ISSA Reborn: Hopeful future for Intersex South Africa
By Kellyn Botha
6 September 2016, South Africa
On the weekend of 2 to 3 September, Iranti hosted 22 visitors from the South African intersex community, Iranti staff, as well as activists and allies from across the country, to brainstorm the best way forward in reviving Intersex South Africa (ISSA). Founded in 2000, ISSA became dormant after the passing of former-director, Sally Gross in 2012.
Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations of people who are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. There are continuing human rights violations against intersex people in South Africa, including infanticide, child abandonment, and intersex genital mutilation, among others.
“I want to see the legal and medical sectors better educate parents on intersex issues so that terminating pregnancies or doing surgery can be avoided. People are losing their lives.” Said Tebogo Mokgwati, a Kimberley-based activist talking on the many changes needed by the intersex community.
“We’re all here for different reasons, but at the end of the day our activism is not only about anger, but to know that we are not alone in our identities and pain,” said Nthabiseng Mokoena. Mokoena, based at ARASA, is also on the current ISSA task teamworking to revive the organisation.
The meeting covered a wide range of bases, from sharing of lived experiences by participants, identifying core human rights issues, and the advocacy need in South Africa on the first day, to discussions on the second of how to realistically re-form the organisation. It was decided to keep the name ISSA in order to maintain the legacy of the old organisation and honour the work done by Sally Gross.
Participants heard from Phumi Mtetwa, who shared experiences from the Masithandane Collective about alternative modes of organising, resistance and impact outside of the NGO-model in responding to and preventing hate crimes in South Africa. Annand Chaytoo spoke about the benefits and disadvantages of a formal NGO, and Joshua Sehoole discussed challenges and opportunities in operating as a network of groups or organisations, reflecting on the Southern African Trans Forum.
Participants then reflected on the synergies possible between various models. “Yes, there are limitations in each model but that doesn’t mean that within your NGO, NPO or collective group that you have to organise like others have done in the past. There is a fluidity to this that lets us each think about how to use what’s inspiring from all forms of organising.” said Iranti’s Joshua Sehoole.
It was suggested that Iranti continue to act as a financial and logistical support of the fledgling ISSA while the organisation begins to take shape. Further, Tshegofatso Phala of Webber Wentzel Attorneys promised to lend pro-bono legal support to the organisation in the same way as it has been provided to Iranti. There was, however, broad agreement, that this assistance would not infringe on ISSA’s independence as an organisation.
“Our role in the re-establishment of Intersex South Africa is to offer support to the drivers of the process; the intersex community itself,” said Kanyanta Kakana, one of the discussion’s organisers at Iranti. “The future role of Iranti would possibly be as a partner in ISSA’s work; an ally-organisation offering the necessary technical support when needed. But that is a decision that will lie with ISSA. Everyone here is very capable and strong-spirited.”
That spirit was demonstrated throughout the weekend as delegates took charge of meetings and laid out clearly their own hopes and goals.
“There’s only a handful of us, but intersex activism has never been about the numbers. As a handful, or as one person, we are capable of achieving so much,” said Mokoena to the group on Sunday.
And indeed, much was achieved over the weekend despite the mountain of work and many difficult decisions to be tackled by the activists who have chosen to take up the fight against intersexphobia and human-rights abuses at the hands of a prejudiced medical community. By the end of the weekend an official task-team had been established which will take the next steps toward re-establishing ISSA, such as finalising an organisational structure and beginning to plan means by which to source funding.
Iranti wishes the team well in its endeavours and cannot wait to welcome ISSA back into the world. We look forward to the official launch of the organisation and reaffirm our commitment to support the fight for intersex human rights both nationally and regionally.