A generation that has experienced life before democracy
By Loyiso Lindane
There is no convenient formula to growing up in an environment that denies you of who you are, the consequences of such can be overbearing and it takes a special kind of mental elevation to overcome obstacles which threaten your life. Most people tend to overlook such circumstances especially when they are not directly affected by the outcomes of such behaviour which can lead to a despondent society, complacent to injustice in a world that sees being queer as a crime.
Steve Letsike is one such leader who has overcome multiple stereotypes of being queer and still choosing to rise above them; particularly in the Black community where patriarchy, misogyny, toxic masculinity is so rife it is near impossible however even through the struggle it is important for queer voices to exist.
“I am a transitional generation that have experienced life before democracy 1994 and post 1994. At the age of 13 I joined young student activists in high school and township where we significantly would organise joining students’ movements across the country calling for change institutional culture and transformation within the education system in post-1994 South Africa. The education system was flawed before and even after 1994.” says Letsike.
Of all the things that define Letsike, her activism, passion for human rights and social justice, her position as Co-Chairperson of National AIDS Council and Chairperson of the Civil Society Forum at the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) has certainly put her a cut above the rest. One of the responsibilities of SANAC in public healthcare facilities include but are not limited to bringing multisectoral stakeholders like Government, Civil Society Organizations, Private Sectors and Development Partners.
Although most leaders will tell you that titles do not matter as much as the responsibility of the position, it definitely does give strength to know that such roles are executed by the people who not only have the lived experiences of marginalized groups but those who are actively seeking change in all they do.
The organizations that Steve work for such as Access Chapter 2 are a member of a Sector such LGBTI and Women’s Sector, which are a part of the Civil Society Forum. Many of these organizations are implementing health interventions, bridging the gap of health services complementing the services offered at the health facilities.
“There are other Sectors such led by People living with HIV that monitor the health facilities in terms of access and services provided, projects like Ritshitze are a classic example or even advocacy projects supported by NACOSA, AFSA or Beyond Zero supporting the Community led Monitoring. All these various partners build and strengthen efforts the already burdened health system,” she adds.
“Our country is guided by the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, TB and STI. The goals in the NSP are ambitious and much needed. The plan requires every person in the country to work seamlessly. We potentially would be drawn back to win the battle when we don’t see local political will, local partnership and utilization of resources where they are needed. The call to ensuring the commitments that are made to be realised is an important one. The lessons learned and the current efforts in responding to HIV play an instrumental role in the success of achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals, notably Sustainable Development Goal 3, good health and well-being, and the goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduced inequalities, partnerships and just, peaceful, and inclusive societies,” says Letsike.
Another way that Letsike explains the SANAC is that “SANAC implements the NSP through its multisectoral partners, and a shared space for accountability is when a Council comes together. This in essence means that the community system anchors the health system and that should be strengthened in many ways as we aim towards National Health Insurance (NHI) as a country, the equality within the health is much needed and SANAC is just a fraction of what could be achieved in the health system, similarly to when it played the role of informing the Presidential Health Compact in order to bridge the gap and respond to the much-needed strengthening of the health system,” she quips.
Although Letsike holds an esteemed position in her leadership roles in activism and her duties at SANAC she is not an ‘all work no play’ type of person as she does find time to just be herself in an ever-demanding world adding that “I am not one to catch jokes easily when made, however what makes me laugh is probably interacting with people, mine and their humour and some shared joyful moments puts me in a happier moment.”
On the question of what she would do if she were to be President for a day, Letsike has a list of ideas that at first glance may seem to be a tall order for our current government woed by mal-administration and neglection of people’s basic needs and rights. As a country we certainly could use more powerful voices and ideas of how to transform the lives of marginalized groups in South Africa and the world at large.
“The President has powers entrusted by the Constitution and legislation, which include asserting and signing bills, some of the bills I would fast track for advancement and signing would include the banning conversion practices as they are harm practices, decriminalize sex work, in addition to the powers vested in the President, I would charge the key cabinet members with the responsibility to develop and implement national policy that will ensure all hospitals and health facilities across the country provide affirmative Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights including trans affirmative health services such as linking all child grants recipients particularly unemployed parents and guardians to community development projects for skills development and training in order to link them to various opportunities to change livelihood as well as establish an LGBT Advisory Committee under the stewardship of the President to ensure they work with the Cabinet on the development of SA LGBTI Action Plan, guide the work and hold Gov to account on its delivery.
The President has a responsibility of being bold, provide leadership and hope to the people of this country, but implementing a just society including building solidarity with other states particularly in Africa,” she details.
When the world has defined you and denied you, it is hard to keep soft and focused on your dreams however it is always best to find your purpose to ensure that when the opposition comes, as it surely will come in a queer discriminating society, there will without a doubt be adversities that should be faced with realism and courage which come from dedication, commitment and most importantly kindness towards yourself. Steve is a grounded selfless – beautiful human being, with a smile and warm hand shake that represents her humane presence, the rest shall be tested by the work and the wish to continue being an inspirational leader who uses everyday to learn from people and aspire to improve along the way.