“Legislation itself is never enough to change and stop the current climate of discrimination and subsequent violence on women’s bodies..”
Pumza Fihlani remarked that “being a woman in South Africa is like being trapped in a locked room – you can hear someone walking outside and you know someone will come one day and you won’t be able to stop them”. It’s even a lot harder to be a black underprivileged lesbian woman living in this country, “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 (straight) ‘women’ through the assertions of “corrective” rape.
There is no legislation yet that currently distinguishes such a hate crime from other forms of crime, so the few that get prosecuted fail to account for the level of violence that often occurs because they aren’t charged as hate-crimes. Also because of the lack of distinction, there is no official (outside of the work being done by civil society) data being collected on these types of crimes to show the level of urgency needed in terms of intervention. But then again legislation itself is never enough to change and stop the current climate of discrimination and subsequent violence, hence SA’s constitution was the first in the world to protect people from systematic discrimination that may occur because of sexual orientation and the first to legalise same-sex marriage in Africa.
Unfortunately, that alone hasn’t stopped the everyday reality of violence that occurs on the ground. Like this blog post or a hashtag, legislation might essentially just serve as lip-service while people continue to be brutally killed and raped because of their sexual orientation. There is a need for meaningful and urgent action because according to Luleki Sizwe’s reports, “ten cases of “corrective” rape take place just in Cape Town every week”. According to the first national study conducted into discrimination and hate crimes SA LGBTI community (2016), 88% of those who experienced hate crimes don’t report incidents possibly from fear of being outed as homosexual and further victimisation by the system and the community.
It’s an epidemic that shows no signs of self-correcting, thus according to a 2016 survey that observed the quality of life conducted by and in the Gauteng City-Region, an astonishing 14 percent of the province’s citizens say it is acceptable to be violent to gay and lesbian people (see image below).
Apparently, this is a 1% increase since the last survey in 2013, the implication is that people in the region have grown more hateful of LGBTI people. Whether they choose to act on their hate or not, the atmosphere proves volatile. Keep in mind that this represents 14% of Gauteng’s population, and the majority of the people who share such views are likely to be situated in impoverished areas of the province where the “corrective” rapes are likely to occur.
Movements like Black-Feminism, Afro-feminism and mainstream feminism will make a greater impact on this continent only when they start addressing more than just straight women issues, and yes, the basis of black feminism is intersectionality. But how often do we honestly address the nuanced discriminatory issues beneath the layer of class, like being disempowered because of your sexual orientation, physical disability and etc, unless we deal with such? Afro-feminism and or black feminism is just mainstream feminism with a black face! Whether we admit it or not, straight women have some privileges that lesbian women don’t have, more heterosexual women need to speak out and make ways against the brutality suffered by lesbian women in the hands of black communities.
As a straight somewhat middle-class woman with some privileges, I can never make any claims about understanding what it’s like to be in their position. I can never fully know their experience since I’ve never lived it, all I know and can speak of is what I’ve observed and seen play out in the places I’ve been and stories I’ve heard. Even writing this gives some anxiety about ‘straight washing’ lesbian women’s experiences. Speaking out isn’t from a place of pity but because this is a human rights violation and it’s an inhumane practice.
The truth of the matter is that “to sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men” (Ella Cox), we can’t even afford to claim a neutral position in the presence of those who perpetrate such hateful crimes because neutrality and silence helps the oppressor, not the oppressed (Elie Wiesel, 1986). If we say we don’t have issues with LGBTI people, but keep quiet and keep the company of those who choose to violate them (verbal or physical violence), then we are just as guilty. In reference to the holocaust, Edmund Burke said, evil happened because good people passively watched and waited for someone else to do something.
In black communities, it’s still perceived as something people can ‘choose’, therefore can ‘opt-out’ of at a point. Some parents think it’s a ‘phase’ you’re going through, which you’ll eventually outgrow, putting the parents in a position where they never have to accept their kid’s true sexuality. With religious families, it’s often about the ‘sinful’ nature of their children’s same sex desires or relationships. I’ve seen this even with the most liberal of black families, being homosexual is not something they claim to have an ‘issue’ with, so long one of their own is not ‘one of those people’ because ‘what will people say’.
“Some Black families would rather their kid is a criminal than coming out as LGBTI, using the tired notion that ‘it’s not our culture’ as a defence for their prejudice..”
When I was in school, I was taught that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice, so many of us grow up with that mentality. Being homosexual is regarded as offensive, hence young boys with feminine personalities (even when not gay) are called ‘setabani’ (sissy/gay) as a way to humiliate them. So they grow up with the assumption that homosexuality is bad and socially unacceptable. They either end up mistreating LGBTI people or stay in the closet if they are homosexual because many of them never get the opportunity to get out of the township mentality or physically leave the areas to learn new habits nor get access to information.
Some Black families would rather their kid is a criminal than coming out as LGBTI, using the tired notion that ‘it’s not our culture’ as a defence for their prejudice. Young LGBTI kids still grow up stigmatised long into adulthood by their families and communities, many we know have chosen heterosexual marriages because coming out has much greater repercussions for their lives (life and death situation or a social outcast) than being their true selves. Black communities would rather try to ‘beat the gay out of you’ or take you to a sangoma because ‘its witchcraft’, or take you to church to get prayers because Satan is in you (possession).
All these things are just as bad as “corrective” rape because they are meant to shame individuals into submission. Yes, many like Somizi as a performer but they don’t want to see him making out with another man. Can he not be ‘too’ gay.