NTERVIEW WITH LINDIWE M – Co-ordinator of Gay and Lesbian Network Hate Crimes Task Team in Pietermaritzburg
“Hate crime is rife in Pietermaritzburg district and in Imbali and there are corrective-rape cases and high school students complaining of ill-treatment by teachers. In one instance the whole school was called to pray for a child who was a lesbian. The pastor was brought in, they wanted to change her and she was sent home. She came back the next day, unchanged. The principal said she must behave like all the other kids. She reported the case and the police laughed at her. She has since changed schools.
”Certain schools were very willing to work with us – there is a high rate of suicide and ill treatment at schools.
We had a workshop with government departments, stakeholders and SAPS with FHR funding. We wanted them to understand the meaning of hate crime and how to treat lesbians who are raped. Unlike four or five years ago, most rape cases are dealt with within 48 hours and so for LGBTI rape we need to organise so that it is the same. In the workshops some people were saying, ‘Corrective rape, some people deserve it’.
A police officer, talking about one rape case, said, ‘If they are raped, why are they pretending to be men?’ If you report rape, they bring a lot of police officers and laugh at you. In the workshops, in most cases we may be talking about health but culture and tradition comes up and some civil servants who attend say things like, ‘I was taught I was a man’. In an Imbali workshop with councilors a man from Correctional Services said, ‘A woman should be in the kitchen – if I am horny as a man my wife has the responsibility too.’
“We conducted a workshop with pastors. They were not quite open but they said other pastors need to hear the stories we told – they said they deal with people of God but since LGBTIs are human also, they should be treated as human. What is now happening is that guys are also being raped and murdered. In Pietermaritzburg there has been a shift. Most times when we talk about “corrective rape” it has been women, but now it is shifting to men. Right now in Pietermaritzburg we are the only LGBTI organisation but if we could reach into the area, we could take greater prevention measures.’
Sipho D is 25 years old and a councilor and facilitator at GLN.
"I had been attacked. It was about six or seven guys. They called me names, I replied to them and then they started to beat me up and stuff. We had a workshop for homosexual and heterosexual people in the community and these guys attended.
"We are now talking to each other. The workshops have really helped a lot. I think those guys can help me now, we became so close it is like nothing had ever happened. I think they felt ashamed and they apologised and I accepted their apology. I can see they have changed from what they were before. Now I can be in my community, they understand the issues we go through. It's a big community in Wilfontein, a semi-rural area outside of Pietermaritzburg.
"My family didn't like the way I was – they knew I was gay. They thought I would change when I was older. After a while I tried educate them so they could understand. They just accepted me for who I am. I think they were in denial."
Progress G is 21 years old and a GLN volunteer.
"The workshops which dealt with sel f-concept and sel f-esteem showed me I am more than what I see in the mirror and they showed me I should be happy in my own skin and the way I am. In one session, there was a drawing of the human body and you had to fill in all the positive things you felt about yourself in that picture. I realised I was not wanting to look at myself in a positive light because of my current sexual preference. I am not the only gay person in my family, I have two gay uncles and I am the flamboyant one – they want me to tone it down a bit because they are in the closet and fear guilt by association. I am just naturally gay, the way I walk and talk and I could not do it any other way. I am out to my mom and other family members in the younger generation but not the older generation.
The sessions helped me to understand I need to make peace with things I can't change and not confine myself to stereotypes. I have stopped looking at myself as gay but as another human being. In the past I always got people coming to me and saying 'cocksucker', especially at a taxi rank in Hammarsdale where I live. At times you do get scared they will hurt you but they break you down with their words and belittle you and you can al most miss a step and fall over. That happened to me. One of them actually came up to my face and swore at me.
The new me is very out there, it is very flamboyant. I have blond highlights and grey contacts and I wear shorts, and lovely, very tight tee-shirts, very comfortable. I am not weird, I am blessed."
Tshepiso M is 21 years old and a GLN counsellor.
"I recognised there was a change in myself after a selfawareness workshop at GLN. I got to feel better about being me. It made me be more aware of how I conducted myself and I saw behavioral changes. Before the workshops, I would react to the stuff people would say to me walking down the street. They can tell I am homosexual. I don't look butch but have a lot of butch friends and before I would go down to their level. Now I am like: You don't give attention to things like that it doesn't matter what people say. I was always the one wanted to get physical with people. I'd be like: What did you just say, those are my friends, what did you just say? And I am the calm one of the pack. I am able to help others. For instance, my girlfriend is just shorttempered and I am like, I see you doing it again."It is always happening [these confrontations]. Two weeks back these guys said, 'This homo sexual crap is going on and someone needs to do something. Someone should be burned or something' and they [my friends] four of them, all replied and I tried to get them out of that space. You realise there are four of you and 10 of them. It is largely young black males [who attack us]. They say, 'You need a man in your life.' What they mean is, I am male: I have power."In the workshops it turned out everyone had near rape experiences. The worst was when someone said she did get raped, solely because the guys saw her with another female – she was feeling terrible but because of the organisation [GLN], she got emotional help and PPT (post rape prophylactic treatment) in time.
"Yes I have a fear of rape. If it has not happened to you it has happened to someone you know. I have a constant fear that if I am not in the right place at the right time it could happen to me.
"It would help to have people from the family in the sessions. Some of us are lucky. When our family learns we are lesbian, we are called in and disciplined for about three months but they do not throw you out. My family took away my phone and I was not allowed to go out, but I was let off the hook. Your family – when everyone is there they leave you alone. They put your food in the kitchen. There are about 20 in my family who did that. It was my mom and my aunts. What made it more difficult is that I was always the golden child, the gentle one. It was always, Can't you be more like Tshepiso, and stuff like that. When it came down to it, in the end, I had nowhere to go."