By Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA
A march aiming to highlight and put an end to police brutality against homosexuals and other marginalised groups started with drama on Friday 29 October 2010 as the station commander of Vosloorus police station announced through his subordinates that he was in a meeting and could not be able to receive the memorandum that was to be delivered by gay rights groups.
Gay rights activists and and community members of Vosloorus marching to call an end to police brutality against marginalised groups
Demonstrators demanded his precence and threatened to continue marching until he is done with the meeting. “To us this [his absence] is an insult, we had notified him well in advance and he agreed that he would come and receive the memorandum. It would be better if he had notified us that he would not not receive the memorandum then we would expect him to send someone in his position”, said Nokhwezi Hoboyi of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
When consensus was reached, Deputy Station Commander Mapenya, received the memorandum which denounced the “abuse of power” and “ignorance about the law” by police throughout the country, particularly when handling cases against the marginalised such as lesbians and gays.
“It is illegal to arrest us, to punish us for being who we are, we call on the police to join us as partners and not perpetrators, we will not accept police violence and brutality against anybody, as is not only lesbians and gays that are often brutalised and unfairly treated by the police but many other marginalised people”, community members and civil society organisations said.
In the memorandum, activists spoke of what they called “serious concerns.”
“Our presence here today is to stand with all those who face police brutality throughout the country, we will continue to mobilise in the community, to stand up and make our voices heard until such time that the police become partners in our struggles against discrimination”, the memorandum read.
Gay rights activist Emily Craven stated, “What we saying today is that two years in a row police here have gotten away scotch free and we will not let them get away with it [the brutality and harassment perpertrated against marginalised groups].”
Other demands included access to justice for all people, an end to police homophobia, a full investigation as to why the Vosloorus Police Station has become notorious for homophobia and violence and that steps are taken by police to address concerns by the community, by partnering with the community against discrimination.
“Down with homophobia and police brutality, my sexuality need not count before I can be given service by the South African Police, an injury to one is an injury to all, we get beaten up for being homosexuals while our constitution says we must be protected from all forms of discrimination, many lesbians have been victimised”, said Hoboyi.
Cosatu’s Germiston Local Secretary Lindi Khonjelwayo said, “We don’t want minority groups to be subjected to police brutality, we are on guard, we can not accept that those who are meant to protect are the ones calling people names, it is a question of ensuring that the constitution is defended, all shall be equal before the law and what is happening is against and in opposition of the law.”
“As Cosatu we are here in partnership with all the lobbying groups here today, we will not allow a situation where we will be taken back to pre 1994 we are therefore demanding on behalf of Cosatu and on behalf of this lobby group, that Mapenya, once you sign this memorandum please understand that there is promotion of administrative justice in this country and we are requesting you to respond within a period of seven days to all these concerns that are raised , failure to comply with that the matter shall be raised within the office of the minister”, Khonjelwayo added.
In response Mapenya stated, “This memorandum I am going to take it to the management of this station and we promise that we will look into your needs and demands and then we will meet with you.”
According to the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP), the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), the 1 in 9 Campaign the march was prompted by the ongoing brutality by the police not only in in response to attacks of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgnder and Intersex people, but on marginalised communities and individuals throughout the country with more emphasis on the cases at the Vosloorus Police Station, said to have been have been violent and on the spotlight recently.
On 3 October 2010 after the annual Joburg Pride twelve people were arrested at a private gathering in Extension 14 Vosloorus at 03h30 in the morning and were charged with obstruction of justice and attacking a police officer.
It is alleged that a witness reported that the police used force and verbally abused and ridiculed a lesbian saying ‘there are no lesbians in Vosloorus and you can now run and call 3rd Degree’, a TV show on which she had appeared earlier this year discussing police harassment against LGBTI people in the township.
All the charges were later dropped on the 5 October 2010, an act which activists said was indicative of the lack of evidence for these accusations as it has become commonplace for people to be arrested and not prosecuted by the police, using arrest itself as a form of intimidation.
Furthermore, last year, following the Ekurhuleni Pride March in Kwa-Thema, 8 lesbians reported being attacked by the police for their sexual orientation, a matter still subject for completion at the same Police Station and Magistrate Court in Vosloorus.
On another incident during this year’s Heritage Day weekend 5 lesbians and gay men, who asked the police for directions to the Soweto Pride after-party in Kliptown, were held hostage, verbally abused and driven around for hours.
It is due to these incidents that activists say they will rally against and challenge the growing homophobia at the hands of the police, the attacks against freedom of association and the rights of the media to report on these experiences.
“Even though the memorandum was accepted, it is disturbing that the head commissioner was not here ,but we are looking forward to the next seven days”, said Fikile Vilakazi, Director for the Coalition of African Lesbians(CAL).