Every community is affected by the covid-19 pandemic. For LGBT people, the impact can be disproportionate. As part of our LGBTI labour rights project, Nosipho Twala, LRS Educator and Facilitator interviewed Nkosinathi Zwane (36) about how the covid-19 pandemic has affected his dignity as a gay worker.
The Covid-19 lockdown measures have made me emotionally exhausted. Emotional exhaustion, according to the experts, is caused by stress. People with emotional exhaustion often feel powerless, stuck or trapped in their situation. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown ruined my small baking business based in Mohlakeng in Randfontein and I feel powerless, stuck and trapped.
The first positive case in South Africa was officially reported on 5 March 2020, about the same time that I began the process of registering my informal business. Before the pandemic I sold at least five cakes to big clients per month and sweet treats to members of my community. Easter is a peak season for my business and church groups especially make big orders. This year I didn’t get orders because the pandemic unfolded during the Easter period. Some of my clients cancelled cake orders and their events to follow lockdown rules. I refunded the deposits but charged a 10% penalty fee for cancelling to cover the cost of ingredients, which I buy in bulk in Johannesburg, some 40 minutes’ drive from Randfontein. Some people who cancelled their cake orders argued it wasn’t their fault and didn’t understand why I charged the penalty fee. I have a deposit for an order of a wedding cake that I can’t bake because the bride rescheduled to September. Having this deposit worries me. Will I still have it if my client can’t have the wedding in September due to the pandemic?
The system is unsupportive of the informal sector
The process of applying to the Covid-19 SMME relief fund was complicated. I could not afford to buy enough airtime or the data needed to make applications. When the lockdown period was extended, I turned to our ward councillor for assistance and registered to receive food parcels. I joined the long queues to receive the food parcels and it took more than a week for someone to call my name. I wondered if they would overlook me, a single and gay man, in favour of other community members.
Our workplaces aren’t safe
Despite the protections in our Constitution and labour laws, LGBTI workers still experience discrimination and violence. I worked as a manager in a well-known retail store before starting my baking business. I fell victim to an unfair dismissal that I believe happened due to the Area Manager being homophobic. She used her position of power and religious beliefs to get away with homophobia. I took the matter to CCMA but I lost the case. Perhaps I would have won if I had belonged to a trade union. I know I would have been motivated to pursue my rights if had emotional support. But one good thing emerged from this experience; I started the baking business that brought my dignity back. I felt accepted and productive in my community. But the pandemic has set me back and at an avalanche speed. After many years of struggling to get accepted, I view myself more as a gay man than a community member and a worker.