News / Africa

Lesbians in South Africa Continue to Suffer ‘Corrective’ Rape and Murder

Brutal assaults on women in same-sex relationships

Darren Taylor

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

Angie Mohoebi sits in the living room of her modest house in Vosloorus, a bleak and smoky township east of Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.

Millicent Gaika, recovering from a ‘corrective’ rape attack in a Cape Town, South Africa, township
Millicent Gaika, recovering from a ‘corrective’ rape attack in a Cape Town, South Africa, township

“Men come to me on the street all the time,” the young woman says, beneath an almost life-sized poster of deceased pop star Michael Jackson, pasted on the wall.  “They laugh in my face and they whisper in my ear, ‘You know baby, we are going to (rape) you good.  After that, you will love men.’”

Mohoebi is one of a growing number of South African women choosing to live openly as lesbians.  Some are paying a high price for their daring.

Human rights groups say at least 30 women have been murdered in recent years in the country – simply because they were lesbians.  Gangs continue to target these women, raping them under the guise of trying to “cure” their sexual orientation.

South African lesbians comfort one another following yet another brutal attack on a friend and fellow lesbian
South African lesbians comfort one another following yet another brutal attack on a friend and fellow lesbian

“This ‘corrective’ rape happens in other parts of the world, but certainly not to the level that it’s happening in South Africa.  In some townships here – including Vosloorus – it’s almost become a sport,” says Natasha Vally, of the country’s Lesbian and Gay Equality Project.  

Triangle, another local gay rights organization, says it deals with about 10 new incidents of “corrective” rape every week.

The phenomenon gained international attention in 2008, when Eudy Simelane, a former star of South Africa’s women’s national football team, was murdered in Kwa Thema, a township near Vosloorus.  Simelane (31) was one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in the community.  A gang of men beat her viciously and took turns raping her, before stabbing her 25 times.  

‘I agree with rape’


“When asking why lesbian women are being targeted you have to look at why women are being raped and murdered in such high numbers in South Africa,” says women’s rights activist, Carrie Shelver.  “You have to look at the increasingly macho culture, which seeks to oppress women and sees them as merely sexual beings.  So when there is a lesbian woman, she is an absolute affront to this kind of masculinity.”

Eudy Simelane, seen here in action for South Africa’s national women’s football team, was raped and murdered near the South African township of Vosloorus. She was one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in the area
Eudy Simelane, seen here in action for South Africa’s national women’s football team, was raped and murdered near the South African township of Vosloorus. She was one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in the area


Phumzile Nkosi is a member of the Coalition of African Lesbians and lives in Vosloorus.  “Males (here) have got low self esteem, when it comes to lesbians and gays, and we are a big threat – not just a threat, a big one,” she says.  

The local lesbians, Nkosi maintains that – unlike the mostly unemployed and “lazy” men of the area – are “go-getters, visible and organized and not ashamed of who we are.  This makes the men scared and envious of us.”

Near a shopping center in Vosloorus’s main road, Edward Malumala, wearing a yellow and green T-shirt bearing the image of a smiling Nelson Mandela, says, “These lesbians, they are full of disease.  That is why you never see old lesbians, only young ones.  They die of disease before they get old.”  He adds, “The government must give these lesbians ten years in jail.  Then they must be locked with the males.  Then they’re going to learn in prison.…”   

Outside the Vosloorus community center, Lucky Mpunzi slouches against a wall.  He says he’s a painter but can’t find work.  Mpunzi says, “Lesbians, they irritate the hell out of me.  They walk around here as if they own the place.  If there are some guys who rape them, I agree with that, because they are acting inhuman.”

Strict laws, but continuing discrimination

As in other South African townships, rape is the weapon of choice used against lesbians in Vosloorus.  “By raping us, their point is that no matter if we prefer to be with women, we will always be females to be used by males,” says Sweeto Makghai.

Her partner, Vania Cruz, comments that some men in Vosloorus regard lesbians as “sexual perverts, freaks, not capable of real emotions and real relationships – like a lower form of life that deserves to be abused.”

Vosloorus resident Edward Malumala says lesbians are “diseased” and should be jailed
Vosloorus resident Edward Malumala says lesbians are “diseased” and should be jailed


Cruz’s friend, Ndondo Nene, says some South African communities refuse to even recognize the abuse of lesbians, and when they do, they say such women “ask for it.”   

All this is happening within the context of South Africa having some of the strictest anti-discrimination laws in the world.  But, says Vally, the laws aren’t being implemented when it comes to the country’s lesbians.    

A recent report by the international NGO ActionAid condemns the “culture of impunity” around crimes against South African lesbians, which it says are “unrecognized by the state and (mostly) unpunished by the legal system.”

Local lesbian activist Melanie Nathan, of the LezGetReal organization, says, “Victims are left to fend for themselves with no resources whatsoever and, worse yet, no protection from perpetrators who continue to live as neighbors of victims and continue to victimize them either psychologically through overt threats or physically again and again and again.…”

Vosloorus lesbians, from the left, Phumzile Nkosi, Sweeto Makghai, Ndondo Nene and Vania Cruz, live under constant fear of being attacked and perhaps even killed by “homophobes
Vosloorus lesbians, from the left, Phumzile Nkosi, Sweeto Makghai, Ndondo Nene and Vania Cruz, live under constant fear of being attacked and perhaps even killed by “homophobes"

Politicians as perpetrators

Cruz is adamant that South Africa’s political leaders must take “a lot of the blame” for the situation.  “They ignore us totally!” she says.  “They don’t mention our suffering in parliament.”

Many South African lesbians are refusing to cower in the face of all the abuse they’re confronted with, risking their lives by demonstrating affection for one another in public
Many South African lesbians are refusing to cower in the face of all the abuse they’re confronted with, risking their lives by demonstrating affection for one another in public


Nkosi adds, “Some of them actually make our suffering worse.”  Last year, then Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana walked out of an exhibition of photographs – some of black lesbian couples – labeling it “immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”  President Jacob Zuma has also made comments that offended South Africa’s homosexual community.

Makghai laughs, saying, “I believe that there are lesbians and gays in the parliament.  The thing is that they don’t want to face the reality.  They feel they can’t do this, because they are afraid of losing votes.”  

Nkosi says, “They are too cowardly to take a stand, even though by doing that they could save a lot of lives and really improve our lives.  Think of the impact that a prominent politician could make by declaring to the nation, ‘I am lesbian.’”

But Nene urges her friends to “forget the politicians” who live in “mansions” far removed from their struggles.  “You can’t ask someone who’s in parliament to come and fight my battle here; I am staying here.  I think it’s up to us, because the government doesn’t care about us,” she declares.  

Nene says lesbians must continue to engage with communities, even the homophobes, “in a respectful way, in a quiet way, to show that we have dignity, to show that we are productive, good members of society.  If more heterosexual people start respecting us, they will help us to put pressure on the government to help us.”     

Sex education


To end the abuse of lesbians in South Africa, says Cruz, education is paramount.  Sex education is part of the country’s school curriculum, but it doesn’t involve telling children about homosexuality.  This must change, Cruz says.

South African lesbians march for their rights in Johannesburg recently
South African lesbians march for their rights in Johannesburg recently

“Only by doing that will South Africans from a young age come to see that we are human beings as well,” she says.

But Nkosi reasons that education isn’t a panacea.  “When children go home (from school), there is culture.  Parents will tell them, ‘In my house, we are Zulus, or Venda or Xhosas.  We don’t do such a thing; there are no gays and lesbians in our culture.”

Nkosi points out that homophobia is present in the white suburbs…but not to the extent that it is in the black townships.  “White people do talk about any type of an issue.  In black communities, serious issues – they don’t talk about it,” she says.  

Cruz adds, “We don’t even talk about sex here in South Africa in the townships, yet we have the most HIV infections in the world.  The big problem with our African culture is that people think that by not talking about a problem, that problem will just go away.  Yet that is a recipe to make the problem even worse.”

According to human rights organizations, this is exactly what’s happening in South Africa.

But Nkosi isn’t fazed.  She says if – “God forbid” – she is ever targeted for “corrective” rape by “some monster,” she will stand up afterwards and “tell the world – he can rape you, he can abuse you, he can kill you; he can do anything…(but) you will always remain who you are.”

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
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 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 Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
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 Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
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 Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
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.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs