SWATI MAN­DELA.

The grand­daugh­ter of Nel­son Man­dela on the con­tin­u­ing fight against HIV/AIDS, the power of mi­nor­ity groups, and why Pres­i­dent Trump’s rhetoric is “very dan­ger­ous” and “very con­cern­ing”.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Im­age Mor­gan Hill-Mur­phy for NAZ and #nOSCARS2018 Words Wil­liam J Con­nolly

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view as part of #nOSCARS2018, the grand­daugh­ter of Nel­son Man­dela on the con­tin­u­ing fight against HIV/AIDS, the power of mi­nor­ity groups speak­ing up, and why Pres­i­dent Trump’s rhetoric is “very dan­ger­ous” and “very con­cern­ing”.

Hav­ing spent many of her years watch­ing Nel­son Man­dela make his­tory and de­fine what we see as a true po­lit­i­cal and so­cial leader, it’s clear that Swati Man­dela has learnt a great deal from her grand­fa­ther. Even af­ter his death, one thing in par­tic­u­lar re­mains with her; his pas­sion to get the job done and sup­port the un­der­dog.

In a UK ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, Swati Man­dela speaks to Gay Times about the con­tin­u­ing fight against HIV/AIDS, the im­por­tance of open con­ver­sa­tions around sex­ual health within the BAME com­mu­nity, and how po­lit­i­cal fig­ure­heads around the globe – and one in par­tic­u­lar – could learn from the strength and kind­ness shown by her leg­endary grand­fa­ther.

How do you think the at­ti­tudes to­wards sex­ual health for the BAME com­mu­nity has changed over time?

In my coun­try, the im­pact of HIV and AIDS and what is meant for us as a so­ci­ety has changed over the years. My grand­fa­ther was very vo­cal about the fact we as a fam­ily were im­pacted by HIV. My un­cle died of AIDS and I think it was a coura­geous step for him to take and dis­close to the pub­lic that we as fam­ily – that is quite prom­i­nent – are deal­ing with some­thing that so many oth­ers deal with, and to try and re­move the shame. To say that it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to take their sex­ual health se­ri­ously.

For a very long time, the nar­ra­tive around HIV/ AIDS was some­thing that many peo­ple didn’t want to talk about. I think that he was able to shed a spot­light on it and say that it’s im­por­tant we as politi­cians and peo­ple lend a name and voice to it be­cause hope­fully the im­pact will al­low peo­ple to feel com­fort­able enough to come out and dis­close their sta­tus.

Do you think from Nel­son Man­dela’s gen­er­a­tion through to yours, at­ti­tudes to­wards those dis­clos­ing their sta­tus has changed? Is the shame you men­tioned go­ing?

I think my grand­fa­ther was one of the most coura­geous ones of that gen­er­a­tion. I haven’t seen oth­ers in his gen­er­a­tion take the same sort of foot­steps, but I do think the younger gen­er­a­tion own the fact their voice is crit­i­cal and can make a dif­fer­ence and im­pact the move­ment. I think that there can al­ways be more done; it’s not enough, and par­tic­u­larly in the mi­nor­ity groups like you find here in the UK – and why NAZ and the work they’re do­ing is so crit­i­cal – is be­cause there’s this stigma about HIV. The fact peo­ple don’t take own­er­ship and re­spon­si­bil­ity of their health for many rea­sons. It’s cul­tural, it’s so­cial, and peo­ple have the fear of find­ing out that if they’re sick, what does that mean for them? Also, peo­ple don’t un­der­stand that it’s im­por­tant to ed­u­cate your­self. I be­lieve that you’d rather ac­tu­ally just know and go and find out. The ear­lier you find out... peo­ple wait so long and that has rip­ple ef­fects. I do hope that if I’m here now and speak­ing out against it, and say­ing I care and it mat­ters to me, that peo­ple will see that it’s some­thing that they too should take on to say that they should be re­spon­si­ble for their own health.

Is it also about cre­at­ing a con­ver­sa­tion to in­form peo­ple that there will al­ways be oth­ers who are sim­i­lar to your­self, and open­ing up to amaz­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions that can give you sup­port?

I do think it starts at home. When I was grow­ing up, my mum would do the most amaz­ing things like buy­ing my sib­lings and I books and play videos about sex. She didn’t feel com­fort­able to talk to us, so she’d pop the video in or say ‘read this’. Then she would say that if we had ques­tions to go and ask and she will an­swer. I think it has to start at home and the en­vi­ron­ment to al­low chil­dren and peo­ple to be com­fort­able to be them­selves and talk about sex. We’re all shy about it so I’m grate­ful my mum took that step, as op­posed to never talk­ing about it. I know cer­tainly in black com­mu­ni­ties, we don’t talk about it. We all do it but no­body dis­cusses it, and I think the con­ver­sa­tion needs to be had, but re­spon­si­bly.

Do you un­der­stand why some queer peo­ple of colour might be ap­pre­hen­sive about declar­ing their sta­tus due to dis­crim­i­na­tion from within their own com­mu­nity?

At home, there are so many openly gay peo­ple – I see them ev­ery­where all the time. Cel­e­brat­ing, be­ing them­selves and liv­ing their lives fab­u­lous. I

must say that I com­mend what­ever we’ve done at home in terms of al­low­ing that com­mu­nity to feel free enough to live and to just be. I think a lot of stuff is po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural. Cul­ture plays a huge part in a per­son feel­ing com­fort­able enough to say ‘This is who I am’. To think that, in this day and age, peo­ple can be naked on TV but you can’t come out’. What a dis­par­ity in terms of what so­ci­ety ac­cepts and what it doesn’t.

What do you think politi­cians across the globe can do to make all the above eas­ier?

It’s giv­ing peo­ple equal rights to get mar­ried – same­sex peo­ple the right to marry in what­ever coun­try they want to get mar­ried in. If gov­ern­ments take those kind of steps, and cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties and spa­ces that peo­ple can go and live and have ac­cess to health care and not feel like they’ll be turned away be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. For me, ev­ery­thing is a so­ci­ety thing, and we all have to get be­hind it. Re­li­gion is a ma­jor part in this space and nar­ra­tive, and it’s a sen­si­tive for many peo­ple. It’s used to per­pet­u­ate a par­tic­u­lar nar­ra­tive, so if hu­man­ity can look at each other as hu­man be­ings, al­low­ing peo­ple to ex­press them­selves in what­ever way and not as the ben­e­fit or dis­ad­van­tage of any­body else.

And your grand­fa­ther’s great sup­port of all peo­ple must be some­thing you’re proud of look­ing back now?

My grand­fa­ther stood for hu­man­ity and the dig­nity of all hu­mans. If we could have that type of qual­ity and char­ac­ter in our lead­ers to­day, I think we would be look­ing at a vastly dif­fer­ent world at many lev­els and on many is­sues. All the stuff we see with fas­cism, racism, sex­ism, vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren. I think that he was a pi­o­neer and bro­ken the mould be­cause peo­ple didn’t ex­pect it com­ing from him, but my grand­fa­ther was just about treat­ing each other with re­spect and let’s see each other as equal. You’re not bet­ter than me be­cause of the colour of your skin; you’re male and I’m fe­male; you’re fe­male and I’m trans­gen­der. That as hu­mans, we’re equal and all the same.

Hear­ing the re­marks Pres­i­dent Trump has made against the queer com­mu­nity, the world and women, does that worry you the rhetoric he’s push­ing?

How can you not be wor­ried be­cause it’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to all that we as the women’s move­ment and women’s rights have achieved. And also, like, race is­sues. That kind of rhetoric takes you back, and then you’re fight­ing so hard to move things along and im­prove some­thing but get stuck in this bot­tle­neck of just try­ing to de­bate some­thing that’s so neg­a­tive and de­struc­tive to so­ci­ety. I think that it’s very dan­ger­ous and very con­cern­ing. You see these out­bursts of vi­o­lence ev­ery­where and these shoot­ings, and I’m not say­ing any­one is re­spon­si­ble, but the rhetoric doesn’t help. It’s not pos­i­tive to race re­la­tions. It’s not pos­i­tive to the women’s move­ment.

When we look at the midterms elec­tions and what’s just hap­pened, we must also cel­e­brate small feats. First Mus­lim wo­man, first les­bian... I don’t know how many women were elected but it’s quite sig­nif­i­cant. It’s record-break­ing. That’s some­thing to cel­e­brate, too. There are peo­ple tak­ing a stand against it and say­ing that ‘I don’t stand for this’ and ‘I’m go­ing to use my vote ef­fec­tively so that I can make sure I’m part of the change and see­ing some­thing change’.

We can dwell on the bad, but also let’s fo­cus on the pos­i­tive as there’s amaz­ing things we’re see­ing hap­pen in his­tory with women and race. Let’s cel­e­brate that!

Change is com­ing and it’s hap­pen­ing now.

We’re see­ing it! We are par­tic­i­pat­ing and you have to par­tic­i­pate, too. I don’t be­lieve in ex­pect­ing things to change with­out do­ing some­thing. I think par­tic­u­la­tion is what we saw in the elec­tions in the US.

And now, more than ever, the power of the lone voice.

Peo­ple said that ‘My vote doesn’t count’. No, that isn’t true. Your vote does count and you can fun­da­men­tally change the course of some­thing. We saw that and I was very ex­cited when I saw the re­sults of how the elec­tion went. So many women and women of colour and women wear­ing the hi­jab. That’s in­cred­i­ble!

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