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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid