Patricia Nell Warren

Rape and Murder of a Lesbian Soccer Player

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | May 16, 2008 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Eudy Simelane murder, lesbian soccer player, South African Bill of Rights

The crime is horrific in itself, but few countries can point an accusing finger at South Africa and not admit that crimes like this are endemic within their own borders. On April 28, in a town near Johannesburg, the body of a prominent black lesbian activist and former soccer player was found lying in a weedy field. Eudy Simelane, 31, had been gang-raped and riddled with stab wounds.

Two days later, on April 30, five young men were taken into custody on suspicion of her murder. At least one of the five was a neighbor of the victim, and had been seen in her company prior to the killing. According to news reports, three other men may also be arrested. As the news hit the international wires, human-rights advocates didn't doubt that this gruesome crime was meant to send a message of hate and intimidation.

The local community of Kwatema, where liberal issues have evidently made some progress, was outraged over Simelane's fate. With noisy pickets in the street outside the courthouse, and furious messages being sent to the African National Congress, and every seat in the courtroom packed, the five men were arraigned a few days ago, and the woman judge denied bail.

Simelane had lived for soccer, as midfielder for South Africa's gallant but struggling national women's football team, the Banyana Banyana. After she stopped playing, she stayed in the sport as a referee, and became activist after she came out. Her memorial service took place at the local Methodist Church; she was buried next day. Simelane leaves behind a grieving lesbian partner, Sibongile Vilakazi.

In the last two years, at least three other South African lesbians have been raped, tortured and murdered. The murderers have never been brought to justice; indeed, in cases like these, S.A. police often "lose" vital documents and evidence, so the cases seldom go to trial. Yet South Africa was the first nation in the world to include sexual orientation in its Bill of Rights.

We are all challenged to see Simelane's death in the context of a global trend: growing violence against women and girls everywhere, whether they are heterosexual or lesbian or bi or trans. Females are murdered by individuals or groups of men who act as vigilantes or death squads or morals police, driven by a self-righteous sense of duty and overweening conviction that their intended victims have "transgressed" against the dicta of whatever religions the men feel they represent.

As more and more women everywhere struggle to free themselves from traditional strictures, they face growing male opposition to their choice of a free personal destiny -- including their right to express their sexual orientation and gender in different ways. Whether it's women in Afghanistan and Iran who are facing Muslim fundamentalist fury, or women in Guatemala who are facing the fury of Catholic fundamentalists, or Hindu women in India who face the fury of "dowry murder," ultraconservatives in these religions feel no shame or embarrassment at the way a "principle" can provoke a physically stronger man -- or a whole gang of men -- to beat a single unarmed woman to a pulp.

The United States doesn't escape this stain either. Here, four women a day are murdered by husbands or boyfriends. Violent crimes against lesbians, bi women and transwomen are spiking as a part of that trend. We Americans can't deny that festering fundamentalist Christianity is at the root of our own women's woes. The Old Testament --always such a motivator for fundamentalists -- teaches that male heads of families have a duty to kill their wives and daughters if they get out of line (Deuteronomy 13:6). These harsh beliefs are very old, and lie buried very deep in the collective consciousness of our civilization. From these deep layers, harsh belief seeps upwards to affect the thinking of men who don't even go to church. So it's going to take more than a single generation of education and enlightened law to root out these old beliefs.

As I read some of the thousands of message-board comments on Simelane's murder around the world, I was struck by one that compared the global assault on women's lives to the unfolding of a great natural disaster. Yukiga said, "The earth getting old.....earthquake....happen all the times. i still remember when tsunami took almost 250.000 people just in 10 minutes. The worst we dont learn from it...our country make a world record in destroying forest in one day. Sad..human never learn ... The issue in south africa...is something u cant avoid. In country which has strong culture and religion r mostly put man above women. And it will happen everytime women r show their strenght or power. Thets why there's no open lesbian in my country."

The trial of Simelane's murderers is sure to continue making headlines. It will be interesting to see what sort of defense the five men's lawyers try to concoct.


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with all our celebration yesterday, this is a powerful reminder of how far we still have to go.

we need to push and push hard for more rights, more equality in our country.

and we need to remember those in the rest of the world.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 16, 2008 11:49 AM

Patricia, thank you for returning us to the sour realities of life being Gay and away from our present infatuation with California. Something that strikes me about your piece is that all rape sends a message of hate toward women and intimidation. In Southern Africa I have only spent time in SA and Zimbabwe, but the attitudes I have observed among men toward women are atrocious.

Having spent time in SA, and being aware that Johannesburg is now referred to as rape capitol of the world, this attitude is toward all women and is universally reprehensible and obviously not exclusively toward lesbian women. There is no logical way or manner in a "Christian" and highly industrialized country, that rape is used as a manner of keeping women "in line." I believe that those who rape are opportunistic, sadistic cowards.

I am glad to share that there is now a troop of female rape survivors who have become police officers in South Africa specifically to deal with these problems. In the May 6th issue of "The Cape Times" Andrea Hart stated:"rape/homocide against women over 13 in South Africa is higher than all female homicides in the United States." They are also much more violent and tend to usually end with the victim having stab wounds.

This sadly may have been one in an incident of over 58,000 reported rapes in South Africa per year. Her being lesbian could just be incidental as well. Her high profile has assisted in someone being charged at least. Knowing somewhat, how these things work, I hope they have found the right five men and are able to ascertain through hard DNA evidence that they are convicting the truly guilty. It is hard for a non tribal western mind to get around this, but it is the equivalent of: "You will confess to this or your mother, brother, father, sister, will suffer." (that could be either the gang or the police speaking) It does happen. Thank you for reminding us all of this horrible cultural problem in SA which they make slow progress in solving.

Robert, thanks for your in-depth comment, which added a whole crucial dimension to my story. It's much appreciated.

As a footnote, the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be played in South Africa...for men, of course.

Of course it's for men, Patricia. Wouldn't want those women to come in and mess things up for us, would we?

This story is not only horrific enough, but the history of rape in South Africa makes it stand out even further.

This is a reminder of how far WE all have to go! I am saddened by this very very much! I hold this womyn up into the light today!