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Transgender Persons Seeking Asylum in South Africa ~ The Story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga

South Africa, January 2013

By Jabu Pereira


It seems a celebration for human rights in Malawi as we learn of the decision of the President, Joyce Banda and the Justice Minister, to suspend all laws that criminalise homosexuality. This suspension means that no person “suspected” to be Gay, Lesbian or Transgender will be arrested.


This suspension came too late for Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza. Tiwonge had to escape Malawi because of her sexual orientation and Steve Monjeza will be in prison for the next three years for stealing food.


Since August 2011, Gender Dynamix has supported the integration of Tiwonge Chimbalanga into South Africa. I met Tiwonge, the day she landed and arrived in Mellville, South Africa with her a dear friend Dunker Kamba.


Prior to her landing in South Africa, Tiwonge had never left her home and country, Malawi. She did not leave by choice, but her safety as a Transwoman living in Malawi was not an option. In 2009 Tiwonge was due to be engaged to her partner Steve Monjeza, when a journalist in Malawi published a story of two gay men who intend to marry.


Steve Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were soon arrested and faced the ridicule and public abuse by state officials, such as the police and judicial officers. The conservative media of Malawi had fed the public with homophobic, pro-nationalist propaganda and made the lives of Steve and Tiwonge a living hell. For six-months they had to endure living in prison as they were charged under the penal code of Malawi.


International pressure from Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, forced the late President Muthurika and his parliament to pardon Steve and Tiwonge from a 14-year prison sentence.


Organisations such as CEDEP and CHRR in Malawi are tireless warriors that should be acknowledged and thanked for vigour and hard work. I recall the many weeks when Gift Trapence, the leader of CEDEP, and Undule, from CHRR, had to go into hiding as President Muthurika sought to arrest them. I am confident that had he caught these great activists, President Muthurika may have called on his security forces to kill them, as he did in July 2011 when 60 protestors were killed.


Iranti, together with Gender Dynamix, continues to support Tiwonge’s integration into South Africa. This short media clip is a mere introduction to a much larger media and documentation story on Tiwonge’s life as a Transwoman.




About Tiwonge Chimbalanga

Tiwonge Chimbalanga

Photo by: Jabu Pereira, a portrait of Tiwonge Chimbalanga


Tiwonge had to escape Malawi because of her sexual orientation. Sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, and pardoned by President Muthurika under pressure.


In January 2013 Tiwonge will be a guest and media intern at Iranti, and we plan to host several talks on the human rights situation in Malawi.





the Malawian penal codes

For more information on the current suspension of the Penal Codes see:

BBC Africa News
Google Hosted News: AFP

Human Rights Watch






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