In Kwa Thema, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the partially attired corpse of Eudy Simelane, former standout of South Africa’s celebrated Banyana Banyana nationwide women’s soccer team, was discovered in a stream in a park. Simelane had been savagely assaulted and subjected to group sexual assault before being stabbed 25 times in the visage, torso, and limbs. Simelane was an insatiable advocate for equity rights and one of the pioneering women to openly embrace her lesbian identity in Kwa Thema, while also being one of South Africa’s most renowned female footballers.
The rise of violence against lesbians in South Africa has continued since April last year, characterized by men committing rape under the guise of trying to “cure” their sexual orientation, according to human rights campaigners. This is what they call “corrective rape.”
The report, supported by the South African Human Rights Commission and the international NGO ActionAid, condemns the culture of impunity in which these crimes are allowed to go unpunished and unrecognized by the state.
The report calls for South Africa’s criminal justice system to recognize rape as a separate category of crime, including corrective actions and resources to ensure support is provided to those trying to bring justice to perpetrators and to take action against the rising violence. The police force argues that it will take appropriate measures.
The ferocity and brutality of Simelane’s murder sent shockwaves through Kwa Thema, where she was widely recognized and cherished for her contributions in bringing sports fame to the extensive township.
Simelane, Mally’s mother, always feared for her daughter’s safety, as she had never imagined life to be taken in such a way.
She expressed her fear of these individuals, as she believed they might come and harm her as well due to her lack of knowledge about the events. Was it because of her identity? She was a kind-hearted woman who never engaged in conflicts. However, the motive behind her brutal murder remains a perplexing question. She was mercilessly stabbed multiple times, with 25 wounds inflicted all over her body, including underneath her feet.
The Guardian talked to lesbians in townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg who said they were deliberately being targeted for rape and violence, turning their everyday struggles into constant threats.
Zakhe Sowello, hailing from Soweto, Johannesburg, expressed, “Each day I am informed that they plan to murder me, that they intend to sexually assault me, and once they do, my gender identity will change.” “When one is sexually violated, there are numerous physical signs on the body. Yet, when we attempt to report these offenses, no action is taken, and subsequently, we witness the perpetrators roaming freely on the streets.”
The leading South African gay rights organization Triangle released research last year that revealed a staggering 86% of black lesbians from Cape Western lived in fear of sexual assault, dealing with up to 10 new cases of corrective rape every week.
“We are witnessing a spike in the numbers of women who have been told and raped throughout the attack, which is why being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them,” stated Vanessa Ludwig, the CEO of Triangle.
Support groups claim that an increasingly macho and aggressive political environment is contributing to the cultural lethargy growing towards high levels of gender-based violence in South Africa, and to the inaction of the police regarding attacks on lesbians.
When there is a lesbian woman, she is seen as an absolute affront to this kind of masculinity. So, if you look at the increasingly macho culture that seeks to oppress and view them as merely sexual beings and women, you will understand why all women are being murdered and raped in high numbers, as stated by Carrie Shelver, a South African women’s rights group, Powa.
“A statement released by South Africa’s national prosecuting authority indicated that hate crimes, particularly those of a sexual nature, are prevalent, while the South African government has not given priority to this specific project.”
The failure of the police to follow up on eyewitness statements led to the formation of the 07-07-07 campaign, a coalition of groups calling for justice, equality, and human rights for women targeted in attacks. This campaign was led by Massooa and Sigasa, a lesbian couple, after the brutal double murder and rape of another woman.
Sigasa and Massooa experienced verbal harassment outside a bar before enduring torture, sexual assault by a gang, and being fatally shot near their residences in Meadowland, Soweto in July 2007.
Campaigners for equality and human rights are hoping that the trial of the three men accused of the murder and rape of Simelane, which is set to end in July, will help put an end to the spiralling violence faced by lesbians across South Africa, and that it will also generate public disgust and outrage.
Despite over 30 reported homicides of lesbians in the past decade, Simelane’s trial has resulted in the imprisonment of one man who admitted guilt for her sexual assault and killing, marking the first successful prosecution.
The judge stated that Simelane’s sexual preference had “no bearing” on the sentencing in her murder case. The trial for three additional men who pleaded not guilty to charges of rape, burglary, and murder is scheduled to begin in July.
In Soweto and Kwa Thema, women appear skeptical that Simelane’s case will bring about any positive change.
In 2003, while on her way back from football practice, Phumla was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a gang of men who aimed to teach her a “traditional lesson”. According to her, within her community, nearly every homosexual woman has encountered various forms of aggression in the previous year, and preventing such incidents from occurring again will necessitate more than a single legal proceeding.
As a woman and a lesbian, she expressed, “On a daily basis, it feels as though there is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.” “There is a lack of freedom to move around, no room to act according to one’s desires. Fear constantly looms, and life always feels constricted. It is crucial for us to acknowledge that being in danger is an undeniable reality of our lives.”