Dept responds to transgender woman's hunger strike

Nadia Swanepoel has been waiting three years for an ID that reflects her name and gender.

Nadia Swanepoel has been waiting three years for an ID that reflects her name and gender. Picture: Stock.XCHNG.

JOHANNESBURG - Nadia Swanepoel is a transgender woman who has embarked on a food and liquid hunger strike.

She alleges that after three years of trying to have the department recognise the changing of her name and gender marker, they have failed to give her an identity document (ID).

Swanepoel lodged the application in terms of the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act.

The fact that she's unable to get an ID has had an emotional and economic impact as she is unable to find employment and ensure other basic life necessities.

Home Affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete told Eyewitness News that he had a conversation with Swanepoel.

He says he assured her he would assist in speeding up the process.

The spokesperson denied allegations of arbitrary discrimination on the part of the department, stating other people have made similar applications that have been successful.

Tshwete blamed the problem on poor systems being used.

He said systems were being rectified through modernisation and moves towards automated systems.

Tshwete says Swanepoel has two important documents outstanding from her application.

He says that she has not completed the required medical processes with her doctor, who then needs to certify that she has completed the procedure.

She also hasn't given supporting documents for her to be legally classified a female.

Swanepoel would then still require another doctor to provide verification that the procedure met the necessary requirements to change her gender identity.

Iranti-org Rights Group's Executive director Jabu Pereira disagrees with the idea that Swanepoel needs to undergo surgical procedures or take hormones to be considered a woman.

Citing the act, Pereira highlighted that the differences between transgender and transsexual people.

She said that as a transgender person, Swanepoel's gender identity and expression are that of a woman and thus should rightly be considered as such.

Pereira said it was not a prerequisite that Swanepoel changed her genitalia to that of woman and highlighted the obsession with the physiological features to determine a person's gender identity as problematic.

Furthermore, sexual characteristics and gender reassignment are not compelled to gender identity.

Pereira also highlighted how expensive procedures were and claimed that there were only two South African public hospitals that could conduct the surgeries.

Waiting lists were as long as 20 years and those hospitals were only given operating rooms once a year.

Pereira said there's a breakdown in communication between the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Health.

Tshwete is distressed that Swanepoel is still on hunger strike and said that's the reason he made himself so easily available.

"I'd rather people contact me rather than put themselves at risk by going on hunger strike. That's why we're making ourselves as accessible as possible, so we can find out what has gone wrong and where."

He says as soon as the department gets the necessary documentation from her, the application can be processed in a short space of time.