by Fikile Vilakazi, South Africa
Violence against lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) people remains a huge challenge in South Africa. The minds and hearts of our people are hardened by oppressive violence. In 2013, the death toll of lesbian women in South Africa stands at 31 since 2003 whilst gay men continue to be brutally murdered in townships. This anecdote includes only cases that were reported to the police and/or made public through the media by LGBTI human rights defenders. There could be more other cases that we do not know about that have gone went unreported or did not receive public media attention. In addition to murder is the pervasiveness of rape against black lesbian women that continues unprosecuted even though it is reported regularly to the criminal justice system. It is said that for every twenty five men that rape, about twenty four walk free, and only one of them is likely to be prosecuted with ninety five percent chance of getting bail and having such charges dropped. It is a never ending battle, exhausting and infuriating.
They are not going to allow us to be who we are and live our lives freely. They continue to make it harder and harder, particularly for visibly masculine lesbian women and feminine gay men in black townships to live happily and joyously. The nature, extent and depth of violence is worse for people who are visibly in trans-(gression) and trans-(ition) from biological sex, gender and sexual orientation as assigned at birth and/or traditionally. We are perpetually seen as a threat to traditional masculinity and femininity and thereby weakening the arrangements of patriarchy and hetero-(norm)-ativity.
The backlash becomes that gruesome experience of violence. The thing about the kind of violence seen in South Africa is that it carries with it signs of intentional and premeditated torture, brutality, degradation and humiliation of people that are being violated. I am talking about things like disembowelment of bodies, insertion of objects into private body parts, mutilation of body parts and feeding of human body parts to dying sufferers. This is deeply disturbing,unacceptably cruel and unforgivable.
One wonders where does so much hatred emanate from? What happened to our own people? How do you kill and treat one of your own in such a terrible, brutal and inhumane manner? Where does this come from? What is it? What are we dealing with here? What happened to the concept of Ubuntu? Where is freedom and better life for all promised in the manifestos of our leading political parties? What happened to constitutional rights of equality for all.
The most wonderful constitution of South Africa with its equality clause did not protect all the dead victims of homophobia and hetero-sexism from being brutally murdered in the same way as it has perpetually failed to protect thousands of rape survivors (women, children, lesbians, gay men, elderly women and people with disabilities) on a daily basis. The world must know that our constitution is a token. It is not real, yet. We need real change in our country, a change of heart and mind, a kind of
transformation that is embedded in a shared sense of humanity, the fulcrum of all humanness, freedoms and justice. A bill of rights alone is not going to bring the desired change for South Africa. We need much more than that.
Much as it pains me to admit, the truth is that on matters of sexuality and gender, the majority of South Africans are still deeply trapped in a power battle of oppressive orthodoxy, hetero-sexism, sexism, ethnicism, traditions and religiosity. There is nothing wrong with choosing a life of orthodoxy, but there is definitely something very wrong about using such a personal choice as a universal normative and a tool of oppression against other people. Noting that women human rights defenders continue to be on the frontline of most human rights and socio-economic struggles in South Africa, regionally and internationally, it is not surprising that it continues to be women who suffer violence the most. The heat of oppression and violence burns a woman’s face hundred times more than it is likely to do a man. The multiplicity of being a girl, woman, lesbian, trans, mother, grandmother, housewife and a human rights defender makes it harder to fight the so many separate yet connected battles of our lives. Yet, the battle continues. No surrender until something changes!
Fikile Vilakazi is a former director of secretariat of the Coalition of African Lesbians. She identifies as a black lesbian feminist, activist and an emerging international development scholar. She has been
involved in different forms of activisms including civic, youth, women, gender, sexuality and poverty since she was 10 years old.