Trigger warning for the discussion of gender-based violence and homophobic violence


nokuphila kumalo, corrective rape, eudy simelane, women's month, women killed in south africa, 16 days of activism, noluvo swelindawo

On Monday, I typed two words in in all caps in my email's draft and watched as the red lines appeared under each word. This is what happens when computers don't recognise the name (usually when it's not a Western or English name). The red lines underlined the words Noluvo Swelindawo. My heart was broken and heavy. Two words. A name and a surname. A black girl. Dead. Made dead by violence and hatred. It had been three months since I last did that.


In August, I decided to post a woman or a girl's name on each of the 31 days of "women' month." I felt exhausted at the thought of the tedious song and dance that was coming. That always came during this time of year. I could not face ten days of companies and government departments pretending that they cared about women. I was preemptively tired of the hashtags and the pink and everyone's (from copywriters selling soap to government officials making policy) inability to differentiate women's day and mother's day. Ten days because once 9 August passes everyone seemingly has convenient memory loss. Until the next year when it's again time to pretend that women matter and that those with power are doing their best to protect us. 

Some of the names I wrote down in Augusts I knew by heart: Eudy Simelane, Lindiwe Chibi, Motshidisi Pascalina, Palesa Madiba, Anene Booysen. On what would have been her 33rd birthday, I wrote Reeva Steenkamp's name in all caps. Just last year, I read the community newspaper unflinching as, in short, three or so paragraphs, a reporter told us it would two years since Palesa Madiba had gone missing. When my sister came back from school, we read the story over and over.

In the stories I read, these women and girls' names were not in the headline, sometimes not even in the opening paragraph. Their names mattered to me. What their families had to say mattered to me. Earlier in November, internationally recognised artist Zwelethu Mthethwa appeared in court as the accused in the murder of Nokuphila Kumalo in Woodstock, Cape Town in 2013. In one of the few articles about her murder and the pursuit of justice in her name, her mother, Eva Kumalo, mentions that she cannot attend court proceedings because she has a job. The writer records her as she lays pink and white flowers on the exact spot where her daughter was killed.

(Nokuphila Kumalo's story has received the coverage it has, which isn't a lot, in part because the man accused of murdering her is as prominent as he is.)  I wrote her name in all caps on 6 August. The women who were not queer, we murdered by their cishet partners.

Overwhelmingly, the women on the list I made were queer. I remember how when reading a profile of the photographer and activist, Zanele Muholi, the writer Jenna Wortham paused to explain what corrective rape is. What is wrong with us, what is wrong with this country, I wondered. Why is it that here, corrective rape doesn't have to be explained?

Most of the women queer women on my list were also activists working with organisations such as TAC to bring access closer to their neighbourhoods. Khayelitsha and KwaThema came up so frequently I cried because the hate on our streets is overwhelming. Soweto is no utopia either -- we have Salome Masooa, Nonkululeko Ngubeni, Sizakele Sigasa and Palesa Madiba's blood on our streets and there are countless others whose names I do not yet know. 

And now we have lost Noluvo Swelindawo. The fact is, she did not wander down an aisle and disappear, she was killed. Factual numbers cling to my brain: She was 23, 10 men. 10 men.

More than ever, intersectionality is important. "We" are not dying. They are not killing "us." Black women and black queer women are in danger. Poor black queer women are in even more danger. This is important to remember as we look for ways to move ahead and protect each other. I have no answers, I can hardly see past the stuff happening in my head and my bank balance. But I believe it's important to protect each other while we are still alive.

My writing their names in all caps and watching as red squiggles punctuate them helps no one. The hashtags, help no one. But we shouldn't get absolved from knowing their names. It shouldn't be all right for a headline and subheading of a story to read "Nameless black girl/woman who [clickbait] has been killed." It shouldn't all right for black women and girls to be killed.

I don't have answers, but we shouldn't get to look away and not have their names haunt us and be on the tips of our tongues.


Image: Artist Jody Brand's installation "#SayHerName" in The Quiet Violence of Dreams group show at Stevenson Gallery Cape Town