Wednesday, August 15, 2007


In the area of rights for gays and lesbians South Africa appears to have a long way to go. Despite constitutional guarantees of equality and equal protection for all, the reality is far different.

Addressing Rainbow UCT, the University of Cape Town's gay and lesbian rights organisation on gay rights The Independent reports Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Cameron said there was a substantial disjunct between constitutional promises of equality for all and the realities on the ground.

"We have come very far. We have much to rejoice about and we did embrace a democratic constitution. But we have failed to relate those into meaningful realities.

"There is rampant racism, rampant inequality and prejudice against gays and lesbians. We have a long way to go before the constitutional promises are translated."

Cameron who is openly gay the issue of sexual orientation was one that tested the commitment of putting the past in the past.

South Africa celebration of National Women's Day last week was in fact overshadowed by the debate about homophobia in the country which has intensified since the recent murders of several lesbians.

Sizakele Sigasa, 34, and 23-year-old Salome Masooa's bodies were found in a field in Soweto in late July.

The Director of the Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian network, Anthony Waldhausen told the Independent the killings were a shocking, but not unfamiliar image in South Africa, in the light of the recent increase in violence and rape against women and men who were either suspected of supporting, or who supported, lesbian and gay rights. He said:

"Violence against lesbians and gays is un-South African. Here, oppression and discrimination have no place, still there are parents who reject or kick children out on to the streets. Siblings, friends and communities sometimes hurt, beat, rape, torture and even kill lesbians and gays.

If they survive all this, they face further victimisation at in the hands of the police and even the courts. This is not justice at all."

The following is from Rainbow Network News.

Lesbians Targeted For Murder In South Africa

The recent brutal murders of three lesbians show that South Africa’s constitutional promise of equal protection has yet to become a reality, the Human Rights Watch said in a recent letter to President Thabo Mbeki.

On July 8, the bodies of Sizakele Sigasa, age 34, and Salome Masooa, age 24, were found in a field in Meadowlands, Soweto. Sigasa had been shot six times; Masooa had been shot once. Sigasa was openly lesbian and an activist for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people’s rights.

In another case, believed to be unrelated, the body of Thokozane Qwabe, age 23, was found in a field in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, on July 22. She had multiple head wounds and was naked. Local nongovernmental organizations have informed Human Rights Watch that, based on how the bodies and clothing were found, they suspect rape in both cases.

“Despite legal commitments to equality for all, lesbians in South African townships are still targeted for rape and murder,” Jessica Stern, researcher in the LGBT Rights Program of Human Rights Watch, said in a release. “Poverty, prejudice, homophobia and sexism are building a new pass system, where many women dare not walk openly on the street.”

Police have refused to speculate on whether the victims’ sexual orientation was a motive for the murders. They have detained, but not arrested, four people in connection with the murders of Sigasa and Masooa, and have reportedly arrested and charged a suspect in Qwabe’s death.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution contains landmark equality protections that made it the first constitution in the world to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, inequality as well as violence persists.

A mob murdered Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19-year-old lesbian, in a Cape Flats township in March 2006. A friend walking with Nkonyana escaped and later recounted how the mob accused them of being “tomboys” who “wanted to be raped.” More Than a Name, a joint report of Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, documented the experiences of lesbians who survived rape or lived in perpetual fear of rape, as well as partial or inadequate investigations by authorities into allegations of homophobic abuse.

“Lesbians’ lives are not expendable,” Stern said.

Human Rights Watch has called on the South African government to ensure that the ongoing investigations of these murders are thorough and impartial, and can lead to the identification and successful prosecution of those responsible. It also emphasized the importance of recognizing that the victims’ sexual orientation and gender may have been a motivating and aggravating factor in the crime. It urged the government to reaffirm equality before the law and to launch public education campaigns to eliminate homophobic prejudice in all walks of life. It called on police and other authorities to work closely with groups working for LGBT and women’s rights in pursuing investigations, developing effective policies, and in building trust with their communities.

Human Rights Watch also urged constitutional bodies charged with promoting equality—including the Human Rights Commission and Gender Equality Commission—to take up issues of sexual orientation and gender identity meaningfully and directly.

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