Phumi Mtetwa of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, South Africa, reflects on the significance of the impending trial of the 4 men accused of murdering Eudy Simelane.
TRIAL INTO THE MURDER OF LESBIAN SOCCER PLAYER SET FOR FEBRUARY 2009
The Delmas Circuit Court in Mpumalanga will hear the trial into the murder of lesbian soccer player Eudy Simelane from 11 to 13 February 2009. Simelane, a 31 year old, was allegedly robbed, and gang raped and tortured before being murdered on 28 April last year in her home township, Kwa-Thema, east of Johannesburg. The alleged motivation for her killing was that she was a lesbian who fought back like men.
As it has been reported previously, the murder of Simelane follows many similar ones across South Africa. These crimes, motivated by the hatred of particularly lesbians and transgender people, was covered by the media but unfortunately without drawing national attention from the ruling ANC and other parties in the country, safe of the local branches in Kwa-Thema. South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world and has suffered over the last few years more and more hate crimes resulting in the assault and/or killing of people because of their HIV status, sexual orientation, or because they are black non-South Africans.
The case of Simelane and the pending trial is of significance for various reasons. It indicates the ongoing destruction of black communities through crime in the name of tradition and male domination. Simelane comes from the second oldest township where gay sub-culture was visible and celebrated. In Kwa-Thema, from as long ago as the early 80s, visible “drag-queens” walked the streets proudly, earned respect from their assertion of their sexual identity and their visible strong ties of unity — the gay family.
Through the celebrated woman known as MaThoko to many black gays and lesbians from particularly the old Vaal area, a true community was born and MaThoko’s house was its home. Ordinary members of the Kwa-Thema community would have been perceived as ‘out-of-touch’ if they dared to speak against gays and lesbians. Whether you liked it or not, for whatever reason, Kwa-Thema was home to be proudly black and lesbian or gay without the fears that now exist because of the killings such as that of Simelane.
Contrary to the national political ignorance of the ANC to the matter, the branches of the ANC of Ekurhuleni and in Kwa-Thema, have accompanied the juridical and community mobilisation process since the body of Simelane was discovered that Monday morning, lying on an open field with multiple stab wounds. With the now Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Ntombi Mekgwe, the ANC issued letters to the police calling for the immediate investigation and arrest of the killers. This has opened a unique opportunity in the area for dialogue between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and ANC activists on a range of issues, including the challenges of service delivery, unemployment and fighting crime for active political participation of all members of society, including openly lesbians and gays. Furthermore, to challenge the wide-spread homophobia, even within the ANC, to enable to enable effective social and political participation.
The case goes to Delmas. For many of us anti-apartheid activists and political historians, we will remember Delmas as one of the areas where activists from the East Rand were detained and questioned, and were cases of key political activists were heard. Simon Nkoli, a celebrated gay rights, anti-apartheid and AIDS activist who died in 1998, was sentenced there for what is famously now knows as the Delmas Treason Trial, along prominent ANC aligned political leaders including now Congress of the People’s president Terror Lekota.
We return to Delmas in post apartheid South Africa to seek justice for Eudy Simelane. Her killing, like with that of many others who have been victim to hate crimes based on sexual orientation [31 known cases according to a Triangle Project research], has an important significance to limits of enjoying our human rights to equality, freedom and dignity. We mourn Eudy’s untimely and unacceptable death. We extend solidarity to family and all close to her. In our solidarity, it is not surprising that we, as the many Eudy’s alive and openly proud about being woman, lesbian, black, young, and so on, today, are angry and scared.
This case is likely to be the first of its kind to issue judgment on an alleged hate related crime due to one’s sexual orientation. It has the possibility of opening doors to challenge legislation that does not include LGBT people as vulnerable to hate crimes. It can contribute to challenging the justice system as a whole on these issues. It contributes to the many efforts by LGBT, women’s rights and other organisations to raise the consciousness of everyone in our country to act against violence targeted at all women and children. Most importantly, it will also send a strong message to young men that there is no impunity, not via the state, not via the community and not via the LGBTI people who will utilize this case to build a strong movement of self defense.
If only it does one thing it would be that it gives us enough reasons to build our movement. A true movement that cannot just react, but that can be proactive to eliminate this hatred, violence and exclusion of an important and significant part of our society. Let’s build a social force to be reckoned with!
Let us join others struggling against violence and hate.
Join us in our struggle!
Phumzile S. Mtetwa – Gay and Lesbian Equality Project, Johannesburg, South Africa.