The Chains on All My People Are the Chains on Me

Words: Anold Mulaisho

My name is Anold Mulaisho. I am a 25-year-old asylum seeker and I am gay.

I fled Zambia, the country of my birth, in January 2017. I was forced to leave because my safety was at risk courtesy of the repression of non-heterosexual identities in my country. People back home had discovered my sexual orientation and had started threatening me. I was told I would be hurt and arrested; a few times I was even told that I would be executed. Thanks to some Good Samaritans who were aware of my situation, I was able to buy a bus ticket and escape to South Africa.

Upon arrival, I reported myself to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) as a refugee applicant. On 30 January 2018, DHA rejected my claim. A number of spurious reasons were given for the judgement: that I cannot be gay because of my Christian background, that ‘real gays’ wear make-up and dresses like Somizi (a popular South African queer influencer) and that, if I were really gay, I would have enjoyed being raped (in reference to sexual abuse I suffered as a child). Overall, they deemed my application fraudulent.

The Refugee Status Determination Officer insisted that I was in South Africa to do sex work – a claim for which there was no evidence. After repeated attempts to have my determination reviewed, I shared my story with the media, starting with an article in this very publication. I received frequent messages of sympathy and support from the LGBTQ community across South Africa. Various entities – from academics and NGOs to service providers who support LGBTQ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers – reached out to me, and for that I am thankful.

However, going public proved to be a double- edged sword. Details of my case were shared in Zambian newspapers and blogs, setting off relentless death threats on social media and other private communication platforms. The publicity made me a target for insults and abuse; I have been attacked and hurt on numerous occasions. In one incident, I was punched from behind while walking down the street; another time I was subjected to homophobic and xenophobic taunts in a taxi. I have also been sexually assaulted when trying to access the Marabastad Refugee Reception Office in Pretoria.

I have since dedicated my life to advocating for LGBTQ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. I share my experiences whenever I can in order to show what LGBTQ people go through when seeking protection. Many of us fled to South Africa because it was the first country on the continent to legally protect and affirm sexual diversity. Even more important, its constitution promises that South Africa belongs to all who live in its borders. It is with this backdrop that we anticipated being safe and secure.

Once, after I shared my story on a news broadcast, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Dr Motsoaledi, framed me as a troublemaker. Now, whenever I go to renew my documents at DHA – my case is still under appeal – I am threatened and mistreated. Whenever I go to the police to report abuse, I am told to leave. I have even been turned away from hospitals when I have sought medical care after being attacked. Nevertheless, I am committed to speaking truth to power: I will not stay silent on the injustices experienced by LGBTQ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

I do so because South Africa is the continent’s major symbol of undoing discrimination and human rights violations. I have hope that South Africa’s leaders will draw on the values that gave birth to democracy in this country. I am hopeful that my story will contribute to making some of the most progressive laws in the world a reality for all – and that includes LGBTQ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

I want to make a difference. I want to inspire others to make a difference, too. I live a very complicated and compromised life – I cannot work, I cannot open a bank account and I cannot access even basic healthcare. The anxiety I feel when stepping outside is often paralysing, but I have to stay strong in order to survive. Every week I receive a call, a message or an email in which my life is threatened. A recent email from a fellow Zambian told me that ten bullets would be deposited into my head. I have tried to report these threats to the authorities, but I am repeatedly denied assistance. Still, I will not be silent.

People must know about the injustices that are happening. It is the great Nelson Mandela who said that ‘freedom is indivisible – the chains on any one of my people are the chains on all of them. The chains on all my people are the chains on me.’ I, too, am driven by this belief: no- one can be free if we are not all free.

My story speaks to the chains that bind every LGBTQ migrant, refugee and asylum seeker in South Africa. This is because our humanity cannot be separated.

A luta continua

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