She was with Mandela when he spoke to the world after 27 years in prison. She dreams of creating a political party that will bring South Africa’s first black president to power and, among her many activities as a consultant and tour operator, she envisions a South African ELLA Festival for 2021-2022. Meet the multifaceted activist Moira Edmunds in this exclusive interview for ELLA.
Please tell us a bit about you, how would you describe yourself?
Hmm, a tough one that as I am a bit of a social chameleon and fit in with my social surroundings so I am different things to different people but let me talk general traits here; I am authentic and real (notwithstanding the chameleon thing), I can be impatient and want things to happen quickly which is often a negative trait, I am a bit of a perfectionist and like things to be done “right”, I am a lifelong learner and a lifelong activist, I take pride in whatever I do, I am passionate about my country and my continent as well as my compatriots, I am allergic to dishonesty and injustice of any kind, even as a young child I had a particular affinity for the plight of animals and the elderly and hope to establish an animal sanctuary which involves elderly people in its programmes.
Could you tell us a little bit about your professional journey to date?
Wow, its been quite a journey. I am a knowledge junkie. I want to know everything about everything so I have been studying different things all my life. I have about 8 or 9 degrees in widely varying subjects. My professional life has been similar and I have worked in many industries in both the corporate, for profit world and not-for-profit NGO world. I was in academic publishing for many years, I was a teacher at a school for rural learners in a very poor and underfunded community, I have worked in the paper and packaging industry, in financial services, in the motor industry, the wine and spirits industry, the medical industry, I was head of a pre-school for disadvantaged township children, I have written computer manuals and journal articles, I have been involved in politics and have helped to start a new political party, I’ve been farming and have had my own businesses in marketing, business management and consulting as well as counselling and coaching particularly in family and relationship counselling and executive coaching. I worked for a cloud computing company in sales, have been an events organizer and now, finally, am in the tourism industry since 2011 which I love and don’t see myself leaving.
You are based in South Africa. Please tell us more about the current situation of queer womxn in your surroundings.
Ok so when I was a young “lesbian” it was quite hard for anyone growing up LGBTI in SA although lesbianism wasn’t criminalized in the statute books like male homosexuality was. However, womxn could be, and were, arrested for kissing other lesbian womxn inside gay clubs for example. As a “Christian” country LGBTI people were severely discriminated against in all sectors of the community – work, home, religion, military etc. etc. With the advent of our new democracy in 1994, homosexuality was decriminalized and there was a general relaxation in the level of discrimination faced by LGBTI people BUT in certain sectors of the population there was still a lot of animosity and discrimination faced by members of the LGBTI community. That remains to this day particularly in parts of our black and brown communities as well as in white, Afrikaner, Calvinist or conservative religious communities. We have a terrible scourge of violence often fueled by drugs and gang memberships in lower socio-economic areas where brown trans, and gay men are particularly targeted and most often murdered. In the black communities we have a scourge known as “corrective rape” where lesbians are gang raped by groups of men in an attempt to “cure” them of their lesbianism and most often these womxn are killed in the most brutal of fashions. White middle class lesbians certainly do experience some level of discrimination but largely are not subject to the kinds of things that happen in the township areas where being LGBTI is often regarded as “unAfrican”.
Which cause are you most passionate about and why?
Any cause that fights blatant injustice but especially animals and older people as in many instances they have no voice for themselves. Elder abuse is a huge problem which is largely swept under the mat and so never gets properly addressed because it is invisible in society. There is a huge amount of sexual and physical abuse of both men and womxn but particularly of older womxn
When did you discover you were a lesbian? How was your experience when you came out of the closet?
I describe myself as bisexual with a preference for womxn. I knew I was different from a very early age but couldn’t put a name to it. I had my first lesbian relationship when I was 15 and that lasted for 7 and a half years. My coming out process was very slow and happened over a period of time so it was not that traumatic.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Lots of things, travel and explore new places to take my guests, read, play with my horses and rehabilitate the rescued and abused ones, go for walks or hikes, relax, sleep, whatever I feel like at that time
Based on both your professional expertise and personal experience from living in the region, what is the greatest challenge women face in Africa?
Patriarchal and conservative attitudes towards all women in all spheres, discrimination towards lesbians living in the township which manifests in corrective rape, polygamy and other culturally based practices directed towards womxn (female genital mutilation, child and arranged marriages, levels of gender based violence towards womxn and attitudes of men in general towards this).
What are your hopes for the ELLA Festival that will take place in South Africa in 2021-2022?
That perceptions towards SA will change. That people will realise that Africa and South Africa are different to the picture that is often presented in the media. That it will give the opportunity to womxn in this country who would never have the opportunity to travel to other countries, the opportunity to network with other womxn from other countries and be inspired in their struggles for a more just society. That these womxn realise that they are not alone and that there is a whole world of womxn standing in support and solidarity with women’s struggles around the globe. That womxn coming to SA from other countries will better understand our country and its culture and that links will be built between womxn of different countries which will widen resources, information-sharing and solidarity and support for womxn’s struggles everywhere.
What advice would you like to give to queer womxn who are afraid of coming out?
Asked like that, that is a tough question because each person’s struggles are different and each person is unique. Social circumstances must also be taken into account. So for example I would not advise a township lesbian to simply come out because I realise that this could, quite literally, endanger her life and end in her rape and murder. So personally I do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to giving people advice about coming out. I listen to their story, hear their concerns, consider their circumstances and reasons for wanting or not wanting to come out and then share insights with them based on all of that put together. Since no two people are alike I do not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years as a partner, working professional, and as a woman?
Whoa, you do ask some tough questions. I have come to learn that in an uncertain world one has to live in the moment so I try to practice mindfulness in my daily living. I’d like to continue to do that as a partner and a woman. I’d like to be able to provide financially for my family or at least contribute a little more than I am currently doing so generate some kind of stable income professionally (tourism can be very erratic), professionally I’d like to start a new political party that acts outside of the current parameters of the political arena, I don’t want to lead it because I think there is another woman who is better suited to being our first black female president but I do want to start it and act in a consultative or advisory capacity on policy. Problem is that that takes lots of money and I mean LOTS. If you are starting a party without at least R1 billion (that’s something like US$60 million) in the bank you are on a highway to nowhere. Will it happen? I don’t know but I am living as if it might. Nothing is impossible except falling upwards and even that is possible in the right kind of environment (weightlessness in outer space). So who knows.
Please tell us about a personal event which particularly marked you in your life.
Gosh there have been so many because I have tried to live as full a life as possible and cram as many experiences as possible into it. I guess maybe one was having the privilege of standing on the balcony with Mandela (was standing slight to his left and slightly behind him less than 10 meters away from where he stood with his wife Winnie Mandela) on the day of his release and listening to him speak to the world after 27 years in prison
What are your dreams? If you could choose; what would you like to happen in your life?
All the stuff I said in answer to question 10. And more. But starting the political party and changing the rules to realise the true potential of our nation and our people would be a big one. Its seems impossible but I do hold on to that. Mandela said, “It’s only impossible until it’s done”. I like to hold that alongside my dreams for a new, just and equitable return to the Constitutional values of our country and the concept of the “Rainbow Nation” that Mandela dreamed of and so many fought and died for.