When freedom means so little
Last Saturday was Freedom Day – a public holiday in which South Africans celebrate the birth of democracy.
It was on April 27 1994 that our country first held democratic elections, closing a chapter on White minority rule that had defined the colonial and apartheid eras.
Freedom Day was supposed to be a day in which we reflect on how far we have come – and yet, in many ways, it reflects how far we have also digressed as a nation.
On Freedom Day, I found myself thinking not of the long walk to the new dispensation, but of a young woman named Eudy Simelane, who was brutally murdered a day after Freedom Day in 2008.
Simelane was a footballer who played for Banyana Banyana. She was also a LGBTI activist.
Eleven years ago, her partially clothed body was found in a creek in KwaThema, a township east of Johannesburg.
She had been abducted, gang-raped, beaten and then stabbed more than 20 times in the face and all over her body. What was her crime, you might be asking yourself? What had this young woman done that led to such a brutal end?
Simelane’s crime was that she was openly living as a lesbian.
In the second decade of a new SA, a black woman was killed because she had made the decision to love and pursue romantic relationships with other women.
She was not alone. Scores of black lesbian women in our country have been subjected to the practice of corrective rape, whereby men rape lesbians purportedly to cure them of their sexual orientation, which such men regard as an affront to their own masculinity.
A year before Simelane’s gruesome murder, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were found murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto.
Both women had sustained gunshot wounds to the head.
Sigasa was shot multiple times and her underwear had been used to tie her hands.In 2006, a year before Sigasa and Masooa’s murders, another black lesbian woman was killed in the township of Khayelitsha. Her name was Zoliswa Nkonyana, she was only 19 years old.She was viciously stabbed and stoned to death outside a shebeen, for having earlier wanted to use a women’s bathroom.The men who killed her, had argued that she was a lesbian and should therefore not use women’s bathrooms.After a brief argument, she had walked away, but they followed her – cornering her only a few metres from her home, exchanging the knife with each other as they took turns stabbing her.Three days before Freedom Day in 2011, Noxolo Nogwaza, a LGBTI rights activist from Ekurhuleni was raped and then stoned and stabbed to death in KwaThema, where Eudy Simelane had been brutally murdered three years earlier.Used condoms and beer bottles were found around Nogwaza’s body, which had been left in a drainage ditch.Just last year, Noxolo Xakeka was killed in Strand.While out partying on New Year’s Day, the 23-yearold was harassed and called names by a man who teased her about her sexuality.When Noxolo fought back, he beat her. Not too long after that, he grabbed a knife and stabbed her repeatedly.Also in 2018, married lesbian couple Joey and Anisha van Niekerk were found dead after a brutal attack in Mooinooi.The women were raped, killed and then set on fire.A year before that, 27-yearold Lerato “Tambai” Moloi was killed in Naledi, Soweto.Her half-naked body was found with stab wounds and big stones were strewn around the head.A week before Moloi’s murder, the burnt body of Nonkie Smous was discovered in Maokeng township in Kroonstad in the Free State.Three days before Smous’s murder, another lesbian woman was gang-raped, stabbed and hit on the head with a rock in Potchefstroom. She survived the attack.A few months before, another young woman, Noluvo Swelindawo, was abducted, assaulted and then shot dead in Khayelitsha.I could count many lesbian women who have been raped or violently killed in SA S over the past 25 years – their only crime being their sexual orientation.What I can also count is the number of men who have walked free after being charged with the rapes and murders of these women – and the number of cases where no perpetrators have been found.The statistics are debilitating, to say the least.So last weekend, when the country was celebrating Freedom Day, I was thinking of Eudy Simelane and the LGBTI community for whom freedom means so little.I was thinking of how the new SA that promised a life of dignity for all continues to be a torture chamber for lesbian women, particularly those in townships, who have been rendered pariahs in their own country.I was thinking of the injustice of it all – and when I went to sleep that night, for the first time in many years, I prayed. . . for freedom to mean something more than what the most vulnerable in our society have to endure.May we never forget Eudy Simelane and all these women whose deaths ought to remind us never to be inhumane again...