JOHANNESBURG - Activists are celebrating a Botswana court case that allowed a transgender man the right to change his gender identity. Until recently, South Africa was the only African nation that allowed such transformations. But even in the Rainbow Nation, while transgender residents fleeing persecution in their own countries are hailing the court victory, some say they still fear for their safety in both countries.
The news came right before Christmas, said lawyer Tshiamo Rantao, whose client recently became the first transgender man in Botswana to be granted an identity document with his chosen gender.
It was cause for celebration for a man who spent a decade fighting for recognition, Rantao said. But his victory is underscored by a harsh reality: ND, as Rantao's client is known in court documents, did not want his real name known due to concerns for his safety.
Rantao said his client is just an ordinary, private guy who has very real fears.
"He was concerned that he could be targeted," he said. "Over and above the fact that he's private, he's not an activist, that's one of the main reasons, that he could be targeted."
Tashwill Esterhuizen, a LGBTI program lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Center, said his organization has now helped lawyers win two such cases in Botswana. He said cases like these are not about sexuality, but about dignity.
"And I think this is important because it set the space, and it set the tone, for other countries in the region who doesn't [sic] recognize legal recognition of gender identity to follow suit," he said.
Currently, South Africa is the only other nation in the region with laws that explicitly protect sexual minorities.
Malawi's penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex relations. Uganda in 2014 passed a harsh law that provides life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality." Zimbabwe's laws also criminalize homosexuality.
Across this conservative patch of Africa, religious leaders — and some politicians — have condemned those who do not conform to traditional gender roles, arguing such behavior is un-African or offensive to society.
VOA News spoke to a man from the tiny kingdom of Lesotho, which criminalizes male same-sex acts and has no laws prohibiting discrimination over sexual orientation or gender.
He currently lives in South Africa, he said, because it's the only place he can get the treatment and hormones he needs after he completed his medical transition two years ago.
The 31-year-old asked us not to use his name out of concerns for his security. He said he passes easily as male in South Africa, but that his national ID card still classifies him as female.
He said he hopes these successful cases will spur other countries to grant more rights and services to people like him.
"It's not about only changing legal documents. Even the health sectors, they have to be there to help," he said. "We shouldn't run away from our countries to come to South Africa where we can get all these things."
And what would he do if he could go home and change his gender status? Nothing extraordinary, he said — he dreams of going home, marrying a nice woman, and living a quiet life.