“There’s this ‘bin’ where parents dispose their children into once they don’t follow what’s deemed ‘normal’. I want to create a shelter where these children could be accommodated cos I don’t understand: where they are supposed to run to when you’re chasing them out?” says Leletu Ntanjana (35), from Hazeldene in Cape Town.
She sees it as her responsibility to take in those who’ve been left out in the cold by their own families, for example due to a family feud, and has started an organisation. Leletu’s dream was sparked by her own past experiences, especially being a gay woman, and so considered ‘abnormal’ by many.
“If I can mentor an eighteen-year-old with the experience I’ve gathered over the last thirty-five years, then I believe she’d get the things we didn’t. When I was eighteen we had no guidance and all we thought of was having fun all the time. We had just attained democracy and were still getting used to the benefits that come with it.”
As much as the organisation is hers, she’s hoping everyone will place their piece to complete the puzzle.
“I’m a social entrepreneur and I believe in being the change that I want to see. The organisation aims to plough various skills, for example, driving skills, deejaying skills. Selling an idea to the youth is a challenge, especially if it’s not about ‘turning it up’. We want everyone to come to present their skills to us. All I want is attendance from the attendees. It’d be great however to establish an organisation that actually shelters abandoned children and ensures they continue with school.”
She notes the high rate of unemployment but believes upskilling yourself can turn your fortunes around. She advises: “Think outside of the box. If you can’t find a job then create one. You’ve a got a licence so why can’t you ask to drive for your neighbour, or run your own car-wash? Instead of sitting around because of unemployment, we want you to use those skills to make ends meet. We want to eliminate poverty by equipping people with skills,” she maintains.
Leletu has her own ambitions, but they can wait. “I also want to drive expensive cars, live in a fancy house, but I’d rather first give back to my community and ensure every household is lit first.”
Talking about that fun and less-serious side of life, Leletu also has her own, registered, event management company.
“One day we were partying and I was dissatisfied with the kind of service I got in another club in town, that I decided we open our own thing, and run it the kasi way. I actually found out that there were several other people who weren’t happy about the service we got. I began hosting events and serving food from my mom’s garage. I started organising events in 2007 but the company was eventually registered in 2015.”
Leletu had a pool of names to choose from but only one stood out: “My company is Bambeke Ngentanjana Pty (Ltd), which basically means ‘Held by the rope’. My event attenders would often say uyathanda usibambekisa (You always get us hooked). Bambeke Ngentanjana means you’re doing nothing but having fun. You’re captured in the moment. I capture you by the rope and keep you in my control like a horse jockey when his horse is approaching the finish line.”
Leletu attended the recent Gay Pride event in Durban in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) initiatives. She explains how she came out as a lesbian.
“I’ve always been a tomboy. I’ve always loved soccer and I would be around boys. I started being with friends with other girls and they would talk about boyfriends but that never really appealed to me. At one time I gave in to peer pressure and dated a guy, but I was like, ‘Uhm, I don’t see what the fascination is here’. There were no gays or lesbians whatsoever where I stayed. Nobody even spoke about that.
“I was in a girls’ school. I told my teacher that I found myself attracted to girls. I felt more connection with them at school than to the guys in my community. My teacher dismissed it and told me it was because I was surrounded by too many girls and that feeling would soon fade away. It made sense at the time because it was coming from a teacher … In my early 20s, that’s when the attraction towards women grew stronger. I got more answers.” She adds that she’s been identifying as a lesbian for fourteen years now and says, “It’s not about accepting but rather understanding us lesbians.”
Leletu’s single mother may be a retired principal but she continues to teach her well.
“She taught me responsibility, and that nobody would just hand me the things I wanted. She taught me how to do it myself. I’m the only child so I had to do the cooking and every role that girls assume.
“She’s a good Christian and knows that God accepts everyone. People interpret the bible in a way that best suits them. She was mature enough to look at it her way. She knew there’s no dustbin to dispose of human beings, more especially your children.”
Leletu urges family members to always stick together. “People might not accept you but you’ll still expect your family to love you nevertheless. It’s bad when people in the streets reject you – but it’s even worse when your family does. They’ve no other option but to love you. There’s no soap or blood of Jesus that could make your family less of your family. The world can tarnish and kill you but rejection from your family is the first and last death you could ever experience. I was lucky enough to have an open-minded and understanding mother.”
Leletu says she couldn’t be the academic her highly educated mom saw in her.
“I went to varsity to do engineering but now I’m doing nothing related to it. I want to be the change and influence it in my community. One day I was at the workshop doing some work, but I thought this wasn’t for me. I dropped out in my last year. It just didn’t speak to me. I believe I could’ve easily completed the degree hence I’m now studying at UNISA.”
Leletu says hustling (or to put it a more formal way, entrepreneurship) always lived in her.
“I always hustled. I got people to pay me for their projects at school. I’d complete my project and go submit it just to see what score I’d get. In the last week before the due date I’d go look for those students who haven’t done theirs and do it for them. I’ve been hustling ever since I can recall. I was always organising events.”
As South Africa celebrates Women’s Month, Leletu has advice for younger women.
“As a nation we lack at uplifting those who are younger. They’re the future of this country. I would like to tell teenagers to trust and love themselves. If you love yourself enough then you won’t be bothered by the words that people utter. Don’t be a coward. Cowards die many times before their actual death. You know what went wrong and you just need to go back to the drawing board.”
She wraps up the interview by addressing the parents as well: “And to parents, you’ll understand that this child had their own path that was set out for them before they were even born. Trust yourself that the values you taught that child will make them stand on their own, and maintain them even when you’re not there anymore.”