South Africa was the first country in the world to grant constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. South Africa is also the only African nation (with the exception of Spanish and French overseas territories) to have legalized same-sex marriage. Given these protections of the LGBT community, which have existed for many years by now, it is so depressing that South Africa still struggles enormously with such vile hatred, corrective rape and murder of LGBT people.
A recent article in the BBC tries to raise awareness of the issue
Pasca was was born in 1994, the year apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela was elected president – she was one of the first of South Africa’s so-called born free generation.
In his inauguration speech, Mandela promised to “build a society in which all South Africans will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts… a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
But 21 years later, this promise remains unfulfilled for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
In a country where crime rates in general are high, black lesbians in poor townships face particular risks and often suffer the most violent crimes.
As women, they’re vulnerable in a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world. As lesbians in an often homophobic and patriarchal society, they face a further danger – the idea that they can be “changed” and “made into women” through what is known as “corrective rape”.
There are few phrases capable of turning my stomach more than the phrase “corrective rape”. It sounds so dispassionate, like it’s a duty that a man is taking upon himself to perform for your benefit, rather than an entirely selfish urge to lash out with violence and domination.
Despite the laws and constitutional protections that are clearly in place, they are nothing more than pretty words if you do not have a police force which is willing to enforce them.
Among the faces on the wall is Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian who was raped, mutilated and murdered in 2011.
But five years later, no-one has been prosecuted.
“The feeling we got from the police is that they expected us to do all the work for them,” says Kahlo.
“It’s very tiring to be an activist but to also be a police officer and to try as hard as you can, and to have a government which is not supportive.”
There hasn’t always been a lack of interest though. After the murder of Noxolo Nogwaza and several other lesbians in 2011, there was a global outcry. 170,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to act.
In response, the government set up a National Task Team and drew up a National Intervention Strategy to reduce hate crimes.
It also established a Rapid Response Team to make sure that hate crimes are properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted. This has had some success in clearing a backlog of murders and other crimes.
The South African Government does respond to global pressure. Luckily, given the laws in place, LGBT activist groups are allowed to exist and try desperately to organize awareness and educational campaigns, things that unfortunately cannot exist in many other African nations. But they need support, they need help, and they need ideas on how to combat this many-headed monster. Personally, I would suggest allocating some of those government funds to educate and oversee police departments, as I have heard from many sources besides this one of the disdain that lesbian victims are often met with when they report these crimes.
I do not wish take away the importance and the praise South Africa deserves for granting these protections and rights to its citizens, but simply passing a law is not enough, not when your people are suffering and dying like this.