“We are carrying on, even if they rape us, beat us or kill us”

Jacqueline Khumalo and Thandeka Jwaha are campaigners at Amnesty International South Africa, and were at the recent Pride march in KwaThema, Ekurhuleni.

“We are carrying on, even if they rape us, beat us or kill us”, the crowd sing in isiZulu as they march through KwaThema; a protest song from the anti-apartheid era echoing through this township to the east of Johannesburg. They have come here on a rainy Saturday for the third annual Pride March organized by the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), a local community-based organization.

The family of Noxolo Nogwaza are also here. Noxolo, a 24-year-old local lesbian woman who was a member of EPOC, was raped and murdered in the township on 24 April 2011. More than a year on, her killers are still out there.

The crowd at the march, colourful and jovial, want justice for Noxolo. They want an end to the ongoing hate crimes – the rapes, the murders, the attacks - against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. At least five LGBTI individuals were murdered across South Africa in June alone. They want the police to take these crimes seriously and investigate them thoroughly. They want to feel protected and safe in their communities.

Ekurhuleni Pride is a unique event. It is not as big as Pride marches in Cape Town and Johannesburg, but it reminds everyone that Ekurhuleni, the municipality of which Kwa Thema is part, is home to a thriving LGBTI community. It also reminds us of the reality of people living in townships. The LGBTI community here have had to deal with repeated discrimination and physical attacks - four of which have been fatal - on its members in recent years. When people reported these attacks, the police responded with contempt, mockery or general disinterest.

But no one here has any intention of hiding. “Siyaziqhenya ngobutabane bethu”, the crowd sings, “we are proud of our sexual orientation”. “We deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and love”, says the Mistress of Ceremony. “We are here to stay.”

People have come to KwaThema from Cape Town in the south of the country and from Limpopo in the north.  And messages of solidarity and support have poured into this township from as far away as Austria, Canada, France, Belgium, Denmark and the UK. Amnesty International members and supporters have created and sent banners calling for justice for Noxolo. We give out the ribbons with the solidarity messages that Amnesty members have sent - the marchers wear them around their wrists, their necks and their heads. Our stall is buzzing with people who want to join the Justice for Noxolo campaign.

Noxolo will not be forgotten. Neither will today’s message: love is a human right.

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