Over the past 13 years Khulisa has been actively involved, through the leadership of Lydia Sono, in promoting the rights of the highly marginalised and ostracised LGBTQI community members in the rural community of Schoemansdal, Mpumalanga

Lydia is an award-winning humanitarian who has pledged to help others by telling her story.  Says Lydia, “7 years ago when I reported the rape of myself and my girlfriend to the police, they told me that I deserved to be treated this way, as I was not part of the community”.

Since the implementation of Khulisa’s virtual family peace-making programme, Lydia has provided emotional support to over 17 victims of rape around the country, in addition to many others who have shared their stories of diabolic abuse, neglect, and rejection. Lydia has been their only shoulder to lean on since the lockdown.

Lydia tells the story of one of her community members who was raped last December, supposedly by a well-known gangster in their community. The case was reported to the police and no arrest was made due to lack of proof of identity.

As it happened that during the lockdown period, whilst Lydia and her team were handing out food parcels, the suspect was seen loitering around the girl‘s home.  The suspect later broke into her home in an attempt to steal her groceries. The family recognised him as her rapist.  Lydia and a fellow representative from her LGBTQI task group immediately alerted the Equality Court. Within a few hours the perpetrator was arrested and incarcerated.

“Through listening to the stories of fellow LGBTQI community members, albeit on a virtual basis, has made me realise how lucky I am to be the person I am for the first time in my life.  I am devastated by what our community members are going through. I thank Khulisa for capacitating me and providing me with the opportunity to reach out and communicate with these people.  The news of the family peace-making programme has spread to many other provinces and I am inundated with requests for support”, says Lydia.

Besides the ongoing support from Khulisa, Lydia has also been supported by her BBC mentor, Francis Whately, based in London, over the past three years.  Francis recently raised R20,000 to support Lydia’s cause. Lydia has also been guided by a qualified coach as well as Juan Terblanche from Nous Counselling & Art Therapy who is providing advice on how to deal with some of the traumatic experiences of community members.  Lizzy Fundama, Khulisa’s senior social worker who is based in Nkomazi is assisting with the much-needed counseling support for the rape survivors.

It is also with great appreciation to the Equality Court that the police are working with the community to ensure that perpetrators are put behind bars.  Finally, we are being taken seriously.