Sports create involvement

InternationalRFSLPhoto: Mathilda Piehl

TransActive is a South African project that strengthens and mobilises women with a trans experience through sports. It's about promoting health and well-being but mainly about creating a safe psychosocial space.

TransActive is a part of RFSL and Regnbågsfonden’s new initiative: Rainbow Kick-Off – Småskaliga stöd till hbtqi-grupper i Asien och Afrika. The aim is to support outreaching and strengthening activities.

The project TransActive finances two netball teams that have been started by local trans activists. But the women don’t only play netball, they also train automatically in organising and get practical experiences of leadership, which is important to the community.

L. Leigh Ann van der Merwe is a well-known activist that works for women with trans experiences in South Africa. She has founded S.H.E, Social, Health and Empowerment Feminist Collective, the organisation behind the project.

Netball is a team sport with its roots in basketball and is a big sport for spectators as well as participants in South Africa, Jamaica, Barbados, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zeeland and Great Britain.

-The sport not only mobilises the women who participate but society as a whole. In South Africa there’s a strong connection between sports and the political sphere. Sports has always been a place for those who have fought for social justice and, most importantly, in the fight for equality between blacks and whites. We started this project on the initiative of trans women from our community. Sports is a terrific platform for organising, L. Leigh Ann van der Merwe concludes.

The team that TransActive supports is in East london, a province in South Africa where the risk of being subject to hatecrime is three times higher compared to the rest of the country. One of the teams are organised at Walter Sisulu Univeristy and one in Grahamstown. The teams practice every week and the team members get a place to meet and have fun together. TransActive also counts on playing a positive educative role in society as a whole.

– Many of those who never would participate in an educational initiative would be happy to come and see a good netball game. Sports gives us a unique possibility in that way, says L. Leigh Ann van der Merwe.

Nelson Mandela was an amateur boxer himself and during his time in prison he saw how football helped his fellow prisoners to survive. After the prison time he used big sports events to create opinion. When he was elected president he looked for things that could unite the divided country. Sports was, according to many, the motor that united people.

Now trans activists use sports in the same way, in a South African tradition, to unite and drive the fight for trans rights forward.

On March 22 2019 the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution that expressed concern over discriminatory regulations and practices in sport. The resolution was put forward by South Africa that requested a report ”on the intersections between race and gender discrimination in sports.

Read more about the UN’s goals about sustainable development.

S.H.E 2019 Netball tournament

In East London the sun is shining and hundreds of excited athletes and a sizable cheering section take the netball field before the first tournament of the year. Three whole days are dedicated to sports, and the spirits are high.

The Friday morning in the end of April was started with a march through the town. The purpose was to raise awareness of the issue of inclusion of trans people in South African sports. A good-sized group walked from the university campus to the city hall where mainstream media met up. During the afternoon there was also a panel discussion in S.H.E’s premises.

But the main attraction of the weekend was the playing itself. During the Saturday morning cars are loaded with team clothes, umbrellas for shade, balls and of course bananas and water for the players.

S.H.E has arranged the tournament, and apart for the teams that are supported by the organisation university teams, college teams and a semi-professional team also take part in the tournament.

Athenkosi Fani is 22 and has just left the field after her team winning their match. She has played since she was seven, and talks lovingly about her sport.

-My passion is netball, I love netball! Sports make me strong and allows me t express who I am, says Athenkosi Fani.

Athenkosi Fani says that sports is for everyone and Noxolo Sojola, from Buffalo City Netball Federation agrees. She has her own team that participates and laughs when she gets the question about how Netball Federation views the inclusion of trans people:

-On the court netball rules apply, we don’t care about anything else.

Athenkosi Fani adds:

-Sports is for everybody, everybody can partake. Through sports people are united, but not only that. It’s a way of communicating and sports itself plays a preventative role when it comes to different socioeconomic challenges. There are risks for young people, including abuse of alcohol and drugs, but sports is a form of protection.

Noxolo Sojolas team dominated the first day’s games and the other participants were visibly nervous when the professional girls took the court. But day two Athenkosi Fani’s team won the cup and the glory.

The tournament didn’t just draw an LGBTQI audience, passers by stopped, cheered and clapped their hands. Friends and friends of friends came with kids and picnic chairs to cheer for their team or their player. It’s obvious that the tournament touched more than those on the field.

TransActive is financed by RFSL and Regnbågsfonden in cooperation with S.H.E, Social, Health and Empowerment Feminist Collective. The project is a part of Rainbow Kick-Off – Småskaliga stöd till hbtqi-grupper i Asien och Afrika.