Article by Wanelisa Albert, Advocacy Coordinator, Iranti
“I worked very hard for Pasca to finish her school but it was all for nothing,”
says Betty Melamu (while holding her daughter’s matric certificate) on a BBC podcast reporting on LGBTI hate crimes in South Africa. Pascalina Melamu is a lesbian woman who was brutally murdered in Everton, in the Vaal region of Gauteng in December 2015. Pascalina was kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered with her genitals cut off. No arrests have been made. Unfortunately, Pascalina’s story is not a unique case but one of many increasing numbers of hate crimes against LGBTI persons in our South African townships.
As a queer human rights visual media organization, Iranti deals with an overwhelming amount of cases regarding hate crimes. In the past couple of months, Iranti has seen a rise in the cases of hate crimes especially the murder of lesbian women in our townships. Last month, Lucia Naido was stabbed to deathfour times outside her home in Katlehong. In the same neighbourhood, a young gay youth was also stabbed to death four times outside his home, after refusing to leave with the perpetrator. Iranti is gathering facts around the case and the identity of the young man.
In the Vaal region, another young woman, a friend of the late Pascalina was kidnapped and raped around the same time. She has had to flee her community in fear of her safety. Another lesbian woman was raped after Vaal Pride in August, a few months before the murder of Pascalina. After opening a case, the perpetrator was released after 3 days and it is unclear whether he was charged.
In the North West, a trans* woman was attacked with stones and beaten up with a glass bottle while at her home with friends in Klerksdorp. The man then proceeded to threaten the woman saying,
“You are a man and I am going to beat you and kill your gay friends.”
At a McDonalds in Ghandi Square in Gauteng, two South African men and one Nigerian man physically assaulted a gay youth while the staff of the franchise looked on and laughed.
These harrowing stories are but a few of the many narratives of dehumanization and violence that LGBTI youth face in South Africa, including our education system. In Mafikeng, a learner was sexually assaulted by a teacher on the school premises because she is a lesbian. The very same learner was later victimized for refusing to wear a school dress. Iranti has documented the case and now lobbying government to change the uniform policy. In Taung, North West a learner was expelled from school because she was a lesbian. These stories are not unique and new but an ongoing yet growing ill-treatment of LGBTI youth in our education system.
In the BBC podcast a man goes on record he would kill his daughter if she came home and told him she was a lesbian. “I might slap her. I might kill her… If someone would say choose between keeping this child or killing it. I would kill it,” he says while laughing. Another man agrees with him, “I couldn’t have said it better!” These hateful views are a growing concern especially considering the increasing number of deaths of LGBTI persons.
So what is the State’s role in intervening? LGBTI community-based organizations constantly have to put pressure on South African Police Services to follow up on the investigations of hate crimes. Most often, some of the police are homophobic or not well informed about sexual orientation and gender identities. This also contributes to the low rate of the sentencing of perpetrators. One then wonders how LGBTI communities can access justice if the people tasked with serving justice are hateful and prejudiced?
One thing is clear, South Africa has constitutional obligations towards LGBTI person that it is not living up to. If South Africa commits itself to upholding the human dignity of all citizens, then the deaths of Black lesbians in our townships should be treated as a rising crises that needs urgent attention. Pascalina never lived to see her matric results or attenda tertiary institution. How many Pascalina’s and Lucia’s are we waiting for before the State takes heed of this silent genocide?