– Funeka Soldaat, 52,
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.”