Lesbians in some Cape Town townships live in such fear of attack by people who reject their sexual orientation that a group who went to a lesbian’s memorial service on Thursday were too afraid to enter Nyanga without an escort.
“We had to go and fetch them. We had to call some and tell them to avoid a few spots. They were really scared of going into the area,” Free Gender founder Funeka Soldaat said as about 100 people gathered in Nyanga for a memorial service for Phumeza Nkolonzi, a 21-year-old lesbian who was shot dead two weeks ago.
Soldaat said at a meeting earlier this week that activists had asked police to patrol the area where Nkolonzi lived and to be visible while her family and friends held the service.
“Lesbians who live in Nyanga are scared of being visible in their area because they fear being killed or raped,” Soldaat said.
Although she feared for her safety and that of other lesbians, they would not stop their fight against intolerance, she said.
Activists and Nkolonzi’s friends sang and danced at her home on Thursday in celebration of her life. A lesbian friend of Nkolonzi’s who had travelled from Blue Downs and did not want to be identified, fearing she might be victimised, said she and several other lesbians had been threatened by a group of men not far from Nkolonzi’s house.
“They called us names and tried to rob us. They knew we were coming here because some of us had been helping at Phumeza’s house the whole week. Many were uneasy about coming to this area because people in Nyanga seem to be intolerant of lesbians,” she said.
Nkolonzi was shot and killed in her home in Mau Mau, Nyanga, nearly two weeks ago in front of her grandmother and six-year-old niece. Free Gender believes she was killed because she was a lesbian. It is believed the gunman kicked down her door and shot her three times.
Her grandmother Lizzie Venfola said on Thursday: “My heart is free. My child is at peace now. I have forgiven whoever is responsible for this. They must just know they did not do this to me or my Phumeza but they did it to themselves. They will have to answer to the Lord.”
Nkolonzi lived a few houses from where the decomposing body of Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka – also a lesbian – was found in a wheelie bin in September after she had been missing for about a year. Her neighbour Vuyisile Madikane was charged with her murder and will appear in the Wynberg Regional Court later this month.
Nyanga CPF chairman Martin Makasi said on Thursday there was a lack of respect for the law in Nyanga.
He urged lesbian groups to connect with police.
“There is nothing that says you should be victimised because of your sexual orientation. Lesbian or not, you belong in Nyanga,” Makasi said.
He urged the community to stop protecting criminals.
Last year Noxolo Nkosana, 23, a lesbian from Nyanga, survived a brutal attack in which a man stabbed her four times with a broken bottle.
In February, the four killers of Khayelitsha teenager Zoliswa Nkonyana, who was stoned, kicked and beaten to death for being a lesbian, were sentenced to 14 years in jail after the trial had been postponed over 40 times.
The Gay and Lesbian Organisation in the Northern Cape (Legbo) says homophobia in SA townships was worse than in other areas.
“We feel like foreigners in our own country. The government must stop keeping silent while homosexual people are killed like mosquitoes and flies,” Legbo director Shaine Griqua said. The murder of Legbo volunteer Thapelo Makutle, 24, last month had given the organisation a platform from which to create awareness about the rights of gay and lesbian people, he added.
Makutle was found murdered in his room in Tsweding Village, Kuruman, apparently after an argument with two men who questioned him about his sexuality.
Last September a Joint Task Team on a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Intervention Strategy” was established by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to look into hate crimes.
Hishaam Mohamed, the justice department’s regional head, said on Thursday the forum was very active and met often. But last month DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko complained that the team had not yet shown any results. She called on the government to break its “deafening” silence on hate crimes against homosexuals.