‘Despite the fact that the rights of South African queer persons are enshrined in the Constitution, queer youth continue to experience marginalisation and queerphobic violence in communities and schools,’ said UKZN staffer and master’s graduate, Mr Nkonzo Mkhize.
His research study: Being Queer in South African Township Secondary Schools: Experiences of Queerphobic Violence and Creating Opportunities for Change aims to investigate how, despite the protective constitutional context of the country, queer African youth experience, respond to and resist queerphobic violence in and around their township secondary schools.
Queer African youth in this study showed how they are navigating their school environments and relations with teachers and peers – they described agentic ways in which they engage within the queerphobic township school context to how they have been able to create a sense of belonging and find love and friendships amid queerphobic violence.
‘This research charts a way forward to moving away from merely understanding queer youth experiences in the South African context from the perspectives of those dominant in the school environment. It shows how, and importantly why the voice of those who are oppressed should be centred in the research process,’ said Mkhize.
‘It challenges the single narrative of victim-target-martyr that seems to surround the experiences of queer African youth. It asks those who are interested in such work to look at the plurality of existence and to place the voices of those who are/have been marginalised at the centre,’ he added.
Key findings of this study suggest that “schools are configured around unequal gender and hetero-patriarchal norms: queer pupils are still subjected to name-calling, bullying, physical and sexual assaults with little to no support from teachers who are often perpetrators of this violence”.
Informed by their experiences of queerphobic violence, the changes the participants wanted to see in the schools include a change in school policy, for teachers to address queerphobic violence and queer issues, and changing the curriculum to include queer content and affirm queer youth in schools.
Mkhize says the journey to completing his PhD was not easy, having experienced the same injustice while growing up and studying in a township that did not support his chosen lifestyle. For him, however, this was not just an academic journey but a personal one which made it that much more important.
‘This was not just an exercise to get a piece of paper but a personal and political project. As a queer African man having lived and was schooled for most of my life in the township context, it was and still is important for me to show the many experiences of queer African youth,’ he said.
He thanked his supervisor Professor Relebohile Moletsane for her willingness to listen and truly grasp what he wanted to achieve in this study and work with him to achieve it.
He also thanked his family for the continuous love and support during his academic journey, especially his mother and aunt who have been his rock.
Mkhize plans to continue with this research area in his PhD and look into how township communities might work together with queer African youth to address queerphobic violence.