Lesbians in South Africa: Raped for a Cure


How would you “cure” lesbians? In the U.S., there’s corrective therapy. In South Africa, there’s gang rape. Surely being brutally forced to have sex with a half dozen men against your will makes you want to start playing for their team, right?

Former star footballer Eudy Simelane is the most graphic example. Simelane, a lesbian, was found last April in a creek outside Johannesburg, dead after being gang raped and then stabbed 25 stab times in the face. It was reparation for her being gay, and these “corrective rapes” go excused by homophobic communities who see it as a means to rid their citizens of gays. So what can we do about it? The Guardian reports:

Now, a report by the international NGO ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission, condemns the culture of impunity around these crimes, which it says are going unrecognised by the state and unpunished by the legal system.

The report calls for South Africa’s criminal justice system to recognise hate crimes, including corrective rape, as a separate crime category. It argues this will force police to take action over the rising violence and ensure the resources and support is provided to those trying to bring perpetrators to justice.

But here’s the reality:

The Guardian talked to lesbian women in townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town who said they were being deliberately targeted for rape and that the threat of violence had become an everyday ordeal.

“Every day I am told that they are going to kill me, that they are going to rape me and after they rape me I’ll become a girl,” said Zakhe Sowello from Soweto, Johannesburg. “When you are raped you have a lot of evidence on your body. But when we try and report these crimes nothing happens, and then you see the boys who raped you walking free on the street.”

Research released last year by Triangle, a leading South African gay rights organisation, revealed that a staggering 86% of black lesbians from the Western Cape said they lived in fear of sexual assault. The group says it is dealing with up to 10 new cases of “corrective rape” every week.

“What we’re seeing is a spike in the numbers of women coming to us having been raped and who have been told throughout the attack that being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them,” said Vanessa Ludwig, the chief executive at Triangle.

But has Simelane’s death, and the conviction of her murdering rapists, changed anything?

Human rights and equality campaigners are hoping that the public outrage and disgust at Simelane’s death and the July trial of the three men accused of her rape and murder will help put an end to the spiralling violence increasingly faced by lesbian women across South Africa.

Despite more than 30 reported murders of lesbian women in the last decade, Simelane’s trial has produced the first conviction, when one man who pleaded guilty to her rape and murder was jailed last month.

On sentencing, the judge said that Simelane’s sexual orientation had “no significance” in her killing. The trial of a further three men pleading not guilty to rape, burglary and murder will start in July.

In Soweto and Kwa Thema, women seem unconvinced that Simelane’s case will change anything for the better.