Transgender woman attacked in Port Elizabeth shopping mall

21-year-old Ayanda Gwentse

The Eastern Cape is living up to its title as the most queerphobic province in South Africa after a transgender woman was assaulted in a busy Port Elizabeth mall.

Monday 6 July began uneventfully for Ayanda Gwentse. Then the 21-year-old transgender woman agreed to walk with her friend to the Cleary Park Shopping Centre to draw money.

On reaching the shopping centre, the pair was stopped by an unnamed fruit vendor who started hurling transphobic slurs at them. Ayanda handed her phone to her friend who started recording the interaction between her and the fruit vendor.

In the video, the woman is seen attempting to pull Ayanda’s skirt up as if she is trying to disrobe her. The vendor is heard repeatedly saying “Ayikho lento uyenzayo,” loosely translated as “What you’re doing is unacceptable!”

The vendor also states that she is offended by Ayanda’s short skirt and asks if she wants to be raped, referring to her as a “moffie” (a derogatory Afrikaans term for gay).

Speaking telephonically, Ayanda said she was traumatised and saddened by the event. In the video, Ayanda is seen pushing the vendor away from her in a desperate bid to defend her dignity in the crowded shopping centre.

“I would like to see this lady arrested and subjected to punishment so that she can be an example to the rest of the community. Apparently, it is not the first time she did something like this,” said Ayanda.

Siya Makiva, Coordinator at Social, Health and Empowerment (SHE) in Port Elizabeth, commented that transphobic attitudes like the one displayed by the fruit vendor get in the way of transgender women accessing healthcare. “Some trans women don’t feel safe even to go to the shop,” Makiva noted.

With HIV prevalence estimated at over 60% among transgender women in South Africa, it is concerning that transphobic violence might get in the way of appropriate and quality access to sexual and reproductive health services. A recent research report highlights violence as a powerful determinant of health for transgender women in South Africa.

Asked about what she thought would be an appropriate punishment for the fruit vendor, Makiva said: “Sending her to prison would be pointless. I would recommend that she make amends by adjusting her behaviour and involving her to educate others on gender diversity. She is a fruit vendor and has some influence among people in her community. She can be an advocate for transgender people.”

The South African Constitution outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and South Africa is a signatory to a number of human rights treaties. It is widely acknowledged, however, that the constitutional promise of equality is not a reflection of the social reality.

Port Elizabeth has seen increasing violence against sexual and gender minorities, including the death of Sue Ann Klaasen who took her own life after being raped by a group of men.

A case against the fruit vendor was opened at the Gelvandale Police Station in Port Elizabeth.

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