Monthly Archives: July 2007
Two weeks ago, many of us were horrified yet again by the apparently random way in which attacks on Black lesbians are becoming ingrained as a part of our lives in a democratic South Africa. This is one of the contradictions of a democratic country in which women live under fear of various forms of violence. It is also the often-times silenced dimension of gender in contemporary South Africa.
Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were murdered in Meadowlands last Sunday and very few within the HIV/AIDS and sexual rights activist camps doubt that these women’s sexual orientation and outspoken stances on the gendered face of HIV/AIDS in South Africa had something to do with their killings. It was equally obvious in 2006 that Zoliswa Nkonyana, killed in Khayelitsha, was killed for being a lesbian.
Every day many more women whose names we will not know because their stories will receive even less attention than Sigasa and Nkonyana, are violated in our neighbourhoods every day. While some non-lesbians might want to quibble about the statistics of gender based violence, and the specific hate crimes against Black lesbians, those on the receiving end of such threats and attacks cannot afford such luxury. It is disturbing that such events continue to happen as part of the rampant misogyny that has become “normal” gender interaction in South Africa.
Hate crimes against lesbians and/or people living with HIV/AIDS are not new. The human rights lawyer, Wendy Isaack, then working as legal advisor at the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project argued in 2004 that the levels of violence targeted specifically at Black lesbians and transgender women warranted a state of emergency. A few years later she explained that this would show “recognition by the state that things were out of control, and that democracy and freedom had very little value for a certain group of people”. And she should know, given how many survivors of curative rape and other attacks she has worked with. More activists and human rights lawyers have since echoed Isaack. Perhaps the fleeting televisual media attention to such matters, in the form of programmes like 3rd Degree have also brought this aspect of gendered violence to the attention of the general public.
Many large newspapers either buried the brutal murders of Sigasa and Masooa in brief coverage in their main bodies, or ignored this as news altogether.
Clearly what happens to young Black women of alternative sexualities is neither news-worthy nor important enough to compete with the front page posturing of politically visible men, or the noise about upper middle class suburban crime levels. Does the media’s blasé approach to this face of violent crime contribute to how invisible most Black lesbians continue to feel? Does the homophobia of many “gender activists” and others within the women’s movement prevent us from coming up with more effective ways to deal with gendered violence? The answer to both is obviously yes, because ordinary citizens are implicated in who can be violated with impunity in our communities. At the same time, it is ultimately the state’s responsibility to protect its citizens, and the judicial system is failing us on many levels.
These attacks may appear apparently random, but they are the exact opposite. Whether the attacker, curative rapist or murderer is known or a stranger, a private citizen or an officer of the law, attacks on Black lesbians continue to happen with incredible regularity. In the South African instance, they are so widespread that it is difficult to locate a lesbian who has not suffered rape, near rape or other forms of violence specifically because of her sexuality. This should not be surprising to any of us since a country as homophobic and as mired in gender based violence as South Africa, will not treat the most marginal women with anything but contempt. But being unsurprising is not the same things as acceptable.
While there are many extra-governmental organisations that work with survivors and well-intentioned legal representatives in order to bring perpetrators of such cases to trial, the appalling success rates in gender based violence cases are common knowledge. Clearly the current judicial system is ill-equipped to deal with gender based violence in ways that bring any sense of justice or relief to those victimised.
Last year, the news that Zoliswa Nkonyana had been attacked and murdered for being a lesbian made the airwaves and attracted international support. This year, two other women who lived are reported in the news as having being attacked for their sexuality and politics.
The sad and maddening thing is the low level of coverage this incidence received from the South African media. Instead we were bombarded with the usual theatrics of politically and economically powerful men and their further political plans vis a vis the presidential race.
While I find my words, I am posting a press-release from the Joint Working Group in this post, and more in a later post.
GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY PRESS RELEASE
WEEK: 09 –13 JULY 2007
Lesbian Killing: We Demand Justice!
(July 9, 2007) The South African lesbian and gay communities through the Joint Working Group* and partner organisations STRONGLY CONDEMN the killing of Sizakele Sigasa (34) and Salome Masooa (23) from a township in Johannesburg. They were found (Sunday 8th July) murdered, execution style, in a nearby field in Meadowlands; a shocking image that is not so new in South Africa in the light of the recent increase in violence and rape against women either identified as, suspected of or supporting lesbian and gay rights.
Gays and lesbians are men and women, human beings who deserve equal rights and treatment – not to be ridiculed or called names, beaten, tortured, raped or killed. These gross human rights violations are not just inhuman and barbaric – they must not be tolerated! Sizakele and Salome’s killers, like everyone else, HAD NO RIGHT TO THREATEN OR KILL THEM.
Violence against lesbians and gays is unSouth African. Here, oppression and discrimination have no place, still there are parents who reject or kick children out to the streets; siblings, friends and communities who hurt, beat, rape, torture and even kill lesbians and gays. If they survive all this, they face further victimisation at in the hands of the police and even the courts – THIS IS NOT JUSTICE AT ALL. People who inflict harm upon and even kill lesbians and gays (or anyone else) do not belong in South Africa. Leaders and communities that do not oppose violence against gays, lesbians, women, children, rape survivors and HIV+ people do not belong here.
1) We call on the Meadowlands Police Services to investigate this matter – efficiently and rigorously;
2) We call on other state bodies and communities to support the families by working with the Police and the Prosecuting Authorities towards ensuring that the killers are brought to book.
We express our deepest condolences to the bereaved families and friends. We offer our support to the colleagues and comrades as they mourn the death of these two precious women.
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Thursday 12 July 2007, 12h00-15h00 (Epelegeng Centre)
FUNERAL: Saturday, 14 July 2007, 12h00 (Meadowlands Community Centre)
(Contact: Busi Kheswa, Gay and Lesbian Memory In Action, 011-717/4239/1963
Prudence Mabele, Positive Women’s Network, 078 383 9529
For assistance in dealing with trauma and loss or for a debrief please contact the:
UNISA Centre for Applied Psychology: 012 429 8089/8544 or Out- Well Being: 012-344-6500
Issued by Nonhlanhla Mkhize (031 301 2145) for the Joint Working Group (JWG).
The JWG is a network of LGBTI organisations and partners in South Africa. Our Vision is to strengthen the organised LGBTI sector to maximise our response to LGBTI needs through partnerships, collective use of resources, and drawing on the strengths of participating organizations in contributing towards social justice and the reconstruction and development of South African society.