Monday, July 15, 2024

No place to call home -The real life of a Botswana Lesbian outcast

Her beautiful hazel eyes hide wounds so deep it is going to take a few miracles to heal. Ntebogang* the 23 year old soft spoken young woman standing in front of me is so gentle I am convinced she wouldn’t hurt the meekest of animals.

Ironically, a while back the very people who gave her life; her own mother and father joined forces with two of her uncles and a Pastor and were on the verge of sending her back to her maker when they flogged her bare naked back in a bid to ‘Beat the gay demons out of her.”

It was a cool August evening. Ntebogang and her partner, a transgender lady in the initial stages of transforming into a man were just lazing about in her parent’s servant’s quarter where she was residing. It was then when her mother beckoned her to the main house under the pretext that she needed help with fixing her phone. She found her father, two uncles and the pastor from the church her family attends. They held a mini kangaroo court about her being in a relationship with a woman. Her mother then sent the men to go to the back house and find out exactly what gender her partner is.

Ntebogang’s partner had to deal with seeing the penises of three grown men as they showed her their private parts and then insisting on her exposing herself to them.  She refused to undress due a decision exacerbated by her dysphoria, ‘A condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.’

Upon the gentleman’s return to the main house the prophet told Ntebogang’s mother that her partner refused to undress and claimed to be a man. “And then the flogging began. Ntebogang claims that she was dragged back to her room and stripped naked from the top up and was beaten until the sticks withered to nothing.  She was then suffocated by refuse bags which she had to chew through in order to be able to breathe. Ntebogang claims that her father removed his belt and choked her with it saying that she would be better off dead.

After the flogging, her partner managed to escape, leaving behind all her stuff which her mother confiscated. Ntebogang states that her mother then ransacked her room confiscating every item of clothing, shoes, jewelry, make up and publications she felt were influencing her behavior. They then dragged her to the bush outside their home to watch her stuff burnt to ashes.

Weak, dehydrated, hot from the fire and in extreme pain Ntebogang passed out. He came to briefly after her uncle kicked her on the ribs, and passed out again.

 

 The pastor claimed it was a sign that the demons were leaving her body.

Back in the house Ntebogang says her mother set new ground rules. This included moving to the main house, getting her hair cut and going to church. The next day she managed to escape from her parents house, reported the matter to the police and got her medical reports. 

“I have left home and I am staying with friends because I do not feel safe at my parents’ home, I fear for my life for they told me that they would kill me,” explained Ntebogang holding back tears. Her Mother Gertrude on the other hand saw nothing wrong in what they did, “Yes we hit her she is our child and we will discipline her however way we see fit until she changes back to normal,” she told The Sunday Standard.

Where exactly does Ntebogang’s abnormality lie?

She narrates a sad sordid tale of a strained relationship with her mother since she discovered that Ntebogang was in a relationship with another woman, what the world has come to label as being a lesbian. “I was ousted by my cousin to my mother,” and according to Ntebogang since then nothing has ever been the same. “I suffered tremendous verbal abuse from my mother, at every opportunity; I was showered with snide remarks, accusations and threats.”  Ntebogang explained that she knew of her mother’s homophobia which was why she kept her sexuality secret.

Ntebogang has been working with LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana) since 2013 and started having family problems due to his association with the organisation which ultimately lead to the assault.

“Ntebogang refuses to come back home and I hold LEGABIBO responsible for her actions and they are filling her head with all sorts of ideas,” say Gertrude who claims to genuinely want her daughter to come back home and abide by the norms and expectations of a cultural Motswana girl.

Anna Chalmers, the director of LEGABIBO explained how the organisation had tried an intervention withNtebogang’s family when the problems began but her parents stormed out and did not even listen to anything they had to say. Chalmers also stated that this was no isolated incident and there are a lot of young boys and girls who find themselves homeless when their parents find out about their sexuality. LEGABIBO has however made a decision to engage traditional and religious leaders in LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) to make them understand them and hopefully use them as mediators in instances like Ntebogang’s.

Regarding the family’s belief that Ntebogang’s sexual preferences are influenced by LEGABIBO, Chalmers posed a rhetorical question:  If LEGABIBO influences people into homosexuality who then influence people to engage in heterosexual relationships? 

Chalmers says with Ntebogang’s parents willing, they would bring on a counselor and a lawyer to explain to the parents the legal implications of their action towards their daughter, “What they did to Ntebogang was cruel.”

Ntebogang reported her floggings to the Mogoditshane police station and according to Sub Inspector Sefatlhi it is a case of common assault and if she proceeds with the charges they will take the case to the customary court.  Sefatlhi also explained that they are trying to reconcile the family and failure to reach a consensus the case will be tried.

Combinations of cultural and religious tug of war left an ambitious young woman scarred, homeless and out of school since her parents have stopped paying her University tuition at the University of Botswana where she was doing her final year in Bachelors in Business Administration.

In their own way Ntebogang’s parents are merely trying to “Fix” their daughter and make her “normal” which has manifested itself in a gross display of deep rooted homophobia.

A society that hides behind self righteousness, selective morality and probably the worst critics of that which they do not fully understand leads to situations similar to that of Ntebogang’s. “Since finding about my sexuality my parents have made me partake in a number of cleansing rituals including one where I was dipped in water in Zimbabwe,” explained Ntebogang. Rituals to which she obliged to please her parents and also hopeful that indeed she would be ‘Fixed’

With her father’s belt tied around her neck Ntebogangclaims that her father told her that the current relationship was the second strike and they will let het live, and if she makes the third strike they will kill her and bury her in the bush outside their yard.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper