Finding liberation in cultural identity

Thirty years into a democratic South Africa, the expansion of the African (Black) middle class is clear evidence that Africans have made progress towards achieving basic human rights; including access to housing, improved education, and better socio-economic prospects. Act 49 of 2003 (The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act), the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), and the Constitution all recognize and protect sexual and gender minorities, making South Africa the only nation in Africa with such legal systems. Asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIE-SC) is still only granted by South Africa. Thus, it was a momentous occasion for me to celebrate my *intwaso on the 27th April 2024.

Living as a Christian transgender man, the path to accepting my ancestral calling has not been a smooth road. I was aware of the gift of healing as it has been hereditary on my maternal side of the family. I have had to question and explore what defines African spirituality as a Christian and how do I hold both the hats of African spirituality and Christianity in a way that compliments each other. I am aware that there are still sects that demonize African spirituality, reducing it to the worshipping of ancestors, wherein ancestors encourage us to pray whilst interceding for us. Reading material as authored by the late Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa have been enlightening on my path, offering language and clarity on visions, and phenomena’s that have been unfolding.

My ancestral calling has been following me throughout my growth, with  signs showing early in my childhood. In 2022, I joined the Journey of Hope program offered by Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, as I was searching for community of queer persons of faith. I was blessed as the participants within our cohort ranged from accredited traditional healer practitioners, faith advocacy activists, devout Christians, and scholars. Our sense of community was strengthened not only by our desires to find ways to capture our personal narratives but to find healing and contribute to transformation within our respective communities. During this three year program, I learnt about queer theology, and contextual reading of sacred texts that centre the lived realities of queer identities. This offered a refreshing experience that moved away from the commonly used doctrines that have influenced the normalisation of an exclusionary gospel. 

Year one came at a point where I was experiencing a lot of personal turmoil, and the space as well as the fellow participants offered support that affirmed me. Check-ins in-between the program retreats strengthened and deepened the sense of community which I had been longing for. Year two conscientized me on how we easily fall into heteronormative patterns as queer persons who embody difference. It was in the end of year two where my ancestral calling became louder, and as the personal challenges heightened, this impacted my mental health greatly. My Journey of Hope family became my confidantes and sources of strength, with impromptu prayer sessions and video calls that became a lifeline. I attended a consultation from one of the traditional healers, and she has been instrumental in mentoring and supporting me on this journey.

Between December last year and where I find myself now, I have found a deepened appreciation for African spirituality. The dual lens between Christianity and traditional healing is divisive and often forces queer persons of faith to struggle in reconciling their faith, culture, and sexuality. African spirituality offers fluidity in the understanding of gender, gendered cultural roles and African family systems. We need more spaces to engage on African spirituality as queer persons and the complexities we experience whilst navigating heteronormative, Christian communities. African spirituality has rooted me in understanding my role within the ecosystem – to nurture, protect and bring balance to a world that has amplified images of what and who we should be, that often strips us of our heritage and affirming cultural identities.


*intwaso: Is the process of training to become a traditional healer practitioner. 


Mx (he/his/him) Vusikhaya Wenzile Khumalo is an activist and scholar based in Cape Town. He was at the forefront of the first Queer Indaba hosted at the University of Fort Hare in 2023.