South Africa: Refugees Enduring Prejudice Twofold

Published: June 27, 2014

 Junior Nsamia, 25, of Democratic Republic of Congo and Flavirina Naze, 32, from Burundi are refugees and activists. They have endured both xenophobia and homophobia. It has also been challenging for them to integrate with the South African lesbian and gay community.

Nsamia says, "For me, coming to South Africa was not my will. It was a forced decision … my family wanted to kill me. I did not want to leave my country, especially my family."

He came to South Africa in 2010. He says the DRC government upheld anti-gay laws and he had no protection. His mother is a Christian pastor. He left home because his mother and siblings tried to poison him because he is gay. He says it is painful and sad that society wants to play God.

"My story is different from most refugees. I did not come to look for greener pastures. I come from a well off family. My father could afford to apply for a study permit for me to study here comfortably or any other country I chose".

"[But] because I am gay, I lost everything — an easy and comfortable life, love and affection. There is no more connection between me and my family. My mother blocked me on Facebook and changed her mobile number … it is painful. My other LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community] friends are fortunate, for instance my Zimbabwean friend, Puki, went home to see his family recently, and he always speaks to them on the phone".

Nsamia does not understand when people say being gay is not African, because he was born of an African man and woman, and he has never been to any Western country. In Africa, there are many men who prefer to have sex with, but they cannot disclose it because they are scared of persecution and discrimination.

His dream is to go back to university. He was in the Faculty of Law as an undergraduate at the University of Kinshasa. He brought proof of his educational qualifications with him and is hoping he will be accepted at the University of Cape Town, if, that is, he can get a scholarship.

He says being both a refugee and gay is challenging because society is homophobic and xenophobic.

Last year, says Nsamia, "I was attacked in Salt River by other foreigners like me; they were from different countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda … South African [gay community] are not united and it makes integration difficult for refugees.

"During LGBT workshops we integrate well, but during the breaks, Xhosa speakers stand by themselves, foreigners by themselves, and coloureds do the same. There is a gap between LGBT in townships and those in low density areas. LGBT in Khayelitsha claim they cannot get out of their houses without fear. Those in Sea Point who are mostly white, have the freedom, they party, enjoy life and are free."

"The gays in township are more focused on protesting, changing the constitution and saying enough is enough: we are being killed."

All this leaves LGBT refugees in the middle.

"We become lonely and find solace in NGOs like PASSOP, where we come to fight for our rights through voluntary work. I do not feel safe here [South Africa], people call me names such as moffie. There is a Somali shop where the shopkeepers refuse to sell stuff to me. In Claremont, where I am staying, some people make signs to me which means they will chop my head. I found myself doing more activism work to protect myself", he said.

Flavirina’s story

Flavirina Naze stays in Delft. Integrating into South Africa has been difficult for him too. He is relieved that even though Delft community is discriminatory at least they do not beat him up. In Johannesburg he was assaulted and some people shunned his tuckshop.

He says many people from Burundi lie about being from Congo, because they believe it will be easier to get refugee status. He came to South Africa through an HIV and LGBT Awareness conference in 2009. He was representing ARDO, a non profit organisation from Burundi.

Naze is undergoing sexual reassignment. He was referred to Groote Schuur hospital by Triangle Project, a non-profit organisation. The doctors told him it will take between five to ten years to become female. Naze started treatment nine months ago and is treated every three months.

Naze said, "I left my country because in Burundi we are persecuted. I struggled to get an asylum paper because I could not speak English but my English has improved now. During the asylum application, both the females and males kicked me out of the queue because they were saying to me, are you a woman or a man? It was traumatic sleeping outside Home Affairs for a week before I managed to get the asylum paper. Because of the language barrier, I was issued an asylum paper with a wrong name".

Naze tried to look for employment dressed as a woman, but there was confusion with an identity document that says male. Naze got a job as a security guard but the employer said Naze had to dress like a man and it didn’t work out.

Naze faces a precarious future but is surviving on street-smarts and courage.

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