Trans rights activist Yaya Mavundla. Image via Twitter @YayaRSA
Trans rights activist Yaya Mavundla. Image via Twitter @YayaRSA
South African LGBTIQ+ activism has come a long way, and quite frankly still has some miles to go. But we have been fortunate enough to have some formidable individuals who have not only raised awareness because of their stance and visibility but for their activism in this space as well. I spoke to Yaya Mavundla about her career, activism, and love life, and this is what she had to say.
Introducing someone with such a vast portfolio is always a bit tricky, so can you please give me a mini-biography of who Yaya Mavundla is?
My name is Yaya Mavundla. I was born and bred in the rural area of KwaZulu-Natal, Untunjambili – Kranskop. I come from an events management and PR background. I am now a multi-award-winning Transgender Activist, Reality TV Star, businesswoman, influencer and so many other great things that I find myself falling in love with on my journey of self-discovery.
You are such a prominent face for queer activism in South Africa. Do you sometimes feel like that puts a lot of pressure on you to live up to a certain standard?
Thank you, I don’t feel pressured. I’ve learned to block out the noise and live by my own rules and focus on what I want to do. Allowing too many voices to dictate what you should and shouldn’t be or do is dangerous and often leads to disrespect and disappointment.
In 2021 you were part of a project that was groundbreaking, especially for African audiences. How impactful do you think BECOMING was for queer bodies, more especially transgender men, and women?
The moment I said: yes to the show I knew it couldn’t be a missed opportunity, I didn’t just get excited to be on TV. I needed to make people see me in my true reflection. For me, that show was so important, and I am so glad that we allowed families to be on a journey with us the way we did. I will forever be grateful to the team for listening to us and not wanting to show us as slurs and drama queens, which was something that society expected.
The audience at home saw us as human beings who deserve respect and opportunities as equals. This is why post the show I am still able to work with so many major brands. The brands I work with respect me because I didn’t portray prima donna vibes and fed the negativity. I get to be in the same spaces with people I looked up to and respected for years because the Yaya they saw on TV is the person I am in real life.
A lot of LGBTIQ+ people struggle a lot with a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Where do you draw your strength from?
I think when I left home at 16 and faced so many challenges, I gained a lot of strength. I faced a lot of difficulties including being made a mockery of by people that knew me, and those who didn’t. Being broke and living in the streets. Those experiences taught me that nothing is forever and I can face anything in the world. Also traveling the world, and being in foreign countries where I had to navigate things on my own.
Those situations where I had to make things work have had a really big impact on my level of focus. In Europe, especially Venice & Paris they give you a map and you have to see how you navigate the place, if you are not street smart and strong you will miss your next flight back home. You need to think and act fast.
You recently took a trip to Paris – France and judging from the images I saw on Instagram you had an amazing time. Was this a business trip or a much-deserved vacation? And what’s your highlight from the trip?
Paris is one of my favourite places to visit, it was my third time there. There is something that speaks to me about the city, every time I am there I have that sense of belonging. Initially, I was meant to be in Belgium for work, have my PR shoot for my upcoming projects, and have a little bit of a holiday.
I extended my stay and went to Paris because it’s my go-to place in Europe. I’m a girl that loves fashion and it is the hub of all things fashion. I also get to shop all my favourite luxury brands and scents there. Smelling good all the time is my thing.
As I was scrolling down your Instagram, I couldn’t help but notice a picture that made me curious. Is Yaya off the market or single and ready to mingle?
Relationships need time, respect, and a lot of trust and commitment. I am praying to God that the person I choose to settle with will come with all of that, but chances are, that person won’t be on my Instagram (laughs).
What projects are you currently working on?
I’ve learned to never share anything until everything is confirmed and the money is in my account. In the past, I have been disappointed because of sharing a lot. But I can confirm that God and my ancestors have been good to me. There’s a great journey ahead.
People always feel betrayed, more so when they realise they can’t box you in their version of who you are. What is the biggest misconception about Yaya Mavundla?
I have suffered from that a lot, even lost work because of it. People think I am a diva simply because I know and want better, and I’m not shy to voice it. One thing I will not do is shortchange myself because I need an opportunity and/or acceptance. I know how I want to be treated, and I will not take anything less than that especially because I can afford it.
If you had the chance to speak with President Cyril Ramaphosa about one of the many significant issues facing the LGBTIQ+ community, what would it be and why?
First I will request him and his team to really get back to work and start working. LGBTIQ+ people are in desperate need of protection, and employment. We are deserving of equal opportunities like everyone else.
We pay equal taxes like other citizens, and sometimes more because mostly we find ourselves being freelancers & being self-employed, and yet we don’t get support from the government. The police, government hospitals, and home affairs need to start prioritising the LGBTIQ+ community and providing them with the great service they deserve.
Who is your favourite queer icon and why?
This is tricky because there are quite a lot of queer people who do amazing things. For now, I’d say anyone who has had the strength to face the world as themselves against all odds is my favourite queer icon.
Where do you see Yaya Mavundla as a brand in the next 5 years?
I want to work with SABC, Netflix, and HULU. Be a global star and not only speak to South Africa but the whole world. For my existence to influence freedom and pride in my community. And for families to love their queer children. I want my projects to change people’s lives. To live comfortably, succeed in all that I do, and hopefully, get married. I want to forever be proud of myself.
Finally, if someone were to ask you today,” what does Yaya Mavundla stand for?” What would you tell them?
I stand for trans visibility, the truth, and fairness.