Growing anti-lesbian violence

Eudy, Sizakele, Salome, Thokozani, Zoliswa and Gugu. These names—of black lesbians murdered in the townships—were blazoned on the T-shirts of gay and lesbian activists who gathered outside the Springs Magistrate’s Court this week.

They demonstrated before the court appearance of five men on charges of murdering Eudy Simelane in KwaThema in April this year.

Attacks on black lesbians are increasing, according to Wendy Isaack of People Opposed to Women Abuse (Powa), who said that one is murdered in the townships every three months. At least 10 have been killed since 2006.

Thato Mpithi (22), Khumbulani Magagula (22), Themba Mvubu (24), Tshepo Pitsha (24) and Johannes Mahlangu (18) are accused of dragging Simelane into a field on the evening of April 28 and stabbing her to death.

She may also have been raped. ‘An investigation into whether gang rape charges should be laid against [the five men] is under way,” said prosecutor Eddy Maloba.

Isaack, a human rights lawyer, said outside the court that there was ‘a grave increase in hate crimes in the country, especially murders of lesbians”.

She ascribed violence to the desire of some men ‘to show lesbians that, at the end of the day, they are women and less powerful than men”.

‘This case is about violence against a woman and homophobic-related violence,” she said.

The Mail & Guardian understands that one of the accused is out on parole after being convicted of another rape.

In July last year lesbians Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were repeatedly raped and murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto.

One of the protesters outside the court, Matshidiso Mofokeng (20), said she was afraid of walking alone in her home township of Vosloorus because she ‘knows what might happen”.

‘I don’t feel safe. All the lesbians here are extra careful in their communities because the people we live around don’t accept us,” Mofokeng said.

‘When I walk past a corner where a group of guys sit, I am bound to have passing comments such as: ‘You just need to get laid and then you won’t be lesbian’. Most of us have been attacked verbally; one can only hope the verbal attacks do not become violent.”

Night life is a particular challenge for township lesbians. ‘I can never go to a party alone; we always go in groups,” explained Tumi Mkhuma from Katlehong.

‘If I get drunk I become more of a target. I can’t even walk around with my girlfriend because the guys threaten to take her from me. I know they can do this because I have no power to fight for myself.”

Isaack remarked on the different situation of black lesbians living in and outside the townships.

‘I have lived both experiences and the difference is shocking. Black people think that ignoring sexual diversity in their communities will make it go away, and that if it doesn’t they have the right to violently remove it,” she said.

Condemning anti-lesbian prejudice, Lindi Lasindwa, an ANC member of the Gauteng legislature, said the ANC in KwaThema will ensure that Simelane’s murder case receives special attention.

‘The KwaThema community signed a petition that [the accused] should not get bail and should receive a life sentence if found guilty. The ANC signed that petition,” she said.

Lesbian interest group Triangle Projects said there are few reported cases of the abuse of lesbians because many lesbians were afraid to report assaults to the police.

Thembelihle Tshabalala

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