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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More