“I am a wonder… Therefore I have been born by a mother! As I begin to stutter, My life has been like no other…” - Ayanda Denge (read the whole poem below)
Ayanda Denge was a transwomxn, sex worker, activist, poet. She was a Xhosa from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. After travelling through different cities of the country, she moved to Cape Town.
As a committed and fervent social justice activist, she fought for the rights of sex workers, trans persons, and for those of people living with HIV and AIDS. She was also a motivational speaker on cancer awareness, and campaigned for affordable and social housing, especially for poor and working-class people. Ayanda stood tall as a mountain against different and often abusive faces of discrimination.
“Being transgender is not a double dose, but it’s a triple dose of stigmatisation and discrimination. You are discriminated against for your sexual identity, you are discriminated against for your work, and you are discriminated against of your HIV status.” - Ayanda Denge, 2016
She was acting chairperson at the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and also worked as an Outreach Coordinator at Sisonke, a national sex workers’ movement in South Africa.
“From us, from our regional head office, to SWEAT where I sit on the board, to Sisonke, a movement of sex workers in Cape Town. We all amalgamate, we have one cry and it’s a cry that is recognised internationally by international sex workers. We want decriminalisation of sex work.” - Ayanda Denge, 2016
She lived in the Ahmed Kathrada House, which was being occupied by the Reclaim the City campaign for social housing. In 2018, Ayanda was elected house leader. On 24 March 2019, she was stabbed to death in her room. The year prior, another resident was killed.
Reclaim the City draws a connection between the safety of the house residents and the Provincial Government withholding electricity and the human right to water:
“We cannot separate the safety of women and LGBTQI people living in the occupation from the refusal by the Western Cape Provincial Government to turn the electricity and water back on at Ahmed Kathrada House.
The house is pitch black at night. We need lights to keep each other safe. It is as if the Province wishes to punish poor and working class people, whose only crime is that we needed a home. While they may disagree with our reasons for occupying, they should be ashamed of themselves for putting politics before the safety and dignity of residents of this city.
Rest in Peace comrade Ayanda Denge, we shall remember you as we carry the torch forward in the struggle for decent well-located housing.”
Poem by Ayanda:
I am a wonder…
Therefore I have been born by a mother!
As I begin to stutter,
My life has been like no other.
Born in pain
Nourished by rain
For me to gain
Was living in a drain.
As I shed a tear
I stand up and hold my spear.
Voices echo, do not fear
Challenges within a year,
Challenges of hurt are on my case;
Community applauds as they assume I have won my race;
But in reality my work strides at a tortoise pace;
On bended knee I bow and ask for grace.
For the Lord
Is my Sword;
To remind humanity
That he provides sanity.
Why Lord am I this wonder?
The Lord answers me with the rain and thunder,
For questioning my father
Who has in the book of lambs
A name called Ayanda.
From the streets my life was never sweet
The people I had to meet;
At times I would never greet;
Even though I had to eat;
I’d opt to take a bow
Rather than a seat
“For my life represents that of a lotus flower, that out of murky and troubled waters I bloomed to be beautiful and strong...” - Ayanda Denge, watch and listen
“Ayanda, I want to say to you that you are still a survivor, in our hearts and minds. You are gone but you are everywhere, because you are love. How beautiful it is to be loved, and to give love. And Ayanda, that is the gift that you have given us. Thank you for all of the love, we truly did need you. Going forward, I promise to you that we will all commit to continue with the struggle that you have dedicated so much energy and your time to. And we will commit ourselves to pursuing justice in this awful ending to your life.” - Transcript of a message, in a farewell Tribute to Ayanda
“Ayanda was an activist by nature. She knew her rights and would not mind fighting for the rights of others. For me, it was no shock that she was involved with many organizations and it was known that she was a people’s person. It did not need to be the rights of LGBTI but just the rights of everyone that she stood for.” - Ayanda’s sister