‘Like walking in a war zone’

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homophobic violence INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Keith Sibanda fled Zimbabwe after being persecuted for being gay Photo: Greg Maxwell

Lesbians in townships around Cape Town say they fear for their lives following a spate of violent attacks.

One woman told the Cape Argus she had been warned by a neighbour that a group of men from the area were plotting to harm her and other lesbians.

“We are now so scared that we are considering carrying weapons so we can defend ourselves.”

Nozuko Ndwane (not her real name) from Khayelitsha said some men felt threatened by them and thought they could change them.

“They think we want to take over their clothes and girlfriends. We are not trying to be them… we will never be men; we are girls,” said Ndwane.

The brutal murder of 22- year-old openly lesbian Phumeza Nkolonzi of Nyanga just over a week ago sent shock waves through the the gay and lesbian community.

Nkolonzi was shot three times by an unknown man who kicked down the door to her Mau Mau home and fired at her without saying a word in front of her 70-year-old grandmother and six-year-old niece.

The gunman is still at large.

Members of lesbian and gay lobby group Free Gender say they don’t know who will be attacked next.

”We are now scared to walk around the township. You can feel the tension in the air around here and in Nyanga. Phumeza’s murder has shown that we are not safe even in our homes… it’s like we are walking around in a war zone, we don’t know what’s going to happen next,” said 29-year-old Ndwane.

Two years ago, Ndwane was attacked and beaten until she collapsed and lost consciousness while walking with a group of friends in Green Point.

“They started swearing at us calling us f***ing lesbians and tomboys. We ignored them and walked past them. One of them came towards me and punched me in the face. I tried to fight back… he hit me again and again. That incident left me traumatised and made me realise the extreme hate harboured by some men towards lesbians and gays… I’m lucky I survived, it could have been worse.”

Activist and Free Gender Founder Funeka Soldaat said hate crimes against the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) community were on the rise in townships.

“It’s getting worse. Homophobic attacks against lesbians are becoming a norm especially in Nyanga and Khayelitsha. Although police are still investigating the motive of the attack it’s clear Phumeza’s death was a hate crime, not a robbery,” she said.

Soldaat added that having religious leaders such as Cape Flats Reverend Oscar Bougardt preaching to communities that “gays and lesbians should burn in hell”, is making things worse.

“We are trying to spread awareness and tolerance in communities and churches and we have this man who is respected by many as a man of God saying we should be killed. It’s perpetuating hate crimes.

“Even more worrying is the president’s silence on the matter… how many more have to die before this issue is taken seriously?”

Free Gender is currently raising funds for Phumeza’s funeral, planned for next week.

It is not only local gay people under attack. A recent report by local NGO Passop found that refugees and asylum seekers also face challenges.

The report is a result of a survey conducted in April among 25 LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers.

It stated that homosexuality was illegal in 38 out of 54 countries in Africa, with some countries allowing for the death penalty.

“Homophobia, expressed by social attitudes and legal provision, has made this social group outcast, isolated from their family, community and society. As a result, many are fleeing their country of origin to South Africa where they hope to find greater safety, freedom and happiness.

“Upon arrival in South Africa, a nation characterised by the co-existence of progressive legislation upholding the rights of lesbians and gay men, LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers are faced with new challenges,” the report said.

It added that it was difficult for LGBTI refugees to find jobs “even among some gay-friendly businesses, such as clubs, restaurants or hotels”.

Keith Sibanda, 24, moved to Cape Town from Zimbabwe in 2006.

He first lived in Dunoon but he now lives in Delft. He said he feels safer here than he did in Zimbabwe, although it still hurts that people call him “moffie”.

“Some people will never understand that I don’t know why God created me like this and that I have never been with a woman… I am attracted only to men.”

Sibanda is unemployed and depends on friends for money and food. People do not take him seriously when he approaches them for jobs.

The report highlighted the fact that many gay refugees and asylum seekers were discriminated against by their landlords and those who reported these incidents to the police were let down by a “lack of responsiveness”.

* A safe house in Gugulethu, the iThemba Lam “my hope” Christian Centre for Reconciliation and Healing, has become a place safety for members the LGBTI community who have been exiled by their families and communities. It serves the Tambo Village community and surrounding areas such as Khayelitsha and Nyanga, by protecting those individuals who are shunned by their families after coming out about their sexual orientation.

Violent attacks on the gay community:

* Nyanga: June 23, Phumeza Nkolonzi is gunned down by an unknown man in her home in front of her grandmother, 70, and niece, six.

* Brooklyn: June 6, Neil Daniels, 36, the son of a pastor, is found stabbed and set alight in a field near his home.

* Kuruman: June 9, transgender 23-year-old Thapelo Makutle of North West is severely mutilated after an argument about his sexuality.

* Nyanga: June 10, 2011, Nxolo Nkosana, 23, is stabbed four times in the back and neck while walking home with her partner. She survived the attack.

* Nyanga: October 30, 2011, a year after she disappeared, the body of lesbian Ntsiki Tyatyeka, 21, is found in a wheelie bin in a neighbour’s backyard.

* Khayelitsha: February 2006: Zoliswa Nkonyana, 19, is stabbed, clubbed and beaten to death by a group of men for allegedly living openly as a lesbian. Four men were convicted of her murder.

New SA gay party launched

A gay political party has been launched in SA and is a first for Africa.

The GLBTI party of SA (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender & Intersex) was created at the beginning of May by Nicholas Gregory, a marketing and design executive from Bloemfontein.

The new party aims to represent the interests of the gay community and plans to take part in the 2014 national elections.

On their newly launched website listed as part of their draft constitution, the GLBTI party lists its aims as including alleviating discrimination and reducing the number of incidents of hate crimes against the gay community in South Africa.

The party also stands for promoting safe sex relationships and demystifying the HIV pandemic, and aims to break the chain of violence against black gays and lesbians in South African townships

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