Friday, 7 January 2011

In South Africa, finally some action on 'corrective rape'?

Victim Millicent Gaika, who has just won her battle to bring the men who raped her to court
By Paul Canning

Update, 12 January: LezGetReal reports that Ndumie Funda spoke today to the Justice Department. She was told by an audibly irritated spokesperson that he needs until 15 January  to respond to the petition, and is not willing to set up a meeting with at this time.


We reported on Tuesday that South Africa's Justice Ministry was ignoring a massive petition calling for action on so-called 'corrective rape'.

This is a criminal practice, whereby men rape lesbian women, purportedly as a means of "curing" the woman of her sexual orientation.

According to Cape Town-based group Luleki Sizwe, which started the petition on activist website, 510 women report being the victims each year and 31 lesbian women have been murdered because of their sexuality. It said that for every 25 men accused of rape in SA, 24 walked free.

The petition refers to the case of Milicent Gaika, who was allegedly raped, beaten and throttled for five hours by Andile Ngoza in order to "turn her straight". It now has over 110,000 signatures.

Yesterday SA newspaper Business Day spoke with the Ministry and the Chief of Staff Tlali Tlali acknowledged the receipt of the e-mails. (Previously he had repeatedly contacted to complain that they were overwhelmed with the email each petition signature generates.)

Tlali Tlali said:
"We view this matter in a serious light. Whether it is labelled as corrective rape or something else, it does not detract from the fact that (it is) … rape, punishable under our law regardless of what motivates those behind it to do so."

"We have interacted with the (National Prosecuting Authority) and have requested them to look into these cases," he said.
Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre’s Lisa Vetten told Business Day that in order for "corrective rape" to be classified as a hate crime, as activists are calling for, overarching hate crime legislation would need to be enacted. She said that legislative change on this issue was "tricky".

Ndumie Funda, the founder of Luleki Sizwe, says:
"There are so many people who have been victims of corrective rape and nothing ever happens... Desiree got raped last year and was forced to move to the outskirts of Cape Town to avoid interaction with that guy. Another lesbian was raped to death and the police denied that someone was found dead. In another case the victim was sent home from court in the same communal taxi as the guy who raped her."

"So declaring something a hate crime is a way for us to put pressure on the South African government and show us that we are serious about this. Its about telling the government that enough is enough."
The story has featured in most of South Africa's major newspaper over the past few days, including the influential Sowetan as well as South Africa’s most popular commercial radio station and national broadcaster SABC.

Ndumie Funda has led a volunteer army of less than half a dozen anti-'corrective rape' activists ever since her female fiancée was the a victim of 'corrective rape' three years ago. Ndumie works alone from an humble safehouse to rescue, support, feed and nurse to health survivors of 'corrective rape' in 10 Cape Town townships, a term which historically refers to highly-underdeveloped non-white neighborhoods on the outskirts of South African cities, somewhat akin to 'slums'.

All that changed a couple months ago, when South African authorities released Andile Ngcoza, a man who raped, beat up and strangled Millicent Gaika for five hours to 'turn her straight'. Mr Ngcoza was released on 60 rand bail, the equivalent of less than $10. That led Ndumie, who had helped Millicent Gaika recover from the rape and advocated for her case, to go into hiding (the first, original safehouse is pictured right).

Ndumie Funda: "Life is tough. I can't tell you how many cases we have."
"Ngcoza is harassing me, and sending people to me, telling everyone “We're gonna get this bitch." This is an animal who doesn't care about what he did."

"So my old place was in Nyanga [a Cape Town township], which was also a safehouse, but now I'm in hiding and I can't tell you where I am because my life is at risk. I don't even allow some of the volunteers or friends to come to where I am. I need to be safe and I don't trust anyone."

"Meanwhile there was an incident of a 21-year-old victim of a ‘corrective rape’ in KZN [KwaZulu-Natal, a province in eastern South Africa]. Someone called me and told me 'She's about to commit suicide and needs help.' I couldn't go to her because I was in hiding, and there was no protection or help for her from the South African government. She was found dead in the toilet."
From a new safehouse, Ndumie worked with volunteer supporters to send a formal letter to South Africa's Minister of Justice Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe calling on him to declare 'corrective rape' a hate crime and work to find solutions to the 'corrective rape' epidemic.

When the minister did not reply, the women launched a petition. It soon became the most popular petition of all time.

Prior to yesterday's statement, Tlali Tlali and other Justice Ministry officials have made no effort to respond to the content of Luleki Sizwe's demands.

But Luleki Sizwe activists refused to be ignored, and have since launched another petition calling on Minister Radebe to meet with Ndumie. To date, there has been no response to that request.

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