Marianne Thamm

Our true colours?

2007-07-26 09:09

Marianne Thamm

The case against the key perpetrators in the group of around 20 young schoolboys who chased, clubbed and stabbed Zoliswa Nonkonyana to death in Khayelitsha has still not made it to court.

On February 4, 2006 the 19-year-old lesbian had been walking home with a friend when a schoolgirl had taunted them for being "tomboys" who "needed to be raped".

Later the boys, armed with golf clubs, half-bricks and knives had accosted both girls and chased them through the streets of the Cape Town township. While her friend managed to run to safety, Zoliswa was pursued, felled and beaten to death in full view of her father only a few metres from her home.

At the time it was clear that Zoliswa's murder had been a hate crime but to date no one in authority has spoken out publicly or displayed leadership in condemning the persecutions and killings.

In the meantime several other lesbians have been targeted and brutally murdered across the country, a situation lesbian and gay organisations have warned is indicative of "a growing epidemic of hate crimes".

Last month, well-known Soweto lesbian activist, Sizakele Sigasa and her friend, Salome Masooa, were found dead in a field in Meadowlands. They had been tortured, raped and shot several times. In the same month Simangele Nhlapho, a member of a support group for women living with HIV, and her two-year-old daughter were both murdered. The child's legs had been broken during the vicious attack. In April, Madoe Mafubedu, a 16-year-old lesbian, was raped and repeatedly stabbed to death.

A disturbing pattern

The pattern is disturbing and police spokespersons have consistently refused to describe these murders as "hate crimes", claiming there is no proof of this. And while this may be the case in terms of the gathering of scientific evidence for specific cases, the cultural context in which these crimes occur has been well documented by a number of NGOs who work in the lesbian, gay and transgendered community.

The same worrying official denial was evident among police in the Western Cape investigating the death of at least 40 Somali traders who were killed in attacks that were clearly xenophobic.

It is almost as if authorities fear that owning up to the homoprejudice or the xenophobia that drive these crimes might oblige or require them to work differently in solving them. Perhaps they feel that categorising these crimes as "ordinary" might make them all just go away.

And so, while lesbians and gay men have constitutional protection in South Africa and enjoy the same rights as other South Africans, the community lives in a dual universe.

On the one hand the country is willing to accept the international accolades the inclusion of the Sexual Orientation clause in the Bill of Rights has brought it. Because of this, we are viewed as a beacon for human rights on a continent that is not known for respecting these. We also join only a handful of countries that afford lesbians and gay men equal rights.

Hypocrisy

Which is why, on the other hand, it is so significant (and so baffling) that the South African delegation to the UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) chose to abstain (for a second year) from voting on a motion to recognise two international non-governmental organisations to represent lesbian and gay interests on this international forum.

Ecosoc is important in that it assists the UN General Assembly to promote international economic and social co-operation and development. The council has 54 members, elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term and meets once a year in July for a four-week session. Ecosoc advises member nations and makes recommendations on a number of issues, including human rights.

The two organisations that were up for inclusion in the consultative process this year were the Coalition Gaie et Lesbainne du Quebec and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights.

Their inclusion was "even more pressing given the ongoing human rights violations committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, often facilitated through State sponsored homophobia, across the world" according to a statement by the Joint Working Group that represents several South African NGOs.

The South African delegation gave no reasons for its decision to abstain from voting. In the end Ecosoc granted the two NGOs consultative status by a comfortable margin of 21-13, with 12 abstentions. Eight states were absent.

Countries that voted in favour included Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Norway, Luxembourg, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Japan, the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand among others.

Terrible price

It would be interesting to learn how the delegates who represented South Africa were selected and why it is they chose to abstain. Unfortunately their actions, particularly given the current situation in the country, could be read as a tacit endorsement of homoprejudice.

And not speaking out or showing clear leadership on these matters, has a terrible, terrible price.

The JWC has charged that South Africa "has reneged on its responsibility to provide political leadership in keeping with our own progressive, legal framework that recognises, respects and seeks to fulfill the full rights of Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and transgendered people".

Perhaps now we should invite the Coalition Gaie et Lesbainne du Quebec and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights to visit our country so they can investigate and advise the UN - and maybe even government - about how to go about changing the deadly culture of homoprejudice that seems to be growing.

Send your comments to Marianne.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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