Hands up, how many of you have heard of Matthew Shephard? Yes, that’s right, he was the American gay student who was tortured and killed for being homosexual. I saw the play at the Baxter, and I watched his story on DVD. His story touched many hearts, both gay and straight, and the condemnation of that hate crime was felt around the globe. And what about Brandon Teena? Brandon was the Transman that the movie “Boys Don’t Cry” was based on…He was brutally raped and killed by two virulent homophobes. A truly touching movie. It even won Hilary Swank an Oscar. The international message was clear, homophobic crimes need to stop.
Now let’s take it closer to home. Hands up, who has heard of Madoe Mafubedu? No takers? It seems our community isn’t noticing what’s going on in our own backyard? OK then, she was an openly lesbian, 16 year old who was repeatedly raped and stabbed until she died.
What about Zoliswa Nkonyana? I think some of you must’ve heard about her death, even though it took two weeks for her story to trickle down into mainstream media, never mind gay media. This 19 year old lesbian was walking home from her local tavern in Khayalitsha, Cape Town, when six boys aged between 16 and 21 took it upon themselves to beat her to death with a golfclub because she was gay, and in their mind obviously needed to die because of that. Her father (who knew about her sexuality) witnessed her being killed, but was too afraid for his own life to stop it happening.
No film was ever made. No foundation was named after her. She has no memorial site. No mayor or politician spoke out against this blatant hate crime, and they certainly didn’t attend her funeral (although I doubt they would have found the simple metal cross that marked her grave, that had her wrong age on it. It took her father half an hour to find it for me in the rows and rows of small metallic crosses).
Of course had this been a hate crime of ANY other nature, let’s just say 6 white boys decided to kill a black boy for the mere fact that he was of another colour, can you imagine the outcry! Politicians would have come flocking. They would have pictures taken with the grieving family, there would have been special ribbons made for the occasion, there would have been inquest after inquest. But alas, Zoliswa was “only” a lesbian. And apparently on the sliding scale of hate crimes, being killed because you’re homosexual doesn’t create so much as a blimp on the media radar, or the politicians’ list of things they need to address. And I don’t recall many gays and lesbians protesting this, or writing to their mayor, asking them what the fuck they were thinking? Is a gay-related hate crime any less significant than a racial one?
But that was last year, and maybe things have changed? Maybe now when someone gets killed because of their sexuality, there will be an uprising, from the community and community leaders alike?
This is about to be tested. On Sunday morning Sizakele Sigasa (34) and Salome Masooa (23) were found murdered next to a dumpsite in Soweto. Sigasa was found with her hands tied with her underpants and her ankles tied with her shoelaces, with three bullet holes in her head and three in her collarbone. According to some reports, they were tortured before being executed. Police are trying their hardest to rule these murders out as hate crimes, but thankfully (and hopefully), Gay and Lesbian Rights groups are doing everything in their power to make sure that this time things don’t get swept under the carpet. Sigasa in the weeks preceding her death had complained to friends that she was feeling uneasy and threatened in her community because she was a lesbian. I wonder if the police have taken that into account? Most of her friends and co-workers believe this to be a homophobic hate crime…
And here’s the scary part, if this was a hate crime, it won’t be documented as such in South African statistics. There are no statistics on hate crimes in South Africa. Glenn de Swardt from Triangle Project believes this to be of great concern to the gay community, because essentially it means that we have no record of how many people are being assaulted because they are gay, how many lesbians are being raped to “cure” them, and how many of us are being killed, because we are gay! South Africa apparently doesn’t keep record of these human rights abuses.
So what do we do as a community? What can we do for our lesser privileged brothers and sisters out there, who are literally living in fear for their lives? Do we carry on like we are doing now? Calling ourselves the Gay Capital of Africa, because we have a few bars and clubs in the major cities? Do we keep ignoring what’s going on not 20 minutes outside our major cities? God, I hope not… the one thing our community seems to have going for itself at the moment is Democracy and a constitution that in theory alone protects us. So let’s not ignore another hate crime. Let’s make an issue out of it! I’m not saying we should take up arms, I’m saying we need to scream! We need to make our voices heard! Write to your mayor, your political party, your ward councillor! Write to the papers about it! Phone in to radio stations! Support your Gay NGO’s who are doing the bloody slog work for you! Just do SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Because it’s not ok to kill someone because they are gay, and if our politicians and media don’t condemn it, condemnation sure as hell has to come from somewhere! Because (and I hate saying this) if they get away with it, they’ll do it again, and again and again! How many Zoliswa Nkonyana’s, Sizakele Sigasa’s, Salome Masooa’s, and Madoe Mafubedu’s do we need before we wake up as a community?
We’re 10% of the population and it’s time we are heard! It’s time we are protected. But we need to take a stand for this to happen.
CULTURE Jeanine Cameron is a television journalist/producer. She has a fixed opinion on almost everything and she’s happiest when she’s telling someone about it. She likes controversy, tattoos and round bums. She lives and loves in Cape Town.