12 Mar 2009

South Africa: grief over 'corrective rape'

Eudy Simelane“I know a million men and not one of them would hit a lesbian or a gay man,” said the articulate young man eyeing me cynically.

“What are you trying to say? Africa the dark continent? Everyone must be evil? Finding out all the men who rape lesbians?”

I could see his point. I’d approached a group of middle-class friends enjoying a few beers and a picnic in the park on a beautiful Sunday evening to do that most tricky job of the reporter – the voxpop. In this case, asking a load of random strangers about the shocking new phenomenon of so-called “corrective rape”.

But they all lived in Kwa Thema township, near Springs; about 30 miles from Johannesburg, where – the day before – I’d interviewed two mothers whose daughters had been brutally gang raped, and in one case murdered, because they or their mother were lesbian.

When you’ve listened to a woman describe every parent’s worst nightmare, risking offending men is the least of your worries. But what struck me during my filming in South Africa over the past week was the compassion and grief of so many men about the epidemic of rape in their country.

While I interviewed Mally Simelane – the mother of the murdered former women’s football star Eudy Simelane – her father and brother stood silently listening. Afterwards I got chatting to them.

Her brother smiled as we stood on the front lawn where he’d taught his kid sister to play. He was the one who drove me and my camerman to the very spot where Eudy was stabbed 25 times and gang raped. He and his mother had been brought there by the police while Eudy’s body still lay in the ditch where the men had dumped her.

After we’d finished filming a small boy came by with a football and Eudy’s brother offered a quick kickabout before we drove home again.

Eudy’s father revealed his own story. When he was a small boy his own father had spent 11 years in jail for his anti-apartheid activism in the ANC.

“We never got any compensation for that. Nor for Eudy.” He meant the recognition of the crime; not the money that compensation symbolised.

His family had sacrificed so much in the fight for freedom and now his own daughter had been killed for believing she could live openly in the new South Africa.

The cabinet sent a delegation to the Eudy’s funeral which was attended by huge crowds. But the fact remains that she died in her own hometown, where she thought she was safe.

She would have been 32 yesterday.