Nadia Swanepoel

The South African transgender woman who embarked on a hunger strike to protest the Department of Home Affairs’ three year delay in correcting her ID has won her battle for equality.

On Sunday, Home Affairs confirmed to Nadia Swanepoel, who began her transition four years ago, that her name and gender identity have been changed to female in the population register.

She has been assured that she will receive a temporary ID today. The department has also amended her marital status from civil union to a heterosexual identified marriage according to the Marriage Act.

Swanepoel, from Florida, Johannesburg, embarked on a food and liquid hunger strike last week Tuesday to protest the department’s apparent refusal to change her name and gender.

She first applied for the changes three years ago under the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act 49 of 2003 (Act 49) but says she faced ongoing delays, lost applications and excuses.

Without an ID that reflected her gender she faced numerous challenges in everyday life that led to her desperate act. It appears that it took the glare of media attention and the resulting embarrassment to have Home Affairs complete in less than a week what Swanepoel requested years ago.

Swanepoel told Mambaonline that she had already received her new ID number and was in the process of picking up a temporary ID and applying for her passport and permanent ID.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “I’m still a bit overwhelmed. I’m just glad this is resolved and I can move on with life and plans for the future.”

She explained that she looks forward to doing things that the average person takes for granted. “Me and my husband can now make plans and I can get a normal job and sort out my finances.”

Swanepoel said that she believes that one particular Home Affairs official had been behind blocking her applications.”She made empty promises, lied to us and made sure the process wasn’t sorted out. She’s probably homophobic.”

A number of LGBT and trans groups that assisted Swanepoel, including S.H.E, Gender DynamiX, TIA and Iranti-org, welcomed news of a resolution to the matter.

They said, however, that Swanepoel’s “situation is one that is not unique but is part of an ongoing battle to get the Department of Home Affairs to create systems which will standardise the requirements and time frames of Act 49 applications such as Nadia’s.”

The groups insisted that the “current arbitrary interpretation [of the Act] requiring genital surgery as a minimum needs to be rectified with immediate effect.”

At one point Swanepoel was told by Home Affairs that she needed to have genital surgery in order to meet the requirements of the act, although it allows for applications for gender change following either surgical or other “medical treatment.”

“Over the past years TIA, S.H.E and Iranti-org have documented many human rights violations committed by the Department of Home Affairs. We demand for this to come to an end”, said Leigh Ann van der Merwe, Director of SHE.

The groups applauded Swanepoel’s bravery, saying that “her actions have made it possible for the concerns of transgender persons to be made public and for people to recognise the horrors of being denied the right to exist as a South African citizen.”

Swanepoel expressed hope that her hunger strike will make a difference for other transgender people in a similar situation. “With all the attention that was drawn [to her plight] I think we made a difference and a change and that it will be easier in the future for others.

“There’s still a lot fighting for trans people in this country, but this could be a start to help move things. We need to make sure that every trans person’s application goes through as it should,” she said.

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