/ 30 January 2014

Khayelitsha police ‘incapable’ of helping LGBT residents

Funeka Soldaat caught the police's legal team off guard at the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry into policing.
Funeka Soldaat caught the police's legal team off guard at the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry into policing.

When prominent lesbian community activist Funeka Soldaat was raped "by some boys from Khayelitsha" in 1995, she turned to the police for help. 

Yet this week she told the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry into policing that her torment had continued at two police stations, where her treatment after the attack left her devastated.

Speaking in isiXhosa, Soldaat recalled how she first went for assistance to the Lingulethu West police station in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats, where she was told by the police she would have to wait because there was no transport available to take her to the hospital. 

"After waiting for a while, two white gentlemen came into the station. I had been sitting there, and I had been raped. I was supposed to be taken to hospital," Soldaat told the commission.

"These gentlemen put me at the back of the van and took me to Site B hospital. They dropped me outside and I went in by myself. My shoes had been lost. A nurse told me I was supposed to have brought a letter from the police station saying I had been raped."

Barefoot, Soldaat walked from the hospital to the nearest police station – the Khayelitsha Site B police station.

"By the time it came for me to lay a complaint, a police officer looked at me from head to toe. He asked me what had happened. I told him I was raped. But what happened was he didn't take my statement and he went to talk to other police officers. They came and asked me what happened. It looked like they were considering my sexual orientation."

Soldaat said she could not take it any more, so she left. "I went home and slept after that," she said. "My life was now a disaster."

NGO founder
The 53-year-old activist gave her witness testimony dressed in a blue peak cap and a purple T-shirt promoting Free Gender, the organisation she founded.

Soldaat said she was eventually helped by Rape Crisis, who put her in touch with an investigating officer at the Site B police station and, once again, she reported the case.

"They took the case, but even when they were taking my statement I was not trusting what they were doing," she said.

Soldaat said she had little further contact with police officers involved in her case. She focused on her recovery. "Rape Crisis said the most important thing was healing," Soldaat explained to the commission.

Soldaat's account caught the police legal team unawares. Advocate Norman Arendse, who has been hired to represent the police, pointed out that Soldaat's testimony was not part of the affidavit she had handed to the commission. 

Arendse said, as a result, he was unable to respond to her personal account because he was not given warning to consult with his clients.

In her affidavit to the commission, Soldaat explained that Free Gender is a nongovernmental organisation based in Khayelitsha.

LGBT intolerance
"The organisation was established in Khayelitsha mainly because of the community's lack of understanding and its intolerance of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people," said Soldaat.

She said there is considerable ignorance about the various forms of sexuality and sexual identity.

"This often manifests in a generally bad attitude, poor relations and even anger towards the wider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," said Soldaat.

"A section of the Khayelitsha community tends to unfairly treat LGBT people as social outcasts." She said they are often targeted for "so-called corrective rape, sexual assault, theft, robbery and many other crimes".

Soldaat said over many years it had become apparent that Khayelitsha police are incapable of providing help and protection to LGBT people, both before a crisis and when they present themselves as survivors of these crimes. "Khayelitsha police appear to lack the energy, will and intent to provide a service to LGBT [people]," Soldaat said. 

Police are slow to follow up on leads and are "homophobic", she said.