South Africa: Kholiswa Tyiki, a Godsend to Mdantsane’s Women


In part two of a four-part series on grassroots activism against gender-based violence, we look at an East London woman’s involvement in her hometown, where she organises against the violence that women experience.

Every day, Mdantsane activist Kholiswa Tyiki, 34, finds herself dealing with women who have suffered abuse and violence, from no access to safe abortions and discrimination against sex workers to the hijacking of rightful owners’ RDP houses.

Born and raised in Buffalo City Municipality’s ward 14 in Mdantsane’s NU3, Tyiki studied journalism at Walter Sisulu University but soon went into advocacy work. She decided to return home to mobilise her ward’s young people to fight problems the community encounters.

“There is a lot of corruption in [the] Eastern Cape. People here rely on the government, yet there is no way of making the government accountable and that’s what we want to do,” says Tyiki.

In the recent local government elections, Tyiki and her fellow activists stood up for independent candidate Lisa Ntlonti who was allegedly threatened and abused by the ANC. They also ripped Ntlonti’s election posters up, Tyiki says.

Ntlonti lost, but Tyiki explains that it was “only by 107 votes. The voters’ roll for Ward 14 is over 7 000 people. So, to have that small margin, it means the community really is sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

Tyiki is also the East London advocacy officer for the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce and spends a lot of time trying to convince communities in the city to treat sex workers with respect and dignity. She lobbies the police, health staff and ordinary residents to recognise sex work as a job.

“People do not understand the plight of sex workers. When sex workers want to report criminal cases to the police, they are rejected and discriminated against. Every time they go to the clinic, health staff say they shouldn’t complain about sexually transmitted infections because they brought these on themselves. They are constantly seen as nobodies,” says Tyiki.

Reproductive health

Tyiki is now working with fellow activists to set up a reproductive-rights centre for women in East London, which will fast track access to contraceptives and pregnancy terminations. This idea came after a young woman, denied help at a public hospital when she asked to terminate her pregnancy, came to Tyiki for help. At the hospital, Tyiki was shocked to see a line of pregnant women who had been sleeping outside all night, queuing for termination-of-pregnancy operations. At that hospital, which New Frame is not naming to protect the woman’s privacy, the procedure is allocated on a “first come, first serve basis” to only 10 women a day. Many of the women had earlier tried to get contraceptives from clinics, only to be told by health workers not to be promiscuous.

“The same problem exists in Mthatha. There is a crisis with reproductive health in [the] Eastern Cape. You can imagine someone who is vulnerable, a pregnant person sleeping outside the hospital … It is horrific to be forced to have a child when you have no means. People are not employed, so if the government and public servants still turn them down when they want to terminate their pregnancy, that is a betrayal.”

Tyiki is heavily involved in gender-based violence (GBV) cases too. “I’m the first one to call the different agencies and assist the victim to open a case. The public doesn’t know where to go when there are cases of GBV. I avail information to our communities because people have no access to information,” she says.

She’s also one of the leaders of East London’s #CodeRed, a new national network of feminist activists demanding an end to austerity, calling for a basic income grant for all and demanding that government injects enough money into programmes against GBV. Tyiki says it is disappointing that institutions like the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) are not doing more to support activism against GBV. Earlier this year, she organised a #CodeRed march against the CGE. She and fellow activists picketed outside the organisation’s offices in East London.

Because she is known as an effective advocate, Tyiki is called on to deal with many different problems. After being told that many Mdantsane boxers were penniless, she successfully fought for them to be included in a digital skills training programme.

Housing problems

Tyiki was interviewed in the Ladies Park shack settlement in NU3 where there are only two pit toilets for 20 shacks. They are squashed on a tiny piece of land between a road and a bushy area. It is a wetland area that floods the shacks with sewage when it rains.

Tyiki was gathering information from 80-year-old Mankazana Boboyi, who has lived in a shack in Ladies Park for over 30 years, even though an RDP house was built for her in 2013.

Boboyi’s documents state that she was approved for an RDP house on erf 1605 on 23 October 2013. The house was built in nearby eLinge, but then given away, allegedly by the ward’s ANC councillor, Zininzi Mtyingizane.

“Previously we were afraid to speak out about our lost houses because of the councillor’s involvement. We saw this as politically related and we did not want the councillor to cut off our services,” said Boboyi.

Snakes often enter the small shacks and race around inside. The children of the area have developed ways of trapping them, and that unsettles the elders because of the danger of snakebites.

Linda Ntaka, 45, used to live in Ladies Park next to Boboyi. “I was her neighbour for 30 years. She has all the correct documents from the municipality but yet her house has a young lady living in it. She told the councillor and the municipality about this but, ever since, she never found the right solution. So, that is why she asked Tyiki for help,” says Ntaka.