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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.