Murder of popular soccer star highlights problem of anti-lesbian violence
Up until the end of April this year, if you had run into former South African footballer Eudy Simelane, chances are that you would have met a happy woman. At 31, Simelane was still involved with the sport she loved as a coach and referee. She was a lesbian in a country in which homosexuality was not only legal, it is enshrined in the Constitution. Not only that, her close-knit family accepted her sexuality, as well as her partner of two years, Sibongile Pearl Vilakazi. On top of all of that good fortune, she was about to start a promising new job with a pharmaceutical company.
Then, on April 28, she was beaten, repeatedly stabbed and reportedly gang-raped and left to die in a shallow river near her home in the Tornado section of KwaThema township. According to news reports, five young men between the ages of 18 and 24 are in custody; reportedly one was a neighbor who knew Simelane. As of May 27, the case has been put off until June 3 while legal representation is being arranged for the defendants. This issue has already delayed the case before.
More than 2,000 mourners showed up at Simelane's funeral, including a member of the South African parliament who encouraged human rights activists to continue the fight against violence. Indeed Simelane's murder has further galvanized activists trying to call attention to homophobic violence in South Africa and across the continent. In KwaThema, protestors gathered by the hundreds outside the courtroom where the initial hearings for Simelane's alleged killers were held. (Behind the Mask has a photo gallery of the demonstration.) Meanwhile, in the US, the FC Indiana women's soccer team will wear black armbands to honor Simelane's memory. Veronica Phewa, a member of the FC Indiana club, was a close friend and former teammate of Simelane.
Sokari Ekine at BlackLooks has been following the Simelane case, and she says it's part of a tragic pattern, On May 3, she wrote:
Once again another lesbian has been raped, tortured and murdered in South Africa on Monday 28th April. Sizakele Sisgasa and Salome Masooa were tortured and murdered
just 10 months ago. Since then lesbians, gays and transsexuals across
the continent - Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal and Cameroon, have been
attacked and beaten and arrested for simply living their sexuality.
After Masooa and Sisgasa were murdered last July 7 in Soweto, activists launched the 07-07-07 anti-violence campaign. Last August, Ekine commented on the connection between homophobic violence and patriarchy:
The submission of women is an essential aspect of patriarchy. Sex is
one of the tools used by men to subjugate women. Any signs of a woman
becoming financially or sexually independent becomes a threat to male
power. Whether this is an unmarried woman who is financially
independent or a lesbian who is sexually independent.
According to this article from South Africa's Mail and Guardian, violence against lesbians is growing in South Africa. One expert cited in the story said that a lesbian is murdered in the townships every three months.
The violence is part of what has made made Sky, who blogs at Lesbian, Black and African, ashamed of her country:
My heart bleeds to all my brothers and sisters and especially because
as a lesbian woman, I can relate to the discrimination they’re facing.
Discrimination in all its forms is rife in Africa. It’s time our people
realised that Human Rights are universal and indivisible and all human
kind is entitled to them regardless.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission called for action on the part of the South African government, but highlighted the global dimensions of the problem:
From Joburg to Brooklyn, from Khayalestha to Kampala, Black lesbians
are unsafe in their own homes and in their own communities. This has
got to stop. We challenge the South African government to get real
about the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in
the Constittion, guaranteed in the International Covenenant on Civil
and Political Rights, and clarified in the Yogyakarta Principles. We
ask the leaders of South Africa to challenge these unbridled attacks
publicly and righteously. Here and now.
I cannot help but note that Simelane's murder occured nearly five years after the stabbing death of 15-year-old Sakia Gunn, an aspiring professional athlete who died fighting off a 29-year-old attacker who had tried to drag one of her teenaged friends into his car. On June 10, filmmaker Charles Bennett Brack will screen Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project as part of Newfest 2008, the New York LGBT film festival. According to a statement on the website for the film's production company, part of the reason for making the film is because, "we want our youth to have a different future."
A different future, indeed.
7-7-7 campaign image from BlackLooks.org
Eudy Simelane photo from SABCnews.com