When women from all over the country took to the streets on Wednesday in a mass protest against gender-based violence, which became known as #Total Shutdown, Nonhlanhla Mkhize was leading the march in Durban.
Mkhize, the co-founder of the Lesbian and Gay Community Health Centre, has been at the forefront of championing human rights and the fight against abuse for over a decade.
Her role as an activist started when she was a law student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). She had been exposed to challenges faced by students, more especially members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, who experienced discrimination and violence against them.
Mkhize grew up in Hammarsdale and holds a BA Law degree and a Master’s in Anthropology (social science) and is studying towards her PhD in public health.
“My qualifications have been helpful in that I can encourage everyone I work with to study. In the environment we work in a certificate is always required, otherwise no one takes you seriously,” she said.
The Lesbian and Gay Community Health Centre was established in Women’s Month, eight years ago.
Among the people she had an impact on were students.
“Students at UKZN had challenges about coming out, those trying to find themselves and to understand who they are. We had conversations of what to do and what would be our contribution,” she said.
Mkhize said nothing keeps her soul at peace like seeing the difference she and other activists have made in championing equality and rights of the LGBTI community.
“Even before the organisation was conceived, we had been working with the Commission for Gender Equality on issues affecting young people, given the LGBTI element,” she said.
“We see our impact when you look at policies especially from 1996 to 2006 and how they have changed. From the decriminalisation of same-sex marriages to the recognition of those relationships in a domestic context and to be protected under the Domestic Violence Act, there is quite a lot we have done. The right to family has also been secured. All these are a victory for a developing country which is black led,” said Mkhize.
Although she has won many battles, she admits that hate crime against the LGBTI community was still a major challenge and with lack of financial support, it was difficult to host as many educational campaigns with the aim of social cohesion.
“I am quite excited about women and youth development, empowerment and the support of a girl child.
“I used the centre to drive that passion when we worked with schools and teachers,” she said.