac­tivists, re­gard­less of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, to push the is­sue of hate crime and ho­mo­pho­bia.”

She be­lieves one of their big­gest achieve­ments is the open re­la­tion­ship they now have with the lo­cal po­lice, so they feel they have ac­cess to re­port any vi­o­la­tions they may en­counter.

Sol­daat says even churches are start­ing to en­gage with them around LGBT is­sues.

But in spite of the great strides they’ve made, she warns that crimes against not only les­bians, but all women, ham­per their path to suc­cess.

“The is­sue of crime jeop­ar­dises the em­pow­er­ment and de­vel­op­ment of women.”

Women have to ed­u­cate them­selves, and gain in­for­ma­tion about is­sues so they are not afraid to ad­dress and chal­lenge them.

“The only way to sur­vive is to go to school,” she says, adding that women also need to “have a thick skin”.

She says she will con­tinue lead­ing the “strug­gle” on any is­sue af­fect­ing her com­mu­nity, as she be­lieves she has gained their re­spect and trust.

“They see me as a leader, not just as a les­bian.”

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