By Devan Moonsamy
Lest we forget: Banyana Banyana star Eudy Simelane
It has been 10 years since our Banyana Banyana soccer star Eudy Simelane was found gang raped, robbed and murdered. She was stabbed over 25 times. It is unfathomable that such brutality could ever be justified.
The reason for this heinous crime? Eudy was lesbian. In the decade since, it feels like we are no closer to overcoming this terrible persecution. Violence and abuse the world over against people of differing sexualities and gender identities is a reality. Our hearts go out to Simelane’s family who no doubt still feel the weight of her loss at the age of 31. Mally Simelane, Eudy’s mother, has said that she has finally found a way to forgive her daughter’s murderers.
What strength and humanity Eudy’s mother shows in the face of such devastation. Still, hate crimes such as this are destroying South African lives. And, what is more, it means that others like Simelane continue to live in fear, continue to hide who they are, simply because of some people’s complete intolerance for what is really none of their business at all.
The neighbourhood in which Simelane lived, KwaThemba on the East Rand in Gauteng, is said to be largely LGBTQ-friendly. Simelane may have felt safe, her family may have had a measure of confidence that she was accepted. As a result, the attack came as a massive shock to the community.
A long time has passed since Simelane’s death, but we mustn’t forget her. We mustn’t forget her bravery in living life as who she was, her advocacy for LGBTQ people, and as a soccer player in a male-dominated sport.
There have been many more recent cases, but this case is notable in that Eudy’s murderers were the first in South Africa to be convicted of so-called “corrective” rape. However, this characterisation doesn’t seem to apply, and LGBTQ organisations are guarded about the term as well.
Correction implies an attempt at discipline. This was extreme homophobic violence and a hate crime through and through that showed complete disregard for human life and dignity. Many South Africans will agree that such crimes are an offense against all of us, not only against people who are gay.
One such person is Bongi, a middle-aged woman from Mpumalanga. I feel that Bongi’s reaction to the issues gives considerable insight into the views of most South Africans. Her feelings on the issue, as an older member of a township community, should be taken very seriously, especially by those who purport to speak and act for communities, even believing they have a right to take justice into the own hands by attacking and somehow “correcting” homosexual people.
“You are killing the thing you think you are protecting”
What sparked an intense discussion was that Bongi recently heard those terrible words: “She deserved it”. This was not in reference to Eudy in this case, but another lesbian woman who was raped for so-called “corrective” purposes. Bongi seems shattered as she talks about it, she tries not to cry, but she can’t help it. She says she does not know the woman who was raped, but this person’s reaction continues to echo cruelly in her mind.
While Bongi can’t speak for everyone, I think her views on rape, and on homosexuality, will ring true for many South Africans: “I know there are murderers and rapists anywhere. It’s a fact of life. But when I hear them say ‘She deserved it,’ in front of me then I feel anger, and my bones are like on fire. I know if I don’t get away I am going to spit on this man.
“I also feel scared. It makes me scared of men. I can get scared just seeing some guys coming this way.”
When Bongi was asked if she would feel the same if a straight woman were raped compared to a lesbian, she said, “It’s the same… I don’t agree with people being lesbian or gays, but that is my feeling. It’s not for me to be playing God and deciding who is punished. It is not for anyone to take hate, or even thinking it is justice, as their excuse to do such things.
“It doesn’t matter if she sleeps in the bed with a man or a woman. She is doing her life, I am doing mine. If Eudy or this girl who was raped recently was my daughter, I would still say I love her. I would still say ‘Come to the house and let me meet the woman you are with.’… God is not going to punish me for that. Murders will be punished and rapists and men who rape even small girls, they are going to be seriously punished.
“My awareness is heightened because I am a South African woman. I have to be prepared for a possibility. We tell each other, you must be strong now. Don’t wait until it happens to try make yourself strong. Even the 12-year-old girl must know she has to be very strong, she must know the township has dangers.
“We tell the girls to always watch the men, and make sure they are not alone with any man. Even her uncle or brother can be dangerous. You think you can trust him. But then his friends get him drunk or get evil in his head.
“If there is a man around the place, she must rather go to the neighbour’s house and wait for her mother to come home. If some guy is giving her mother or sister trouble, she must scream. She must scream loud. And she must use the locks, and keep the house locked.
“Don’t these guys know how they destroy people’s trust? They destroy men’s dignity in addition. They destroy our dignity. They make themselves devils. They identifying themselves as devils…
“If a person is gay, it can be wrong, but I don’t know any gay people causing hate and violence… If you are violent and raping people, how can you say you are fixing a problem? What are you doing to help the community? You are not helping us. You are destroying us. You are killing the thing you think you are protecting, because we are one group of people, one group that is God’s children. It’s not gays outside and the rest of us under God. We are one people.”
Bongi was asked, “Why do you think these men did it? Was it only because the women are lesbian?” She replied, “It’s because their hearts are dead. Lesbian and gay people are just their excuse to be devils, their excuse to act out this kind of evil in them.”