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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs