Interview with Hlengiwe Buthelezi
By Dumisani M. Dube
“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with….”. (Unknown) Legends are not born, they are made. Your will has to exceed your effort; do not stop when things get hard. Amidst all the challenges, activist and athlete Hlengiwe Buthelezi did not stop, she pressed on. Today she claims several medals to her name and still soldiers on.
A multi-media journalist by profession, Hlengiwe was born and raised in the farming town of Escort which is in the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province of South Africa under amaHlubi traditional leadership. She was raised within amaChunu royalty under a big household of her maternal grandparents where she was surrounded by 10 siblings (aunts and uncles) and over 20 children, and because of this childhood she says she has learnt to coexist. Buthelezi describes herself as “A gay activist of various sectors which are sports, culture, human rights advocacy and politics”.
Her passion for sport manifested itself as early as primary school level, excelling in athletics and soccer, “Because that’s all we had on offer in the rural areas”, she says. She moved to Durban completely to start high school and to explore sports life so as to start a great shape towards becoming professional. “I played tennis, zone level, then swing soccer, provincial level even played for AmaZulu ladies FC later on to athletics, national into international level as I felt that team sports were delaying my progress a bit as sport is a short-lived profession due to age”, said an unapologetic Hlengiwe.
Paddling through those spaces wasn’t easy but passion held her head high, also it sheltered her sexuality a bit as she was deep in the closet, “or that’s what I thought” she says with a chuckle. “Most people couldn’t really pick up on my sexuality but my teammates and team management always speculated on that, some of them were nasty towards me so I had to always be on a defense , a huge frustration, that saw me being side-lined on team selection despite my achievements” Hlengiwe laments. However, in 2002 she was afforded a chance to represent South Africa in Sydney Gay Games in Australia, the feeling she describes as the most liberating experience ever. She won 7 medals which includes 3 Gold, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze. She returned to SA and still continued with achievements but not accolades.
Buthelezi is the founder of KZN LGBT Recreation which was inspired by injustices that she went through and the observation of other fellow Queer members suffer. “This project seeks to advocate for gay rights and fight against injustices, hate crimes, corrective rapes, gay bashing. It also serves as a safe space for Queer family. For example, the Caster Semenya saga in which we are still part of the organisation that is fighting with IAAF body to scrap their shonky law that they created to discriminate against intersex athletes, blaming it on high testosterone” explained Hlengiwe. To a larger extent they have seen countries like Kenya, Uganda and others starting to drop their intersex athletes because of that ‘nonsensical baseless law’ suddenly created by IAAF, it’s a criminal offence to say the least. Hlengiwe together with other activists have been in and out of courts fighting against Gender Based Violence and Hate crimes, this includes Lindo Cele’s and other cases. KZN LGBT Recreation has grown to serve other African states through projects like African LGBTIQ games (AfroGames) since 2018.
Here are some of Hlengiwe Buthelezi’s achievements
- 2006 Chicago Gay games = 7 Gold medals. SA Team captain and flag bearer. Female Athlete of the Games in that year.
- 2008 part of the host organising team for the Federation of Gay Games Annual General Meeting in Cape town
- 2009 – Volunteer of the Year Award by FGG in Cologne Germany
- 2010 -6 medals (3 Golds, 2 Silver & 1 Bronze) Cologne Gay games.
- 2018 – Feather Award = Sport Personality of the Year 2018 after winning 6 medals in Paris Gay games 3 Golds, 2 Silvers & 1 Bronze
- 2020 -Nominated last year to KZN LGBTIQA+ Provincial Convenor (Embrace Diversity Movement = EDPM + ANC Women’s League). EDM is a Queer political Movement that advocates for Queer representation in a political space (KZN Legislature + eThekwini region).
- 2020 – Re-elected to FGG Board of Directors as Officer at Large (first & only African person to serve on this Board since its inception)
“My take, a legend is someone who makes a positive difference in her/his community by uplifting/inspiring others. By bringing the change through advocacy means” Hlengiwe Buthelezi (2021).
After speaking to this bubbly and humble soul all I can say is Legends remain victorious in spite of history. Hlengiwe Buthelezi you are an inspiration to many, we celebrate you Legend! Shenge, Bhungashe, Sokalisa, Mnyamane kaNqengelele …..Siyabonga!