An Open Letter to UCT from A Black Transgender Woman

Written by Thato Pule in Letters
Image by Amina Ebrahim

My name is Thato Pule and I am a black transgender woman.

Those are three very important words: black, transgender and woman. These words describe my political identity and reality. All three words are a description of how I need to be emancipated from structural oppression. All three are very complex and require specific approaches.  They are also very hard to separate because I reside within their intersection and it is therefore very difficult to see beyond their meeting point.

With this belief at the core of who I am, it is very hard to subscribe to the current discussion that is solely about race. It was largely around a man named Cecil John Rhodes, who is a man in my opinion played a very large role in shaping the oppressive society that has labeled me as inferior because I am black, I am transgender and I am a woman.

An interesting post on facebook sparked an urge in me to write this letter. It was a post from a student organization that stated the following:  “The issue of the Rhodes statue removal is a big one, but the question must be asked as to why the SRC has not included a programme regarding race during their 'Transformation Month’ yet they purport to support the struggle against privilege and inequality”.

The truth is that Transformation Month was never meant to be about race. It came about because previously SRCs have had a very strong focus on race while ignoring the other systems of oppression present at this institution. This was a direct reflection of the student body, which is largely unaware of the privileges that come with being a heterosexual man, able-bodied and mentally stable. This years SRC thus took it upon itself to broaden transformation to include any form of oppression that needs to be eradicated to build a true African society that places humanity above all else.

Our first step in terms of broadening transformation was through the first annual transformation month. We themed the weeks according to gender, sexuality and disability, which represent the next focus areas that will be included within the transformation agenda. It was very important to do this from the onset, because to tackle transformation holistically we have to build a well-informed united student body and eradicate all the various social constructs that divide us.  It was also noted that by focusing on disability, sexuality and gender, we are not ignoring race but we are focusing on the intersection of race and all the other forms of oppression experienced by students. It is impossible to ignore race, but issues of gender, sexuality and disability are often ignored. That is why we made a conscious decision to provide a platform for issues that never had a platform at UCT to begin with.

It is important that we realize that the aim of transformation month is to empower students to take transformation into their own hands because the SRC has been weakened by student apathy. We cannot tell the university to transform without a strong backing from students. More importantly in our confrontation with management on transformation, we need to make demands that are inclusive of all students who feel marginalized on campus.

My name is Thato Pule and I am a black, yes, but I am more than the colour of my skin, I am transgender woman. This is the intersectionality that is my reality – I am oppressed because I am black, but what is often forgotten is that I am oppressed because I am transgender and a woman. These issues can no longer afford to be silenced.


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Image by Amina Ebrahim

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