South Africa: Many a truth told in jest

Date: July 30, 2013
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Johannesburg, 30 July: Last week the country was reeling over a controversy involving two well-known For Him Magazine (FHM) writers who publically joked about rape, and in this case, “corrective rape”, a term that commonly refers to the rape of lesbian women. This ‘jest’ tells many truths in South Africa where gender-based violence is endemic, where lesbian women are continually victimised, raped and murdered, and where conviction rates are a mockery of the justice system. Another sad truth is that the history of hate crimes and injustice faced by women and those of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) community is seemingly repeating itself.

In 2008, police drove Mally Simelane to a nearby field in Kwa-Thema, Ekurhuleni to identify her daughter Eudy Simelane, a well-known footballer and activist, who had been gang-raped and stabbed 25 times. “I’m still haunted by the picture of my son, who arrived at the scene before me. He charged towards me, his hands covered with his sister’s blood. He pleaded with me not to go near the body”, explains Simelane. Police arrested three men; the court convicted only one and failed to recognise the murder as a hate crime.

In 2011, Lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza was also raped and brutally murdered in Kwa-Thema. The police have made no arrests and the case remains unresolved. Just four weeks before that, Nokuthula Radebe suffered the same fate. Police have not been able to find the killers and Radebe’s family still wait for justice.

Last month, Duduzile Zozo, a 26-year-old woman from Thokoza in Ekurhuleni, was raped and murdered just a few metres from her home. Duduzile’s older sister Zokisane Zozo recounts how a neighbour shouted for her to come outside, “Hearing the panic in her voice I ran out to investigate. To my horror when we got to that house, I saw her lifeless body with the toilet brush lodged inside her vagina. It was too much to bear so I ran out crying”, explained Zokisane, before confirming that Duduzile was the breadwinner for their family of nine.

This is no laughing matter. It is the same story told with different characters, and these cases are only a tiny fraction of the hate crimes and violence perpetrated against people because of their sexual orientation and gender.

On 4 July many black lesbians -lesbians most vulnerable to hate crimes- took to the streets of Thokoza to protest against the ongoing lesbian killings in their community. They demanded justice and affirmed that they would not be intimidated.

A few days before she was laid to rest on 13 July, more than 300 people attended Zozo’s memorial service where family, friends and activists sang songs and gave speeches expressing pain over her death, celebrating her life and calling for an end to homophobia.

The pain, fear and hopelessness felt by the community remains. Fikile Mazibuko explains how she befriended Zozo after Radebe’s death, “I am traumatised and angry, this is my second friend to be murdered, whatever is happening in my community pains me.”

In all these cases, government and law enforcement promise justice and support. But, how many more women must die before we see change? When will communities feel protected and when will they see justice served?

The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities established the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence more than six months ago which has seemingly done little to deliver on its promises. The same can be said for the Corrective Rape Task Team established after the murder of Noxolo Nogwaza in 2011.

However, the police have shown greater commitment by setting up a specialised task team with the Thokoza Community Policing Forum and other organisations to investigate Zozo’s case. But following a recent meeting held on 26 July, almost a month since Zozo’s death, police confirmed that there are no leads, nor any concrete evidence linking anyone to the murder. The police are continuing with the investigation.

Although the government’s support is crucial, many Thokoza residents and activists have expressed suspicion and criticism of the fleeting commitment shown by various political parties as well as the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), because they only show support when women have already lost their lives and the media coverage is at its peak.

Many community members were very disappointed by the conduct of the ANCWL for disrespectfully attending Zozo’s memorial and funeral wearing election campaign T-shirts, making election speeches and expecting front row seats reserved for friends, family, and the LGBTI community leading the commemoration and call for solidarity.

Activists and other commentators have also criticised the ANCWL’s recent insinuation that the LGBTI community in South Africa is ‘too aggressive’ when it came to pursuing rights and implying that that gay people provoke the violence perpetrated against them.

To end this repetition of homophobia, hate crimes and injustice, our people, our politicians and our police need to wake up and take these issues far more seriously. Perpetrators of any form of discrimination and violence must face the full might of the law so all people can exercise their rights enshrined in our Constitution. The truth is: rape is no joke, homophobia is not humorous and the experiences of victims and survivors of these crimes are not electioneering tokens for political expediency.

Lerato Dumse is an activist and freelance journalist. This article is part of Gender Link’s Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on everyday news.



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