Following recent reports of alleged homophobia by police officers in Vosloorus on Johannesburg’s East Rand, representatives of gay and lesbian rights groups have called for an investigation.
The Mail & Guardian reported that 12 women who had attended the Johannesburg Gay Pride Parade on October 3 were arrested at an after party held at a house in Vosloorus. The women said police officers pepper sprayed them, and an officer had been heard to say: “There are no lesbians in Vosloorus”.
Twelve lesbian women were arrested by Vosloorus police last month, in what local activists say is the latest of a series of homophobic attacks by police in the area. The M&G pinned down the Vosloorus police station commander for his response. Watch the video.
Charges of obstruction of justice and assaulting a police officer were subsequently dropped against the women.
Thandi Francisco, the host of the party, said a police officer had touched her “private parts” to determine whether she was a man or a woman.
The police officer also reportedly told Francisco: “You can now run and call 3rd Degree”, referring to a television programme on which Francisco appeared discussing alleged police harassment against lesbians in the township.
Following this, gay rights groups, including the Treatment Action Campaign, Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, the 1 in 9 Campaign and Forum for the Empowerment of Women, have called for an investigation into alleged homophobia and violence at the Vosloorus police station.
“In this community, particularly gay and lesbian people are brutalised by the police. We know that this is happening throughout the country and we know that it’s not only lesbian and gay people. It’s marginalised and oppressed people throughout the country that the police are brutalising and we are here to appeal to the police, to call on the police, but also to raise our voices to say we will mobilise for as long as this continues,” Natasha Vally, communications officer from the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project told the M&G during a march in Vosloorus against the alleged homophobic behaviour by the police on October 29.
The rights groups handed a memorandum to the deputy station commander, demanding an end to police brutality, access to justice for all people, and an end to homophobic behaviour by the police.
Lindiwe Khonjelwayo, secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in Germiston, said the union expected a response from the police within seven days (which falls due on November 5).
“We are here in support for the call to defend the Freedom Charter, to defend the Constitution of this country in as far as the right to equality is concerned,” Khonjelwayo told the M&G.
“Obviously within the context of administrative justice you can’t expect this police station to receive a memorandum and not respond to it. If they can’t respond, the matter will be elevated to the necessary structure because we cannot continue to create divides among groups in the community and not respond to their concerns,” said Khonjelwayo.
‘Let her open a case’
Brigadier Max Masha, the station commissioner of Vosloorus police station, denied that his police officers were homophobic, adding that the Vosloorus Magistrate’s Court — were the charges were dropped — had not found the police to be at fault.
Masha urged Francisco to lay a charge against the officers she claimed had touched her genitals.
“Let her open a case. It’s a serious offence. If you touch a woman’s private parts that’s sexual assault,” he told the M&G.
Masha said the demands listed in the memorandum were exaggerated.
“If the police were homophobic I think they would go out of their way to hunt [gays and lesbians].”
“Our role as the police is to serve the interests of the community regardless of their sexual orientation. It is not our mandate to tell people how to behave. Our part is to ensure that no crime is committed. That is what we do. Even now I still repeat the lady that alleged that she was manhandled and her private parts touched. I’m telling you now, bring her to me, let her open a case and we will investigate the matter. But we will not allow our members to be discriminated against. We know how it feels like to be discriminated against so we won’t discriminate against anybody. We will serve our community with pride.”
However lesbians living in Vosloorus say they still do not feel safe.
Buyisiwe Ngwenya says she and six other friends were wrongly arrested for public drinking by Vosloorus police before being beaten up in custody last year.
“We were coming from KwaThema [Gay] Pride then we went to the KFC in Vosloorus. The cops came to us and arrested us and said we were drunk in public but we were not. They then started swearing at us saying, ‘why are lesbians, are we confused?’ Then they took us to the police station,” Ngwenya told the M&G this week.
Ngwenya and her friends returned to the police station two days later to lay a charge, but claims they were ridiculed before being helped.
“We waited to be helped at the police station from 10:00am but were only helped at 4:30pm,” she said.
According to Ngwenya the case was later dropped without their consent or knowledge.