Africa’s only LGBTQIA+ night shelter is a beacon


Africa’s only LGBTQIA+ night shelter is a beacon

To mark Pride Month, HERMAN LATEGAN visited the Pride Shelter Trust on the slopes of Table Mountain.


THE Pride Shelter Trust's house is nestled between De Waal Park and Molteno Dam in Oranjezicht, Cape Town. It is at this very reservoir, just behind this house, where Elsa Joubert often went for walks. Was she thinking of Poppie Nongena here?

There are tennis courts just in front of the shelter. The day I went to visit, I heard the sounds of balls being hit. Pock, pock, pock. Dogs bark in the distance.

Number 1 Molteno Road is a double-storey house from the Victorian era. The large olive-green garden is well maintained. The smell of wet grass and flowers is everywhere.

A resident works in the garden, cutting, clip-clip-clip. Another resident sits on the stoep. He looks straight ahead, breathing in the stillness of the morning air. Who knows what pain he carries inside him?

The Pride Shelter Trust is the only safe haven for members of the queer community who are poverty-stricken or subjected to barbaric rejection by society. It is also the one place where transgender people can feel safe.

More than 30 African countries are queer-phobic. You can be imprisoned, get the death penalty, you are treated harshly and with hostility like the lepers of old. It breaks down people's mental strength, self-esteem, the core of their human dignity.

When I arrived I was taken on a guided tour of the shelter. There is a set of beautiful old stately wooden stairs. On the first floor, a large living room has a TV set against the wall.

There are two dormitories for gay men, one for lesbian women and a room for transgender people. The house can accommodate up to 22 residents. Over the 13 years of its existence, it has helped thousands of people.

Five years ago, the shelter was badly neglected and had very little money to keep it running. With new management, fresh energy has been breathed into the place. Finances remain an issue, but hard work is being done to get new and increased funding. Repairs have been completed inside and the outside walls are being repainted.

Downstairs is a large kitchen, a dining room, meeting room, offices and a place for washing clothes. Spacious balconies overlook the mountains and garden.

Everything is clean and tidy, but more importantly, a healing feeling of tranquillity and calm prevails. Come with me and let me introduce some of the staff and residents:

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Angelique Scholtz, social worker

The person who will assess you when you arrive is the social worker. A woman with a calm voice and a generous personality.

You feel safe with her. She tells of the many people who arrive after being kicked out by their families. Then there are refugees from countries where they could have been sentenced to death or imprisoned  for years.

You receive a package with toiletries — soap, toothpaste, deodorant, simple things that help to restore your human dignity. Many people who arrive have been overwhelmed by life out there.

If they are admitted to the shelter, they are told what is expected of them. Between 9am and 3pm, they have to be out looking for work. At the weekend, they can stay indoors or relax by walking to the park or doing whatever they want.

To live there costs R1,500 a month. If you can't afford it, you still get an invoice. The idea is that you need to learn how to manage your money.

Financial planning is important. Everyone has to do chores, clean the place, work in the garden, as in life outside. Laundry is done by hand as part of occupational therapy.

There is art therapy, yoga, and programmes on how to set goals and build confidence. You are taught how to control your anger — many of the residents seethe over what society has done to them.

Emotional wounds from your childhood are addressed. Excursions are organised, such as walks on the mountain where everyone can get to know each other. Work is done on gender diversity too.

There is a computer and a printer so you can work on your CV and look for jobs. It may sound simple, but if you've been treated like an outcast, a freak and a mess all your life, every small step is a big step forward.

Angelique looked out of the window and said: “Just look how well they have worked on the garden. It is in full bloom.”

The balconies overlook the large garden and mountains. A spacious interior with the original colored windows creates a homely atmosphere. It is a place of healing.
The balconies overlook the large garden and mountains. A spacious interior with the original colored windows creates a homely atmosphere. It is a place of healing.

Nicole Alexander, director

The boss of the night shelter is petite but her energy is like a roaring volcano. Five years ago she came to fix the shelter.

It was a difficult period: the place was dilapidated, money was scarce. It still remains a challenge, but progress is being made.

The electricity bill this month is R9,000. Residents must have a hot shower, they need to look good when they look for work. The bedding is washed once a week with a washing machine. It makes so much noise that it sounds as if it is going to break down.

Then there was Covid. “I'm happy to say that none of us got sick."

Nicole constantly negotiates for funding with donors and corporates, but the stigma attached to a place like a night shelter for the LGBTQIA+ community is a reality.

It costs R80,000 a month to maintain the place — water, electricity, food and all kinds of necessities. The trust has hired a firm to help it with the website, advertising and social media. It is looking for donors who can sponsor one resident at R1,500 a month for three months.

Nicole herself had to walk a hard road when she came out of the closet. Her mother is a strict Catholic and her father burst into tears and said it was all his fault.

On the day I arrived, Nicole herself went to buy food for a meal. Just because.

She also has to look after her own mental health; you can burn out quickly, even if you are a volcano. I have interviewed thousands of people in my life. This one will stick with me.

Forget about a volcano, she's a lava bomb.

The house is probably from the Victorian era. There is a lounge where you can watch TV or read. Old wooden stairs lead to the upper stretch where the four dormitories are.
The house is probably from the Victorian era. There is a lounge where you can watch TV or read. Old wooden stairs lead to the upper stretch where the four dormitories are.

Dalitso Mtengula, chef and house manager

Dalitso is the cook and he talks with great enthusiasm about the dishes he prepares. His kitchen is spotless.

During the week, breakfast and dinner are offered, and at weekends there are three meals. Breakfast consists of oatmeal or maize porridge.

Dinner might be egg dhal, beef stew, chicken curry, soy and pasta, bean curry and pap, or sausage rolls and chips. He makes an effort with his meals and looks like a great cook in his kitchen. Oros is served with every meal.

Sundays are a big sitdown lunch with chicken, rice, potatoes and salad. He has been cooking here for five years.

Part of his job is to see that the place is clean. He also spends time with residents who need to talk or feel depressed.

One day a week, he offers a spiritual programme between 7am and 8am, because depression can hobble the residents. It helps. At 10pm it is bedtime and at 7am breakfast is served.

Dalitso. I looked up the meaning of the name: “Blessing" in Chewa, a language from Malawi. Indeed. Blessed are you and the people who create a refuge for the displaced.

Dalitso Mtengula, chef and house manager, with some of his food that he transforms into take-out dishes with little money.
Dalitso Mtengula, chef and house manager, with some of his food that he transforms into take-out dishes with little money.

Donovan Kganyago, resident

Donovan is a handsome young man who wears a nice suit. He smiles a lot and speaks with seriousness.

Donovan wanted to leave Mokopane (Potgietersrus) because life there as a gay man became unbearable. He applied to become a caretaker at an apartment block in Sea Point.

He did not know the Cape and had never been to a big city. When he arrived at Cape Town station by bus, two friendly men welcomed him.

They offered to carry his luggage. He walked with them towards Woodstock, still thinking how wonderful the great city was.

There is Table Mountain, how nice the breeze feels, and then these friendly people. Suddenly they pushed him into an alley and attacked him with pepper spray.

They ran away with his belongings, he was blinded. A woman who was sitting on her balcony, breastfeeding, witnessed the whole incident.

She ran to him and took him to her apartment where she cleaned his eyes with water. Everything was gone, including his driver's licence and ID.

He went to the police station in the city, Caledon Square, where they let him spend the night in the cells. They called his mother and said he had arrived safely.

Because she had a weak heart, they didn't mention anything about the attack. The next day he went to a night shelter, the Culemborg Safe Space, under a bridge.

During the job interview in Sea Point, he told them what happened to him. They were nice enough to say they would wait until he had his ID and driver's licence, then he could start.

The accommodation under the bridge was horrible. The toilets didn't flush, it was cold, and attitudes towards a gay man were not exactly friendly. He heard about the Pride Shelter Trust.

“I was about to give up when I discovered them. They helped me. I was exhausted and depressed, they helped me."

When he got the necessary documents, he went back to the apartment block in Sea Point. He works there three days a week.

“I am looking after 64 residents in that block of flats. The whole place is clean, I'm a perfectionist. Because I look after 64 happy people there, I get 64 smiles every day," he says.

He laughs so much that I can see his pearly white teeth.

On the left is Nicole Alexander, director and on the right is Angelique Scholtz, social worker.
On the left is Nicole Alexander, director and on the right is Angelique Scholtz, social worker.

Sethu Mgaju, resident

Sethu stares out in front of her, she is fragile, an autumn leaf. She comes from the Eastern Cape. When she arrived in Cape Town she worked as a chef. Then Covid-19 broke out and she lost her job.

She had to move to a corrugated iron-and-wood shack in Mfuleni. Because she was a single woman, she was targeted by men in the neighbourhood. They threw stones at her home.

Before that, her best friend was killed. When she spoke about her friend she went silent for a moment.

“They came to my house at night and made noise. They asked me why I live on my own. I was assaulted.

“I used to run to the police station, then I would sit there for hours, too afraid to go back to my house. I wanted to take out a protection order against the men, but it failed.

“Day and night I lived in fear. Then they shot my neighbour dead. I realised that maybe it was meant for me and that the danger was getting closer and closer.

“The men shouted they didn't want me there, I had to get out," she says. “I lost focus, became depressed, almost as if in a trance. I was broken. No one around helped me. I was alone.

“I woke up every day wondering if this would be the day they were going to kill me. Often I heard the stones being thrown at my house. Deep in my head I was sinking."

Sethu heard about the Pride Shelter Trust and went to knock on the door. She says she is recovering from the inside. She can sleep peacefully at night. Being around other people who support her helps  tremendously.

“Yes, I lost my best friend, she was very close to me. Killed," she says. Outside I hear the tennis balls. Pock, pock, pock, like muffled gunshots.


  • Food is always welcome — rice, potatoes, sugar, coffee, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, pasta, beans, lentils, mixed soup ingredients, mealie meal, frozen meat.
  • Winter clothes and blankets. The house gets very cold.
  • Toiletries such as soap, toothpaste and brushes, deodorant, shampoo, nail clippers, hairbrushes, sanitary napkins, washcloths and sponges.
  • DVDs, books, puzzles and games.
  • A resident can be sponsored for R1,500 a month over three months.

    Here is the link for donations.

For more information:

  • The Pride Shelter Trust is having a new website designed but here is its Facebook page.

♦ VWB ♦

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