South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation.” Home to one of the most vibrant, symptoms active and creative activist movements of the 20th century. The first nation on earth to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in the constitution. The first African country to legalize same-sex marriage and the world’s first republic to guarantee LGBT citizens equal rights in all realms of life (including adoption and military service).
It would be fitting, view then, that South Africa would have an open, vibrant and relatively safe LGBT community. Gay and lesbian citizens, one would imagine, walk the urban streets hand in hand, living relatively carefree lives. Any violence or discrimination against the LGBT community would be approached by the South African government with the same severity as any other form of hatred or oppression.
Sadly, the reality of the lives of LGBT South Africans is much more dire, and much less supported, than the aforementioned history might suggest.
Luleki Sizwe is trying to change that. Founded by community activist Ndumie Funda, Luleki Sizwe is a small Cape Town charity that works to rescue, support, feed and nurse to health survivors of ‘corrective rape’, whereby men rape lesbian women to ‘turn’ them straight or ‘cure’ them of their sexual orientation. Ndumie founded Luleki Sizwe in 2007 after her fiancÃ©e was the a victim of ‘corrective rape’.
Run by four volunteers, Luleki Sizwe is active 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’.
According to the organization, every week more than 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped in the city of Cape Town alone. 150 women are raped every day in South Africa and over the past decade 31 lesbians have been murdered because of their sexuality. 510 women report being the victims of ‘corrective rape’ in South Africa each year.
Yet despite local and international activism around the issue, the South African legal system does not recognize such attacks, or any violence committed on the basis of sexual orientation, to be hate crimes. More broadly, for every 100 men accused of rape in South Africa, 96 of them walk free.
Last month the South African authorities released Andile Ngcoza, a man who raped, beat up and strangled Millicent Gaika (pictured above) 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 Funda, who had helped Millicent Gaika recover from the rape and advocated for her case, to go into hiding.
“Whilst [Ndumie] was in hiding, another victim of corrective-rape, Bulelwa, committed suicide because she could not get the help she needed and Ndumie was not able to come out of hiding to assist,” the organization wrote on their blog. “This is unacceptable, that Ndumie should have to fear for her life, that Millicent has to fear for her life, whilst an animal like Andile Ngcoza is free to live his life and to walk around in the same community as them and laugh at them and make threats against them and their loved ones.”
With the help of international donations, earlier this week Luleki Sizwe announced the charity would buy its first safe house, and Ndumie is moving today.
“We are not safe so we are moving to the new place,” she told Change.org. “It’s a really hard situation so hopefully this will provide a bit of safety for me and the girls. We have some money now to put up some security gates and some locks, so there will be safety.”
Here’s where we all come in:
Luleki Sizwe group has now gone national in their advocacy, directly petitioning South African Justice Minister Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe.
“The South African government and the justice system is failing these victims of corrective rape by letting the perpetrators out on ridiculously low bail, and taking literally years to bring the court-cases to a conclusion,” reads the petition to the minister. “In the meantime the victims have to live with seeing their rapists every day, being taunted and threatened by them, as are those who help the victims!”
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Photo credit: Luleki Sizwe