I made history when I set out to be myself
Landa Mabenge always knew he was a boy. But the body he was born in didn’t reflect that. From the age of seven, he struggled to identify with the gender assigned to him at birth. Mabenge watched the boys around him, wondering why he couldn’t be like them. The family he grew up with loved him nonetheless. Then Mabenge discovered that the person he believed to be his mother was in fact his aunt. At the age of 11, his biological parents took him back. “They ripped me away from a joyful childhood,” Mabenge says. “I was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused.” His ensuing journey to healing not only made history, but has paved the way for others to become who they are meant to be.
Mabenge struggled with severe depression as he grew up, counting down the days until he could escape his parents. When he finally left for university, he battled to reconcile his identity, turning to alcohol to cope. Breaking down, Mabenge knew what he had to do if he was to save himself. Trapped in the wrong body, he felt he had to change. He sought to have gender reassignment surgery, but no health insurance would fund him. Hope arrived through the Groote Schuur Transgender Clinic, and a medical aid finally accepted his request. In 2014, Mabenge became the first known transgender man in South Africa to have his surgeries funded. His humanity was recognised. “It was like being set free,” he says.
Today, Mabenge lives contentedly as himself. With his new freedom, he is leading the charge for change. In 2016, he founded Landa Mabenge Consulting to create awareness for marginalised communities and provide support to transgender people. A year later, Mabenge received the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leadersfor his work. To spread his message further and inspire others, he wrote the book Becoming Him: A Trans Memoir of Triumph, an emotive account of his journey. “Be who you are,” Mabenge says, “and not who others tell you to be.” When we acknowledge our true selves, we can sow the seeds for others to grow.