The vibrant leader of demonstrations
By Loyiso Lindane
Just like the rose that grew from the concrete, from the streets of Diepkloof, Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa comes one of the most resilient leader and advocator of LGBTQIA+ rights, Virginia Magwaza. Hers hasn’t been an easy road as can be expected when advocating for the rights of marginalised people who get killed for existing as themselves, breathing can be a dangerous task due to your gender or sexuality.
“I have been involved in a number of struggles for social justice and the advancement of the lives of the minority and the oppressed groups. I am a proud mother of 3 humans who have always understood that they are sharing their mother with the whole world since I have been in different countries on various activist work,” says Magwaza.
Her activism started when she was a student in the university of Witwatersrand where she became part of the student movement during the years where institutions of higher learning and the City of Johannesburg were becoming corporatised and privatised. She gained consciousness through her involvement with the student structures as well as the community-based organisations. Her growth escalated as she became part of the then growing social movements that were challenging the lack of access to Socio-Economic rights, Foreign Debt, Palestinian Question, Women Oppression, Gender Based Violence and all the Phobias directed either at Africans and LGBTQI+ people.
Her journey has not come without its own challenges and the main important thing that seems many people have not yet come to know is that it is not always smooth sailing however being dedicated towards your passions will sustain you.
“The challenges that I have faced involve issues of patriarchy and misogyny even within the social justice movement. Women constantly have to push for their voices in all the spaces that they occupy, even when the issues are close to them men would force you to be their mouth piece. Men were finding it difficult to accept and open up spaces for women without making them feel that women were where they were on men’s mercy. Another challenge was the fact that poverty was a reality and when working in working-class communities experiencing it at first hand led to depression. There were times where I could not take the situation that our working-class people are facing and at some point, resistance, demonstrations and boycotts were not the answer to their problems. Even today I still get depressed with the work that I have been doing in the last 10 years, working with issues of hate crimes perpetuated against LGBTQI+ people. When I see parents and families who have lost their children or loved one’s depression hits and most of the time feel helpless and defeated,” says Magwaza.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom though, there have been moments that have cheered Magwaza’s spirit to keep going in the journey as in the relation of the trip to the World Conference Against Racism where Cde Fidel Castro delivered a speech.
“My journey has provided me with many opportunities including traveling across the world, interacting with different activists has inspired me and added to my growth. One of my most memorable trips was my visit to the World Conference Against Racism where I participated in the conference where Cde Fidel Castro delivered a 3 hour speech that was also translated and delivered in a more amazing way. I enjoyed that speech so much as it became my inspiration and gave me a clear understanding of Cuba as a country which inspired me to become an activists.”says Magwaza.
On gender matters, Magwaza is quite sharp in adding that gender is a construct that people should not be holding on to in this day and age due to the damaging effects of stereotypical norms and misconceptions. Magwaza strongly emphasises that gender should not, at this day and age be seen only within the binary. Her message to young queer people is to strive to constantly empower by educating themselves which has assisted greatly in her journey as an activist.
“I encourage young people to read as there is no empowerment stronger than gathering information that will elevate you as an individual and will allow one to occupy spaces that you never thought you would. I found myself in Canada as a keynote speaker at a G6B summit which was the counter summit against the G7/8 summit that was taking place in Kananaskis. That was after I committed investing in myself through the wealth of information on various topics ranging from political economy, Human rights, the World Trade Organisation, the Bretton Woods Institution as well as Gender & Sexual Minority issues,” adds Magwaza.
For one who takes activism and empowerment easily, it is refreshing to find that she still finds time to dance and laugh with life. “In the near future I see myself working with queer people as a life coach and a mentor as I am known at the vibrant leader of demonstrations. I end up rolling on the streets during the demonstrations to ensure that I feel the space and the moment,” concludes Magwaza.