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Sunday, 7 November 2010

In South Africa, lesbians fight back against 'corrective rape' epidemic

Ndumie Funda
Source: Diva

By Becky Crosland

Ndumie Funda is late picking me up from my hostel in Cape Town, so I lounge around in reception, flanked by the local resident, a furry feline of sorts. I am about to be whisked off to the suburbs, or as they are commonly known, the Townships of Cape Town where black people are living in poverty and segregation – the remnants of apartheid are still very obvious in a modern South Africa. When she arrives she apologises, one of the corrective rape victims she supports needed help. She looks a bit tense, and firstly I wonder whether she might be a bit apprehensive about taking me to see her cabin where she lives and the victims sleep, up to six at a time. I deduce that it’s the stress of the last eviction, needing to find another place to live by the end of the month, court cases, police appointments, 24/7 of her personal life working with the victims. A life dedicated to the foundation that she set up in honour of her fiancé who fell victim to a corrective rape and later died; it all adds up on the stress level front. She is strong, she is a mother, a sister, a mentor, but the 24/7 intensity gets to her and it is putting a strain on her current relationship.

We head off to the East of Cape Town snaking up the hill overlooking the Waterfront and Robben Island with Table Mountain nestled safely in the midst of this bustling and dynamic city. Cape Town is famed for its beauty and its European vibe, perhaps on a par with San Francisco. I realise now that this ‘vision’ does not include or apply to the Townships – they are hidden behind the mountain, and though part of Cape Town, they seem miles away from the hustle and bustle of inner Cape Town. As we head out onto the freeway the townships start appearing. Small brick houses, shacks and dust roads spring into view. On the grassy patches separating the freeway lanes, boys have set up makeshift soccer pitches; it actually looks very professional and organised from my point of view bar the location. We exit for Langa where Ndumie’s mum lives where we stop to say hello, because I wanted to meet her. She seems very lovely and when I ask Ndumie about her mother’s feelings towards her sexuality she gives me one of those wide eyed smiles that obviously says it all; it has been accepted but barely, and it took a long way to get to that point. Current rape figures in the townships highlight the general negative perception towards gay people.

We are now en route to her cabin in Nyanga, the township murder capital. Before we get to the cabin, she turns off onto a side road and stops at a sunny little enclosure, overgrown with grass where litter is dumped and scrawled on a wall it read ‘Bad Boyz’. This, she informs me, is where one of her girls was raped. This sun drenched spot marks a dark moment in Ndumie’s ongoing quest to change social attitude amongst these Township communities and the rest of South Africa. Acceptance of non heterosexual orientation is few and far between, and the regular practice of so called corrective rape of lesbians in South Africa is a stark reminder of how much society needs to change in order to protect this vulnerable group of women from an insular section of society. More than 10 lesbians a week are raped or gang raped in Cape Town alone and most of these crimes are not reported due to fear of reprisals and lack of support by the relevant authorities. Many more remain silent because of the shame and embarrassment associated with their sexual orientation and the indignity of the actual rape. Another huge issue is HIV – HIV positive people are often ostracised, meaning rape victims refuse to see a doctor and will not report the crime. I ask Ndumie what the general reaction is when a rape is reported. She tells me that the police often laugh.

Ndumie’s cabin, which measures 4 metres by 2 metres, comprises of a tin roof, wooden walls, and newspaper has been propped into the gaps where the wall and roof meet to stop drafts. In England this would just about make it as a shed, in fact, I think that sheds have better insulation than this cabin. At night time, she tells me, howling winds pass through the cabin, and rats scuttle around the place. There is an outdoor toilet and a tap for water. Rape victims gather here at night to eat and sleep. Some sleep on the sofa bed, and some share Ndumie’s bed. It is clear that she does not have her own personal space. The cabin is strangely cosy with the South African flag proudly hanging above the bed, a small microwave stove next to the fridge, and Ndumie’s girlfriend is busily tapping away on an old computer that has been kindly donated by a supporter of the foundation. I am shown pictures of the soccer team she coaches and they recently won a tournament. They look happy and relaxed on the photo’s; they belong to a group of like minded people, they are creating an identity for themselves, they are a group united, fitting into society together. Ideally though, Ndumie needs a shelter for the girls with bedrooms and a room for the computer literacy lessons that take place. A house in the townships costs approximately £5000. I am invited to stay the night next time I am in town, so that I can experience a night in the cabin.

During the day victims have to leave the cabin to get on with their daily lives. Some roam around all day, some are at school. She really needs a house, she says, so that the girls have personal space, and she has personal space. She can set up classes in a house, provide a decent level of care, and with funds, she can afford medicines and basic items such as tampons and toiletries that at the moment she struggles to get hold of because there is only about 50p in the kitty. On top of the cramped and unfir living conditions, Ndumie needs to find another place to put her cabin as she can only stay here until the end of the month. She has no idea where she can put the cabin and the clock is ticking. She was only recently evicted from a plot a few doors up and she ended up sleeping in her car for two days. She had no money for pads and her trousers were covered in blood. The landlord didn’t want all these victims coming and going.

We move on from the cabin to continue my tour of the Townships. Next up is Khayelitsha, an impoverished shanty town full of shacks and bustling with life. A large percentage of the rapes take place in this area. We drive to the magistrates’ court which is where preliminary cases are heard, including rape cases. One corrective rape case has been adjourned 26 times. Ndumie is understandably losing hope. It really seems that they do not care about humans who have had their rights severely violated. To keep the victims and their supporters quiet, they don’t dismiss the case, they just seem to permanently adjourn cases. If they delay this case enough, perhaps people will give up and forget.

Within an open but at the same time closed society, it is not easy to draw attention to specific issues due to the shame, embarrassment and lack of acceptance of an alternative way of life. The stigma attached to being gay, being HIV positive, and to rape is still huge. It has not yet reached a point where it is an accepted way of life to be gay, and that social attitude needs to be changed.

Sitting at Mzoli’s, an atmospheric little restaurant in Gugulethu, we chat about what needs to be done. Without resources or funding, little can be done to promote Luleki Sizwe and the victims of corrective rape are still looking over their shoulders. One girl has gone into hiding because her violator was bailed for 500 rand which is approximately £45. She was dragged into a house, beaten, repeatedly raped and tortured with a cable around her neck – the pictures I have seen of this girl are harrowing. Another victim has accepted payment as a bribe from the family of another violator – to keep her quiet. The amount was hardly worth it. A man does come up to Ndumie and offers her his support – this is good news. Change is on the horizon, and it is all possible with the help of kind hearted people.

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