Botswana’s Matshameko: Accept Me the Way I Am

By Bofelo Sparks 

Thapelo Matshameko, 25, is a trans woman from Botswana. Two years ago, she was attacked at a popular night club in Gaborone. She says her life is in danger because of transphobia. 

Matshameko says she realised she was transgender when she was growing up. She says even her family has long been aware of it.

“When I realised that I’m a woman, I felt good about it. It’s who I am,” she says.

In 2018, the 25-year-old began pleading with members of the public to financially support her goal to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  Quite a free-spirit, Matshameko says she is tired of being disrespected because of her gender. This is why she is also appealing to both government and the private sector to help her raise funds for her surgery, which she has been advised can be done in South Africa.  

“It’s not by choice that I’m transgender. I’m tired of the bullying and insults hurled at me every now and then. People call me anything: brazen, skhokho, laitiyaka, and auti. I’m a woman and I just want to live my life in peace,” she says.

All these are derogatory words that insinuate that Matshameko is a man. She tells Queerstion Media that other women also make her a laughing stock. According to her, they always express discomfort over the way she dresses and her make-up. Matshameko feels they may also just be jealous.

“Some of them even say that I will steal their boyfriends. This is how I know that they are jealous of me — my body and the way I look after myself.”
 
Matshameko works at one of the biggest retail stores in Botswana.
“Next to where I work, there are some boys who always shout at me and call me names. They say to me, ‘Hey wena o p**o, mosimane ke wena o itirang ngwanyana. O batla thupa, o batla go bolawa.’ However, I choose to ignore them.” 

Employees from other stores also come to the supermarket where she works to harass her. They shout at her in front of customers saying she is a man and should stop behaving like a woman. Matshameko only hopes that a good Samaritan will come to her aid so she can get her surgery.
“I want to be a complete woman. Maybe this abuse and stigma will end,” she hopes.

Two years ago, a 43-second-long video of Matshameko lying on the floor was circulating on social media. A group of people wanted her genitalia exposed for all to see. One of the men in the group slapped her
bare buttocks while saying Matshameko was not a woman. They removed her wig. The video ends with Matshameko crying. 

Matshameko had gone to the nightclub and decided to go out and use the toilet.
“When I got there, I just fell and blacked out. Bouncers from the club saw me and decided to take advantage of me as it is shown in the video. They were also joined by their friends who don’t work at the club,” she tells Queerstion Media. 

Meanwhile, in June 2019, Matshameko was also beaten to a pulp by three men who told her to stop acting like a man and be a “proper” woman. Narrating the incident in an interview, she said she was coming from a colleague’s baby shower with other colleagues when she asked them to stop by a mall so she could grab something to eat. This was around 1 am. 

On her way to a restaurant inside the mall, Matshameko met a man who immediately grabbed her wig and started insulting her.
“He said that gays were irritating him and that when they won their criminalisation case against the government, they would cause havoc in the country by behaving like women. Are re rile re baakanya lehatshe go riana re batla go le tlhakatlhakanya ka bo-gay jwa rona,” she says.

Matshameko left this man after she picked her wig from the floor and wore it again. The man followed her and as she entered the restaurant, two more men came in. The three physically attacked her while calling her setlhodi sa gay.

“As they were kicking me, they kept saying I should stop pretending to be a woman and be a real man. No one inside the restaurant helped until I was left lying on the floor,” she tells us.

One customer took her to a nearby police station. That same morning, the men who attacked her were found at a shebeen in town and taken to the police station. Initially, they denied attacking Matshameko, but later confessed after the police beat them up.
 
“After two days, they came to my workplace to apologise for violating me, but I just ignored them.”

The Broadhurst Police Station commander, Obusitswe Lokae, said he was
not aware of the case, stating that he would inquire from his officers. In an interview, one of the restaurant employees Charity Bayani said she saw everything that happened inside the restaurant. She was afraid that the men were going to kill Matshameko. “I dialled 999, but the police didn’t answer,” Bayani said. 

“She was screaming, but none of us could help because we were afraid of the angry guys.” 

Another employee, Thabiso Medupe, said the attackers removed
Matshameko’s wig and kicked her several times on the head. “They left her lying on the floor.”