News / Africa

It’s Lesbians vs Police in South African Township

Women in same-sex relationships allege police are “homophobic”

Darren Taylor

Part 3 of a 5 part series: Gays in Africa
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

A group of women sing and gyrate outside a police station in Vosloorus, an impoverished township to the east of Johannesburg.  Perspiration pastes the T-shirts they’re wearing to their ebony skins.  The fiery sun reflects off the placards they’re waving, some of which read, “END POLICE HOMOPHOBIA” and “LESBIANS ARE PEOPLE, TOO.”

Lesbian literature published in South Africa
Lesbian literature published in South Africa

Phumzile Nkosi, a local member of the Coalition of African Lesbians, says, “We are angry because we have made statements to the police because lesbians here have been raped.  But there’s nothing being done.”

South African lesbians at a recent protest against killings of women involved in same-sex relationships
South African lesbians at a recent protest against killings of women involved in same-sex relationships


But Brigadier Max Masha, chief of the local police, says as far as he’s aware there haven’t been any “truly serious” crimes against lesbians reported to his office in recent years.     

Local lesbians, however, scoff at the mere mention of the Vosloorus police.  Nkosi says, “This police station (is) a bad place.  If you think of coming here, it’s like – ‘Oh hell no, I am going to a small hell.’”

Sweeto Makghai explains, “I came here to report a case, and they treated me as if I was the criminal.  They had to interview me first.  (They joked), ‘Are you male or female?’  When I say, ‘I’m a female,’ they just looked at (me).  They don’t know their story at all.  Maybe they need more training, I don’t know.”

Vania Cruz, another lesbian living in Vosloorus, says “homophobes” assaulted her last year, and when she reported the case to the police, the officers were “slow” to take her statement, and also “made jokes” about her.

Phumzile Nkosi, a member of the Coalition of African Lesbians in Vosloorus, South Africa, claims that the local police are “homophobic”
Phumzile Nkosi, a member of the Coalition of African Lesbians in Vosloorus, South Africa, claims that the local police are “homophobic”

International human rights groups claim the Vosloorus police and the South African police in general discriminate against homosexuals.

Natasha Vally, of the country’s Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, says the South African police often “brutalize” lesbians in particular, while making “homophobic slurs.”  She adds, “In Vosloorus not too long ago, six women were beaten up in police custody.”

Masha denies these allegations, emphasizing, “When we serve the community, we don’t first ask people what sexual orientation they are.  We serve everyone equally.”

‘They touched my private parts’


The Brigadier insists the Vosloorus lesbians have a “vendetta” against the police because of two “scenes” from the recent past.  “The first one is they were drunk in public.  And the law of this country says someone who is drunk in public must be arrested.  They were arrested,” he says.

Brigadier Max Masha, Vosloorus police chief, denies that he and his police officers are discriminating against lesbians
Brigadier Max Masha, Vosloorus police chief, denies that he and his police officers are discriminating against lesbians

Nkosi denies they have ever been intoxicated in public.  “We were at a private party when they arrested us for drinking in public.  It was at a private venue.  The police later released us without charge, because they knew we would be found innocent in court.”

Masha continues, “The second incident involving them is when they were having a big party at four o’ clock in the morning....  Community members phoned us complaining about the noise.  We went to attend to that complaint.  And they (the lesbians) got arrested because they refused to stop making a noise and resisted arrest.”

The lesbians acknowledge they had a party, but have a different version of how events unfolded.

“We were actually attacked by the police,” claims Eric Sehaole, a DJ at the party. ”They came in; they didn’t ask any questions; they didn’t give us any warning; they just went in there, and took everyone.  We were thrown into the (police) vans and brought to this (Vosloorus) police station.”

The host of the party was Thandi Francisco, who says, “The police stormed into the house and attacked us with pepper spray. Then when we all ran out the house, everybody was arrested.”

Vosloorus lesbians – Ndondo Nene (left) and Vania Cruz – say the police laugh at them when they try to report crimes against themselves
Vosloorus lesbians – Ndondo Nene (left) and Vania Cruz – say the police laugh at them when they try to report crimes against themselves

She goes on to say, “I wanted to walk, but they dragged me to a police van.  They are very homophobic; they had great fun touching my private parts.  They said they were checking to see if I am a girl or a boy.”

Masha responds, “They (the lesbians) are just lying blatantly!  We said to them, ‘Open a case (against the officers who allegedly did this); give us a statement so that we can open a case.’  But they did not want to open a case.  So we can’t investigate (this allegation) if there’s no statement.”

Nkosi says there’s “no point” in filing charges against Masha’s police officers, given that past cases involving lesbians “just disappear” at the Vosloorus police station.  She adds, “We know the police won’t investigate themselves!”

Nkosi says if she and her fellow lesbians could afford to pay legal fees, they’d sue the police for their alleged “abuse of power.”    

Masha denies Nkosi’s claims.  He stresses, “If charges are laid against my police officers, South Africa has a special division that will investigate such charges, at no cost to the complainants.”

A lesbian resident of Vosloorus, Sweeto Makghai, says the South African police treat lesbians like criminals
A lesbian resident of Vosloorus, Sweeto Makghai, says the South African police treat lesbians like criminals


Gays and lesbians also in police service


The police commander says “it doesn’t make sense” for the police to discriminate against homosexuals because the service is “filled with officers who are gay and lesbian.  So, we are not discriminating at all.  In this station, there are people who are gays and lesbians, and we work with them.  So we don’t have a problem with them.”   

Masha insists local lesbians are making “all these false allegations” against his officers because they want international funding.  He says, “From my point of view, they’re trying to use the police to build their own profile.”

But he repeatedly emphasizes that the Vosloorus police remain dedicated to “good relations” with the local lesbian community.  “We want to serve them.  We want them on our side,” he says.  “It is to our advantage that we are on good terms with them, because they are our eyes there in the community to see when crime is committed.  So they are actually our helpers.”

The entrance to the Vosloorus police station, scene of lesbian protests against local officers who are alleged to be anti-gay
The entrance to the Vosloorus police station, scene of lesbian protests against local officers who are alleged to be anti-gay

Masha is being “very optimistic,” says Nkosi, explaining, “Obviously, if the police’s attitude changes towards us and they prove themselves willing to investigate crimes committed against us, we will help them.  But not until then.”

Local and international NGOs say the extreme tension between lesbians and the Vosloorus police is mirrored in communities across South Africa, with few signs of any future reconciliation.

You May Like

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down up to three percent, while US market indexes were off around 2.5 percent in afternoon trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs