Interview: South African Corrective Rape Activists

South Africa has been dubbed the rape capital of the world, neurosurgeon with an estimated 150 women raped every day. For lesbian women, syphilis the threat is even worse, adiposity with more than 500 women a year reporting themselves the victims of ‘corrective rape‘, whereby men rape lesbian women to ‘turn’ them straight or ‘cure’ them of their sexual orientation.

Ndumie Funda has led a volunteer army of less than half a dozen anti-‘corrective rape’ activists ever since her female fiancée was the a victim of ‘corrective rape’ three years ago. The founder of Luleki Sizwe, Ndumie works alone from an incredibly humble safehouse to rescue, support, feed and nurse to health survivors of ‘corrective rape’ in 10 Cape Town townships, a term which historically refers to highly-underdeveloped non-white neighborhoods on the outskirts of South African cities, somewhat akin to ‘slums’.

All that changed a couple months ago, when South African authorities released Andile Ngcoza, a man who raped, beat up and strangled Millicent Gaika for five hours to ‘turn her straight’, in a case that has been well covered by Change.org. Mr Ngcoza was released on 60 rand bail, the equivalent of less than $10. That led Ndumie, who had helped Millicent Gaika recover from the rape and advocated for her case, to go into hiding (the first, original safehouse is pictured above and below).

From a new safehouse, Ndumie worked with volunteer supporters to send a formal letter to South Africa’s Minister of Justice Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe calling on him to declare ‘corrective rape’ a hate crime and work to find solutions to the ‘corrective rape’ epidemic.

When the minister did not reply, the women launched a petition. It soon became the most popular Change.org petition of all time, and has garnered more than 66,000 signatures to date.

What did South Africa’s Minister of Justice Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe do after receiving the message that tens of thousands of people all over the world had demanded he do something about ‘corrective rape’?

Absolutely nothing. To date, the only communication from the minister’s office has been a couple terse emails from Tlali Tlali, the minister’s chief of staff about the volume of protest email the ministry is receiving. Tlali Tlali and other ministry officials have made no effort to respond to the content of Luleki Sizwe’s demands.

But Luleki Sizwe activists refused to be ignored, and have since launched another petition calling on Minister Radebe to meet with Ndumie. To date, there has been no response to that request.

Change.org caught up with both Ndumie and Luleki Sizwe volunteer Billi du Preez to discuss the success. The interview is being published in parts – one below and another on the Gay Rights blog.

Change.org: Luleki Sizwe’s petition is now Change.org’s most popular of all time. What’s your reaction?

Ndumie Funda: I’m very excited and overwhelmed by the support and I am really sorry that I haven’t had the ability to thank everyone for their support. We are not a well to do organization and I am flat broke. We do not have Internet access or even a computer. I have to borrow a computer [pictured left] from my cousin so it’s not easy to keep in touch.

But I want the entire world to know the suffering of the people in South Africa. I want us to embarrass the South African government for the way they are acting.

Billi du Preez: Yes it’s been amazing. I’m the one who actually uploaded the petition and I remember I went to bed, woke up the next morning and was like ‘Wow, what the #$% happened last night? (laugh)

Change.org: How have things been since the petition launched?

Ndumie Funda: Life is tough. I can’t tell you how many cases we have.

There is also a guy Andile Ngcoza who is out on bail who is harassing me, and who is sending people to me, telling everyone “We’re gonna get this bitch.” This is an animal who doesn’t care about what he did.

So my old place was in Nyanga [a Cape Town township], which was also a safehouse [pictured below], but now I’m in hiding and I can’t tell you where I am because my life is at risk. I don’t even allow some of the volunteers or friends to come to where I am. I need to be safe and I don’t trust anyone.

Meanwhile there was an incident of a 21-year-old victim of a ‘corrective rape’ in KZN [KwaZulu-Natal, a province in eastern South Africa]. Someone called me and told me ‘She’s about to commit suicide and needs help.’ I couldn’t go to her because I was in hiding, and there was no protection or help for her from the South African government. She was found dead in the toilet.

Change.org: How would getting ‘corrective rape’ declared a hate crime help?

Ndumie Funda: There are so many people who have been victims of corrective rape and nothing ever happens… Desiree got raped last year and was forced to move to the outskirts of Cape Town to avoid interaction with that guy. Another lesbian was raped to death and the police denied that someone was found dead. In another case the victim was sent home from court in the same communal taxi as the guy who raped her.

So declaring something a hate crime is a way for us to put pressure on the South African government and show us that we are serious about this. Its about telling the government that enough is enough.

Billi du Preez: I do believe that corrective rape is a hate crime. But our point is that our police, our government and our justice system is well aware of corrective rape and they are not doing anything about it. If it’s declared a hate crime we feel that it might be taken more seriously. It also might act as a deterrent, because the sentencing that they are currently getting is so minimal.

Change.org: You now have a second petition calling on the Minister of Justice to meet with you. What’s that about?

Ndumie Funda: We are here to demand the services paid for by our tax money. I am more than willing to meet with the minister. He is not an animal. He is a human being and I want to ask him how he would feel if it was his own daughter.

You can follow the ‘corrective rape’ campaign by going to our Facebook page and clicking ‘Like’ at the top of the page. Photo credit: Luleki Sizwe. The video below was produced by The Guardian.