As June 16 approaches I am grappling with what it means to be living in a post- apartheid South African as a homosexual man of colour. I am not excited about talks of freedom because my sexuality means that my safety is not fully guaranteed.
I grew up listening to my relatives tell stories of what life was like for them and our country during apartheid. My aunt, in particular, was an advocate of how transformation is good. As a born free, who has never experienced life governed by marginality, I accepted this as narration of history. I still can’t say that I have any idea of what life was like then beyond this and what history books had to say. My perspective is shaped mainly by experiences I’ve lived.
I grew up in a village, outside Thohoyandou, in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, where I never really knew what it was like to have electricity or access to running water for most of my childhood. Like many other South Africans, with similar upbringings, one of my most memorable encounters with this “transformation” and freedom my aunt referred to was when I arrived at university. When I got to university, in my province, I became exposed to various aspects of lives which are never tackled in most conservative and rural black communities. It is in this space where I got to discover my sexuality. This freedom, despite prevalent homophobia in most communities, is one which I am grateful for in democratic South Africa.
At the beginning of the year I moved to another province in pursuit of my postgraduate studies. Recent incidents here have led me to truly believe that we are told that the struggle is entirely over but, it continues. It has just been embodied in different formats.
During my first week, I noticed something which changed my overall perception about the university and their system. It had just occurred to me that students at the residences are placed in terms of origin and colour. For instance, I share a house with students who are African, black and coloured. Yet, white students occupy houses on their own. Students are segregated in terms of skin colour.
The residence has a large number of exchange students but the level of service which is offered to these groups, which are differentiated by colour, is completely different. Those who are perceived as superior are provided with everything from cutlery to electrical appliances. Whereas those who are perceived as inferior, people of colour they don’t even get to enjoy those privileges.
At the end of the day even though the institution adheres to a particular language policy in its lecture halls, it still dwells much on racial discrimination activities. Segregating students in terms of skin colour and also providing different levels of services to them at the residences, still marks the inferiority that Black and coloured African are perceived to have.
Another reminder of my limited freedom occurred recently when my identity was questioned.
During a lecture, a lecturer tried to take away my freedom of belonging in this country as a citizen when she protested that I wasn’t South African because I am from Venda. You can imagine how that made me feel. I had to argue my case to make her realise how wrong she had been but she wouldn’t budge. It was only when I had reported her that she apologised. Even though it’s post-apartheid and I am now able to enrol at institutions where those who lived before me were not able to, I am still faced with situations where I need to defend my identity and my belonging.
As June 16 approaches I am grappling with what it means to live in post- apartheid South Africa as a homosexual man of colour. I am not excited about talks of freedom because my sexuality means that my safety is not fully guaranteed. Especially where I come from, where hate crime against people like me still persist. My skin colour, on the other hand, means I have to always carry my identity card at all times. Just in case I am not perceived as an offspring of this country. Life in post-apartheid South Africa as a “born free” is a reminder that I live with limited freedom.