Standing up for immigrants and emerging victorious!

by Katlego Chibamba

You know, before narrating the story of Thomars Shamuyarira, I thought I should share a bit of my own reflections around the importance of knowing who you are and the power that storytelling holds. Across the world, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people are faced with a myriad of challenges. Their human rights are being violated, and many at times, LGBTI people only get to learn through experience and usually later in their lives about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This leads to many of us finding the language that best describes who we are and what we feel. The one question I wish for you to answer while reading the article below is; Who are you, really? Who are you without your title, your gender, your talent, your weight, your income, or your personality?  I am really privileged to have the opportunity to be writing about Thomars Shamuyarira, who is a proud Transgender man, who is a Trans Rights Activist and a Human Rights defender. Thomars opens up about the journey of his life as a trans man from first learning about his gender identity to using his voice to advocating for others, through his story you will understand why Thomars is a such a warrior. 

For those who may not know; Transgender is an umbrella term that describes a diverse group of people whose internal sense of gender is different than that which they were assigned at birth. Transgender refers to gender identity and gender expression and has nothing to do with sexual orientation. The term is increasing in familiarity globally, although other culturally specific terms may be used to describe people who have non-binary gender identities.

Thomars Shamuyarira is a warrior of note. Emerging victorious despite the many life obstacles placed before him. In his own reflection of the journey of his life, he speaks of love as an outlier through which he experienced many other learnings. He was raised in Zimbabwe and as a child who was never exposed to sexuality education, he did a lot of his learning through personal experiences. He reflects on his time in high school, where he first fell in love with a girl, who was also his best friend.  “I knew then, that I was different from other kids, this was because at that point, every other girl my age was into boys…. I didn’t know what it means, and it was only until after completing high school that I figured out, what it really meant.”

After high school, while going on about his life, he met a woman and instantly fell in love. What was unique about this for him, was that he saw himself in her “I met a masculine presenting woman who identified as a butch lesbian, and I instantly saw myself in her” it wasn’t until Thomars gathered enough courage to approach her that they became great friends. It was around this time, that Thomars found out about Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), an organisation based in Harare, that promotes and advances the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people living in Zimbabwe. He started attending regular meetings and dialogue sessions on topics related to experiences as well as sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Through this, Thomars learned about his identity and using his voice to educate others, who like him, were not privy to such knowledge. 

Despite being met with constant adversity, Thomars strives to find strength in his deeply rooted faith and passion for human rights. In him learning about his identity and finding his voice earlier in life, he was disowned by his own family as well as the community from which he was raised in Zimbabwe. This is what had led him to coming to South Africa only to be faced with secondary victimisation at the hands of his relative who placed the condition that he changes his “way of living” which meant that Thomars should stop identifying as transgender. Needless to say, I am happy to say that Thomars has reunited with his family after his mother reached out to him and today, they are on a learning journey together. This is often not the case with many others, but we should celebrate such victories when they do happen. 

This year marks nearly a decade since Thomars moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe. He founded and currently serves as the director of The Fruit Basket, a non-governmental organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa, that works to advocate and promote wellness for LGBT refugees and migrants. To date, Thomars through his organisation, has assisted over a 100 migrants and refugees from across the globe, who are forced to seek refuge in South Africa as a result of the violent and sometimes deadly laws against LGBT people in their countries. 

Between November 2020 and January 2021, The Fruitbasket together with other partner organisations have been involved in a number of fundraising initiatives aimed at assisting LGBT people who were negatively affected by the restrictions placed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This initiative has been extremely helpful, especially financially so, towards displaced and other marginalised LGBT people living in and around Johannesburg. 

Thomars has an indomitable spirit and he is a true real lived example of what former president Thabo Mbeki meant when he said “Gloom and Despondency will never defeat adversity.” 

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