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Saturday, March 25, 2017
Nathalie Rosa Bucher
- “Women are getting killed in the Western Cape,” says Ndumie Funda, who runs LulekiSizwe in her “cabin” in the township of Gugulethu near Cape Town.
The project is named after her late fiancée, Nosizwe Nomsa Bizana, who was gang-raped by five men and subsequently succumbed to crypto meningitis, and Bizana’s friend Luleka Makiwane, who contracted HIV when she was raped and later died of AIDS.
The initiative provides support for lesbian women in the township, most of them teenagers and young adults, many in their final years of high school. According to Funda, young lesbian women aged between 16 and 25 are most vulnerable and often get evicted by their families. “Police are often remiss in their investigation and victims are often subjected to secondary victimisation from homophobic police officials, the justice system is slow, struggles to cope with cases of gang attacks and it is hard to convince prosecutors of the importance of hate as a motivation for crimes,” Emily Craven, Joint Working Group co-ordinator explains. There are no authoritative figures on exactly how many incidents of hate crime are committed in South Africa.
The horrific levels of sexual violence in South Africa have been well documented and publicised. According to police statistics, 36,190 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) between April and December 2007.
The number of unreported cases, however, is estimated to be ten times that. A study released by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in June this year found that of the 1,738 men interviewed 27.6 percent had perpetrated the rape of a woman or girl.
“From New York to Afghanistan, to the Balkans, across Africa, Latin America. I’ve been to many conferences and asked the questions. (Curative rape is) a global phenomenon and it’s often friends and family,” says Bernedette Muthien, co-founder and director of Engender, a Cape Town-based NGO.
The MRC report urged a much broader approach to rape prevention. “This must entail intervening on the key drivers of the problem which include ideas of masculinity, predicted on marked gender hierarchy and sexual entitlement of men,” it reads.
When the law is no protection
Craven said that one of South Africa’s peculiarities is that legally-speaking, it is one of only seven countries in the world that allows same-sex marriage; its progressive constitution and laws were intended to protect LGBTI people but fear and violence reign in the LGBTI community. “People trust those laws and their decision to come out on the basis of them in fact places them in danger by making them targets.”
Speaking at the Western Cape End Hate Alliance March gathered in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Aug. 7, Nozizwe Madladla-Routledge, former deputy minister of health and still member of the African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) said: “We don’t have enough understanding of the constitution especially around equal rights. Everyone has inherent dignity.”
She also advocated guidelines to be developed. “We need to include these issues into the school curriculum, address issues around gender and sexuality we’ve avoided for too long.”
A number of high profile cases, such as the murder of Eudy Simelane, a star player for Banyana Banyana, South Africa’s national women’s soccer team, the murder of Zolizwa Nkonyana in Khayelitsha in 2006 or the double murder of Masooa and Sigaza, have resulted in campaigns to create more awareness and demand justice.
“These cases certainly have given momentum to our cause and they are very important to us not just in terms of getting justice for the victims involved – though this is of course a huge priority – but also in terms of setting some legal precedents around hate crime and hate motivation for crime and to send a strong message to the population that no matter how much you may hate gay people you will not get away with assaulting, raping, murdering LGBTI people,” Craven states.
“There is no specific hate crimes legislation in South Africa and so setting precedent by getting a judge to find and record that homophobic hate motivated an attack is very important.”
In the case of Nkonyana, the trial has been delayed 20 times.
“Zolizwa is certainly not the only one; people are reluctant to report cases,” Funda says. “Cases are not taken serious, the police laughs, they’ll tell you ‘you’ve asked for it because you behave like a man’,” she adds.
“Masculinity is key to our understanding of all homophobic hate crime and all gender based violence which we feel homophobic attacks are a part of,” Craven elaborates.
“We understand hate crime broadly – it’s not just about one person saying I am a lesbian and another saying I hate lesbians and killing them or raping them. It’s about gender presentation, it’s about subverting male power in society, it’s about women who don’t need men either for financial support or sexual pleasure, it’s about women who wear clothes that are considered unfeminine or drink in taverns late at night or fight back when attacked.”
Asked what she thought was at the root of the violence against LGBTI people, Funda said that perpetrators of hate crimes were themselves scared of something they didn’t know, fuelled by the inability to accept their own sexuality.
Even out and outspoken lesbian say women must be careful. Butch lesbians challenge African patriarchal tradition. “I haven’t been to the bush (reference to Xhosa rite of initiation where young men get circumcised and spend time in the bush), I’m not a man!” Funda concedes.
“I’m very careful. I don’t go to the shebeens. I avoid notorious areas such as Nyanga (neighbouring township). I’m careful about who I sit with, who I talk to,” Funda says.
“Townships and rural areas are seen as having higher levels of homophobic hate crimes,” Craven explains. “This is where we find that schools show high levels of corrective rape and other abuses of LGBTI learners. Especially in rural areas, beyond the reach of LGBTI organisations and NGOs, the outlook with regards to support for survivors is bleak.”
Asked about the role of the media in creating awareness about the issue, Muthien thought that the media had helped by publicising the problem and making it more public. “The ways in which it has been reported in the popular media, however, is deeply problematic, either sensationalised or ripped out of context, there’s no exhortation when those cases come to the fore, for communities to take charge, to say that the lesbian who was so brutally murdered, has a mother, might have children, has a father, has brothers, sisters, had neighbours.”
“In Khayelitsha you have sections where due to active community policing forums you have lower rates of violence especially gender violence and curative rape. We need to work more consciously at that level seeing that the criminal justice (system) has failed us.”
“People hush but I’ve never been threatened,” says Funda who has managed to gain the respect of some community members and insists that to do the work she does, she has to live in Gugulethu. Besides offering support, at times shelter to women in distress, she also runs a street soccer club and is affiliated to a range of other LGBTI organisations. “We even hosted Township Pride in 2005 and 2006 right here at the Gugulethu Sports Complex and received an amazing response from the community.”
“Mandela said ‘my road is long’. Same here. Nobody knew Madiba. Or Biko. But we fought for them. I’ll fight until the last drop of my blood,” Funda states defiantly.