Law Failing South African Lesbians on “Corrective Rape”
“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.
There are no solid statistics for the frequency of what is known as “corrective rape”.
“While the problem has most certainly existed for years, our recorded understandings of the problem has mushroomed over the last couple of years,” Emily Craven of the Joint Working Group explains. While she has recorded an increase in reported cases – early June even saw the first trial for a rape case of a gay man – Craven suspects that this is still only the tip of an iceberg.
“There is no awareness around hate crimes and corrective rape,” activist Ndumie Funda insists. “We need a programme of action, we need intervention and research, a budget to find out the problems lesbian women encounter.”
Bernedette Muthien, co-founder and director of Engender, a Cape Town-based NGO, insists on the term “curative rape”: “Curative is more powerful. It’s rape as a cure for your queerness,” she says. The 07-07-07 Campaign, named after the gruesome double murder of Salome Masooa and Sizakele Sigaza on Jul. 7, 2007, used the term “hate rape” in a recent press release.
“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.
“It has always been in society since the onset of patriarchy and been used as a tool to control people’s sexuality, women in particular ways and also some men. Many, many of my women friends and comrades themselves are survivors of curative rape.”
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.
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.”
Also speaking at the End Hate March, Craven stated that hate crimes were not “normal murders” and accused government of refusing to engage with the problem. “The police and prosecutors refuse to investigate on the basis of hate, the criminal justice system generally is slow and we live in a violent society. For every one murdered there are scores of victims,” she said.
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.
South African kwaito singer Thandiswa Mazwai denounces rape and child abuse on her latest album “Ibokwe”; “same sex is shame sex, is assault with intent to grievous bodily harm, is justifiable homicide, constitutional suicide,” rails poet Khadija Tracey Heeger in “Untitled Poem”.
Dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza has conceptualised “Kutheni”, a performance piece in which two women in love are faced with hatred and violence.
“Kutheni”, Nyamza explains, means “why” in Xhosa. The piece was staged at the FNB Vita Dance Umbrella, South Africa’s premier dance festival earlier this year, and later – more pertinently – in the township of Gugulethu.
“I always wanted to do it and I was scared. But I saw the need,” says Nyamza. “In the communities, some people didn’t know it was happening! I want the kids to be educated. The kids were explaining to me what they saw. I hope this can change these kids. Art is a way of changing one’s life.”
“I wanted to bring it to the people and where it all happened,” says Nyamza. “People didn’t bring up issues, they’d say: “Well done, when are you doing it again?”
The piece was staged at KwaMlamli, a shebeen frequently turned into an art space by local art collective Gugulective.
Nyamza said that people were excited about a performance happening in their area. “The neighbours were so supportive, they watched the cars… They were seeing new art, not the African dance they’re used to – which I love, but let’s go beyond our roots,” Nyamza explains.
“Kutheni” has since been performed at schools in other disadvantaged areas.
“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.