No matter what the motivation, it cannot be argued that rape isn’t a horrendous act of injustice and wrong doing, but to be raped in an act to transform you into a real woman is unthinkable.
You would think that “corrective rape”, the act in which a man, or a group of men assault and rape a black lesbian in an attempt to cure her of her sexual preference, or ‘sexual illness’ would be far away from the lives of women in to the self proclaimed rainbow nation.
But years after the apartheid hate crimes against women are so common in the Townships of Cape Town and Johannesburg that lesbians are terrified. Scared to live freely as they wish in a country where gay relationships are legal.
Since January this year 33 black lesbians have come forward with stories of rape, assault, torture, sexual assault and verbal abuse. Zanele Muholi, a reporter for the lesbian and gay publication ‘Behind the mask’ has documented 12 rapes, 4 attempted rapes, 6 verbal abuse cases, 2 assaults and 3 assaults with deadly weapons.
In order for these horrendous acts to stop there needs to be dedicated public education and stronger condemnation by policy makers and civil society. The media, government and business sectors are instrumental in bringing these issues to the attention of the public.
When the body of Eudy Simelane, a star of South Africa’s acclaimed Banyana Banyana national female football squad was found partially clothed and bruised in creek in a park in Kwa Thema, Johannesburg in April last year attention was finally brought to the horrific act of torture women endure. Simelane had been gang raped, brutally beaten and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs.
Despite more than 33 reported murders of lesbians in the last decade Simelane’s trial has produced the first conviction.
In Meadowland, a township on the outskirts of Sowetto the bodies of lesbian couple Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massooa was found in 2007. They had been gang raped and then shot. Now with the arrest of a man responsible for Simelanes murder it is hoped that more will be done by the police to stop these crimes.
However on sentencing, the Judge said that “Sexual orientation had no significance on her murder”.
Even without violence black lesbians are generally marginalised by their families and communities. As well as being a famous athlete and in training to be the first female referee for the 2010 world cup, Eudy Simelane was a voracious equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian. She set an example, but since her murder the cases of lesbian related crimes have gone up . Actionaid, the International Non Governmental Organisation now estimates around 50,000 rapes in South Africa each year.
Actionaid, backed by the South African Human rights commission condemns the culture of impunity around these crimes and insists that men need to be punished for what they are doing. That police and government need to stand up and take action for the crimes that have gone unpunished. That the women that have been left emotionally and physically scared by the rapes and assault and the families who have lost daughters and Sisters to such crimes need justice.
A statement released by South African national prosecuting authority said, “while hate crimes-especially of a sexual nature are rife, it is not something that the South African government has prioritised as a specific project”.
There is a failure of police officials to follow up eye witness statements and continue their investigation even into Eudy Simelane’s case. There are two other men still walking freely.
Simelane’s Mother told Actionaid that she had always feared for her Daughter’s safety but had never imagined that she would be taken in such a way. “I have never been told what happened to her, I keep thinking that the men will come back for me”.
Research released last year by Triangle, a leading South African gay rights organisation revealed that a staggering 86% of black lesbians from the Western Cape had said they lived in fear of sexual assault. The group says that it is dealing with up to 10 new cases of “Corrective rape” each week.
“What we’re seeing is a spike in the number s of Women coming to us having been raped and who have been told throughout the attack that being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them”, says Vanessa Ludwig the Chief executive of Triangle.
The men believe that raping these women will turn them into a real woman and stop them being a lesbian. It is easy to see however that it will do the reverse. The women will be outcast further from their communities, living each day knowing that they are the victims of hate crimes and seeing the men who raped and beat them walking down the street. If they survive they will have to deal with the effects, pregnancy, and hospitalisation, not to mention the risks of contracting HIV or aids. They will then have to live with the physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.
“Every day I am told they are going to kill me, that they are going to rape me and then I’ll become a real woman”, Zache Sowello said when Actionaid interviewed her in Sowetto, Johannesburg. “When you are raped you have a lot of evidence on your body. But when we try and report it nothing happens, and then you see these boys who raped you walking free on the street”.
Marc Epprecht, the author of Heterosexual Africa? Suggests that this violence may be the outcome of, rather than simply homophobia, young men's displaced anger at economic or other marginalisation that is occurring in countries like South Africa. “By targeting lesbian women these men provide themselves with an opportunity to explain their behaviour by arguing that the rape was "corrective", that is, an attempt to make a "real woman" of a lesbian”. In these instances, lesbian women, rather than "real" heterosexual women", become the scapegoat for these men's wounded masculinity's.
Support groups also claim that an increasingly aggressive and macho political environment is contributing to the inaction of the police over attacks, and is part of a growing cultural lethargy towards the high levels of gender based violence in South Africa.
South Africa is one of the only Countries in Africa to have legalised gay and lesbian relationships. In Nigeria it is especially strict, it is illegal to have gay sex and a new law has recently extended police powers to arrest suspects as well as outlaw any possibility of gay marriage in the future.
Last year The Coalition of African Lesbians conference was held in Mozambique and had over 100 attendees, all who were lesbians wanting to highlight the homophobia and prejudice they faced across the continent. The coalition lobbies for political, legal social, sexual, cultural and economic rights of African lesbians.
Most nations in Africa criminalize same-sex relationships and in some countries gay people can be put to death. South African lesbians, after years of peace have now been rocked by the deaths and attacks over the past decade.