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South Africa
Gender - Women | Gay - Lesbian | Human rights

South Africa remains lesbian-bashing society

Lindiwe Radebe:
«I gave up the fight for justice.»

© Gender Links / afrol News
afrol News / Gender Links, 12 December
- "Growing up as a lesbian woman in South Africa is not easy," Lindiwe Radebe says. "It is a country that is ruled by homophobia and where we are not protected. I know this because I have been assaulted because of my sexual orientation." Her story reads like a crime novel.

"One Saturday afternoon after watching a soccer match with a group of friends in the Lakeside township, we decided to go and get cool drinks not far from where we were visiting," Ms Radebe tells. "While we were busy walking and minding our own business, a group of young men suddenly came to confront us because they had noticed that we were lesbians as a result of our cross dressing. We could see that these boys were drunk.

My friends and I initially decided not to pay attention to them until one of the guys forcefully pulled my friend’s hand and attempted to force her to talk to him. She resisted. All hell broke loose. Being the reputed peace keeper in the group I tried to stop a fight from breaking out by standing between my friend and the young man who was harassing her. All I said to my friend was 'Let's go' - and just saying that triggered something in these guys."

This is when the violence episode suddenly started. "They started saying nasty things to us," Ms Radebe tells. "One of them accused me of being a snob and said that I did not belong in the township. Out of nowhere, I was kicked from behind by one of the group members who were standing behind me. I fell flat on my face. The impact of the kick was so hard that I could hardly breathe for a few seconds. All I remember was that I became so dizzy but was clueless to what was really happening to me.

They surrounded me and started kicking me and continued calling me names. I remember one of them said 'You think you're a man wena stand up and fight!' I could not do anything. This went on for a couple of minutes. It was terrible. I only managed to stand up through God’s mercy. But one of them continued slapping me and hitting me with fists while the other one attempted to throw a stone at my face. Fortunately, I noticed I managed to block the stone from hitting my face with my left hand but my thumb was hurt and was seriously bleeding.

At that time my friends decided to come back for me but when the group of attackers saw this they went after them. My friends ran away again and the bashing continued. I started running and that is how I escaped from one of the guys. The other three came back and all I could think of was that they were going to finish me off. But I told myself going back was not an option. I went to my friend’s place.

By then I was in I was in so much pain; my hand was bleeding, my head had a bump and my shoulder was in serious pain. In fact my whole body was bruised. I felt the worst pain around my breast because it had only been about eight months from the time I had got an operation. This was accentuated by the fact that I had fallen flat on face and kicked, all of which had an effect on my stitch. I cried like a baby. All my friends could say was 'sorry' for there was nothing else that they could do for me.

They finally managed to make me calm down and we went to the nearest police station. As we walked I kept on looking back because I felt as if those guys were coming back to attack me. I was really scared. It was a long walk to the police station but we finally got there. We sat for a couple of hours before we were attended to, only to find out that we were in the wrong police station and was supposed to have gone to a different police station De Deur police station instead of Evaton police station we had come to. They took us there."

Ms Radebe thought she finally would get help, but the lesbian-bashing mentality in South Africa goes far into the police, it turned out. "As in the previous station, we sat for hours before we were attended to," she goes on. "One of the police officers eventually took my statement. One of my friends sat next to me because I was not feeling well at all. I began explaining what had transpired to the officer. When we came to a section during issuing of the statement that questions whether there is anything different or special about the complainant, I told the officer that I was a lesbian.

I vividly remember him changing his facial expression. He looked at me and exclaimed 'What?' I repeated what I had said before - 'I am lesbian'. He stared at me again. My friend got irritated and answered on my behalf. She reiterated 'She said we are lesbian'. Then the real emotional trauma began. He started giving a lecture about how wrong and unholy it is to be a lesbian. I became really angry and asked him if he wanted to help me or not. He told me that I had an attitude problem and that is when I asked to see the station commander.

Following my threat he started taking my statement but with a nasty attitude. He allocated me a case number. I still remember it. It read 'Lindiwe Radebe Case Number 388-05-2006', and promised that an investigating officer would call me.

By then it was in the early hours of the morning. We had to wait at the station until there was a free car to take us back home. We only got to leave at about three o'clock in the morning in a police van at the back since the front seats were occupied. This made me feel more pain. Everyone was dropped at the places they wanted to go except for my friend and I. The officer would not drop me in town which he said was too far for them to take me. I had no choice but to go and sleep at my friend’s parent's house. What a terrible day I had experienced!

On the following morning, I called my sister and my partner and told them what had happed. I sent a mobile message to Zanele Muholi from an organisation called Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW). She promised to arrange help. FEW is an organisation that caters for black lesbians in the townships. My partner and FEW really helped me to come to terms with what happened to me.

I went to see a doctor the next day. Only then I did I find out that I was supposed to have brought a certain form from the police for the doctor to fill in and explain that I had suffered injuries as a result of the assault.

I had to call every day to find out who was handling my case. A week later I got a name but it took him over three weeks to come and assist me. Two days later he informed me that someone else had taken over the case." Ms Radebe knew the fight was over.

"I gave up the fight for justice," she says. "Up to this day my case has not been solved. For us homosexuals, the Constitution is just so many words. Everywhere I go I have to be cautious. I walk with fear on a daily basis because I do not know when and who will try to hurt me.

It really frustrates me that I can not be myself even when I am waking down the street with my partner. It gets to me when I hear that almost everyday a lesbian is assaulted. I am still living in a community that does not want to accept me for who I am and not my sexual preference."

Ms Radebe holds that, despite the favourable legal situation for gays and lesbians in South Africa, she cannot live as a normal person. And that is just what she wants to feel like. "The only difference between me and the girl next door is that I am attracted to women and not to men. That, surely, does not make me a criminal! Assaulting or raping lesbians will never make us straight."

By afrol News staff and Lindiwe Radebe

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