FB IMG 1598352154338 e1598600944540 300x226East London-born WSU first-year Public Relations student, Athenkosi Fani, whose significant activism in the promotion and defence of LGBQTI rights has earned him great esteem in society, securing his spot as a finalist in the much-coveted Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans competition in the Civil Society category.

A tumultuous past plagued by pain, rejection and anger served as a springboard from which the young activist would launch himself to greater heights and secure one of the country’s most prestigious accolades.

“As a gay man fighting for a largely minority group I feel overwhelmed and excited to be a finalist in this prestigious competition. This is a testament that the hard work, selflessness and dedication I’ve put in to fight for justice and equality is finally paying off. This moment could signify my opportunity to engrave my name in the history books of this country,” said Fani.

Through his non-profit organization, BONISWA LGBTQI Foundationas well as a plethora of other platforms on which he’s participated over the years, he has created awareness about the LGBTQI community.

Fani regularly gives motivational talks, trains youth on leadership and sensitivity, organizes awareness campaigns, participates in LGBTQI sports tournaments, and hosts various official school and university functions, a platform he doesn’t shy away from using in creating awareness about trials and tribulations of the LGBTQI community.

The genesis of Fani’s journey as an activist can be traced back to a traumatic, life-altering experience courtesy of his stepfather who would start physically abusing him when he was just 10 years old.

The fallout from that grave intrusion was quite momentous and quickly escalated, leading to Fani acting out and hitting the bottle at the tender age of 10. His teachers noticed the change in his behaviour and recommended social workers perform a wellness visit to his home, a probe that would later see Fani being sent to a children’s home.

“I was 11 years old when I went to the orphanage home after becoming an alcoholic at 10 years old to escape my reality of abuse. The situation was compounded by my mother’s ill-health who suffered from depression due to the abuse by my stepfather,” he said.

Sadly, the orphanage Fani was housed in for over four years in East London would eventually close its doors in 2012, after which, he was sent to a place of safety in Port Elizabeth at the age of 15.

Those new surrounding at Mtr Smit Children’s Haven in Port Elizabeth seemed to ignite a spark in Fani, who would excel in 2013 after choosing to shed the burden of his past in pursuit of a more prosperous future.

“My life started to turn around in 2013 when I chose to see my new surroundings as an opportunity to change the direction of my path. I knew I was given a second chance in life and I needed to grab it with both hands,” he said.

Following his move to Port Elizabeth, Fani would join the National Association of Childcare Workers, a youth program charged with building leadership capabilities within youth from underprivileged backgrounds.

Amongst many of his notable achievements, Fani was invited by the Rhinebeck Lions Club of New York to attend an international conference in 2017 (where he officially came out as a gay man); crowned Miss Gay East London in 2018; recently recognized by the NYDA as one of the 2020 Trailblazers who’re making an impact on society.