Nosipho Gumede
3 minute read
25 Jun 2022

Uthingo Network in Pietermaritzburg reflect on struggles as they mark Pride Month

Nosipho Gumede

Pride Month, June, is a month of celebration for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex + (LGBTQI+) community during which they also protest against legal discrimination and inequality.

Pride Month, June, is a month of celebration for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex + (LGBTQI+) community during which they also protest against legal discrimination and inequality.

Uthingo Network in Pietermaritzburg has been helping the LGBTQI+ community for about 19 years. The social group, founded by Pietermaritzburg local Anthony Wauldhausen, aims to create a safe space for the LGBTQI+ community to socialise, share struggles and just enjoy themselves and be free.

This is because many queer people still experience violence and discrimination in society, homes and schools.

Uthingo Network members at one of their interventions.

According to the organisation, their name — Uthingo Network — is Zulu for Rainbow network, and it means everyone is accepted no matter how they identify.

Weekend Witness spoke to Pietermaritzburg Uthingo Network director Brian Sibeko-Ngidi about the organisation, Pride Month and some of the challenges that the LGBTQI+ community still face today.

According to Sibeko-Ngidi, Uthingo network is an LGBTQI+ organisation focused on ensuring that queer people enjoy legal protection, which is stipulated in the Constitution.

Sibeko-Ngidi said: 

“We try to change people’s perception and impart knowledge because we realise that most cases of discrimination happen because people do not understand. People have prejudiced ideas about those who are marginalised and those viewed as different, so our job is to ensure that we build healthy and empowered communities where everyone can be accepted no matter their cultural background, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions.”

He added that they focus on rural communities because most queer organisations are concentrated in urban areas and they aim to reach everyone.

Some of the services they offer include lay counselling services, mental wellness, HIV/Aids education and testing when needed, and they are also able to link people to other services that provide access to ARVs or gender affirming healthcare.

“One of our biggest things is offering counselling to the LGBTQI+ community and their families because sometimes parents struggle with the fact their children have come out or are transgender.

“We also do a lot of interventions in schools regarding the whole issue of school uniforms, and we try to make schools understand and accept children of the LGBTQI+ community.

“We also offer sensitisation trainings with different stakeholders like the police because that is where LGBTQI+ individuals run to get help or to report a case of violation or any other violence.”

Sibeko-Ngidi added that if those spaces are not sensitised, then it means that individuals of the LGBTQI+ community will get further victimised when going to police stations, adding that they work with the police to make them understand and know how to work or treat LGBTQI+ individuals.

They work with the Department of Health and healthcare providers and other service providers, Sibeko-Ngidi added.

Giving insight on Pride Month, he said the month provides the LGBTQI+ community with a chance to reflect on their considerable achievements as a movement.

He said: 

“It is a chance to also reflect on the struggles that we are still facing. Pride Month means we have a chance to amplify our winnings, we have won a lot. For example, queer people can get married in South Africa, we have legal protections, and we get to celebrate who we are without any fear of being victimised although there is a high possibility of that happening.”

He added that it also shows that they are here, they exist, and they are human beings like everybody else.

Sibeko-Ngidi said the biggest change he would like to see is more influence from the country’s leaders, saying that they need to speak more about the movement and hold interventions, the same way they hold interventions for gender-based violence and 16 days of activism.

“They should also hold campaigns to create awareness and make a positive change for gay communities,” said Sibeko-Ngidi.