Hlengiwe Buthelezi

Queer Activist Hlengiwe Buthelezi. Images via Instagram: @Hlegs55

Hlengiwe Buthelezi runs her own race as a queer activist

Activism involves speaking up for minorities and the voiceless. Queer activist Hlengiwe Buthelezi speaks to us about the challenges of it all.

Hlengiwe Buthelezi

Queer Activist Hlengiwe Buthelezi. Images via Instagram: @Hlegs55

Queer liberation in Africa is still a dream. That’s why we need the bravery of LGBTIQ+ activists to keep trying to fight against those who wish to invalidate our existence. Former soccer player, athlete, and queer rights activist Hlengiwe Buthelezi is one of the brave ones. She talks to me about her passion for activism and sports. The challenges she has faced as a lesbian and her hope for the future.

Hlengiwe was led to activism by circumstances

It is simple to assume that being an activist has always been on the cards for someone. For Hlengiwe Buthelezi, this was never a path she thought she would take. Growing up in a world where she was grossly discriminated against for her sexuality prompted her to take this direction.

“I said there shall be no other person who will suffer if I can help it. I will do my best to prevent the suffering of queer bodies.”

Activism involves speaking up for minorities and the voiceless. This reality often leaves activists vulnerable to harsh discrimination and homophobia. The sad truth is that we get discriminated against by the same law enforcement officers that are meant to protect us as citizens of this country, says Hlengiwe.

“I have hardly ever gone 48 hours without experiencing some sort of discrimination.”

Sports and its challenges

Women face social stigma in the sporting world. I asked Hlengiwe about some of the challenges she has faced in sports, and she said that the prejudice was not so severe in soccer because over 50% of the women that she played with were butch. Most of the bias she faced during her soccer days was from the officials.

“With athletics, you will have to endure discrimination even from your training mates. Sometimes it happens because people are ignorant.”

According to Hlengiwe, sports is very fundamental for the young ones, queer or not. She talks about sports as a healing and therapeutic activity that can help everyone. She also describes sports as being a unifying factor. Because no matter how you identify or what your sexuality is, there is one team.

“I founded Afro Games because I wanted them to be an inclusive sport. They are not just for the LGBTIQ+, they are for everyone. The aim is for us to co-exist, and additionally learn about each other”


Among other things, Hlengiwe is a Convener of the LGBTIQA+ Desk within the ANC Women’s League. When I asked her about this LGBTIQA+ Desk, she says it was important to establish it. She and the other members of Embrace Diversity wanted to further validate and amplify the voices of LGBTIQA+ individuals within the ruling party and the country.

“We ultimately want to have a Queer League within the ANC, existing as an equal to all the other leagues in the organisation.”

A message to Africa by Hlengiwe Buthelezi

Regarding the state of affairs when it comes to queer people in Africa, Hlengiwe says it’s disheartening, to say the least. But if she was allowed to address the leaders of our African countries, she would let them know that we don’t choose to be homosexual, nature chooses for us. We get victimised, murdered, and discriminated against daily. If it was a matter of choice, no one would choose that life.

“How do you wake up as a leader of a nation and want to victimise other people? Moreover, in every community, family, and country, there is a homosexual person.”

Queer icons and the change she wants to see

When it comes to queer icons, Hlengiwe gives her flowers to actress, singer, and rapper Queen Latifah; and tv personality and comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

If she had the power to change one thing in the world, Hlengiwe says she would change people’s mindsets. To make people realise that we are one. And additionally that sexuality, race, class, culture, religion, and all the other barriers we use to separate ourselves do not matter. We are all human beings.