hate crimes against black lesbians (2)
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.