by Christie van Zyl
It never takes long to see, feel or believe; but it always takes forever to act towards trying to heal our nation.
I am in the middle of the Karoo desert, in a small town called Craddock, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. I am currently experiencing the epitome of a failing democracy, 20 years in but here I stand in the darkest pits of social and mental poverty. A society with no sense of value or self-worth, only a deadly fighting instinct to bring another down, so as to stay at the top – survival of the fittest they say; a lucky few get to choose the flight instinct and have a chance at a better life.
A ritualistic norm here in this small, still white dominated town, for the clenches of evil to be their only escape from stagnancy. I have seen and heard it all – rape, drugs, gangsterism, bewitching, fraud and regular accounts of violent outbursts and murder for petty squabbles over alcohol and territorialism; all in the attempt to attain power and maintain survival. The malice is as regular as human breathe, it is heavy, hot, and dense. I find myself restless as it breathes itself down my neck and finds refuge on my shoulders. Home of the Craddock Four – Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto, Sicelo Mhlauli; our very own struggle heroes, yet it is crystal clear that their struggles for freedom have still not touched their own home grounds.
I can speak tirelessly of the tragic living circumstances of Craddock, but am most fazed by the hate crime pandemic – corrective rape, that is only recently trending here. It feels as though there is a deep, dark and dominant spirit inhabiting the beings of young men in their late teens and early twenties, which are hell-bent on marking their territory upon the cultural order of gender roles. They’re so brainwashed into believing women are objects of their pleasure and comfort, to the point that they no longer even see value in building relationships but prey on vulnerable, drunk and the abuse of lesbian women for sexual pleasure and then ‘wam-bam thank you mam’, the cycle continues with this man feeling like a conqueror of owning you.
Herein lies the saddest custom that has been adopted by the men of this town – the befriending of lesbians, buying them alcohol on a ‘boys night out’’. At the end of the night/wee hours of the morning forcing the women to sleep with them as a ‘reward ’for all the alcohol they bought them through the night. I quote ‘Awucingi usele ubtywala bam ubsuku bonke, ndingakuwini’, meaning that ‘you dare not think you can drink my alcohol all night and I not win you over’- winning a woman over in this context referring to having sex with them. They would take it one step further and make snide remarks about how much you are not a man, questioning how you think you can drink and hang out with men and expect to not sexually arouse them ‘ekugqibeleni ungumfazi, ndzakubonisa ukuba ungumfazi’ (in the end you are a woman, I will show you that you are a woman) – as that is what is biologically intended between a man and woman with no discourse; comments about how much you are not a man and how much they wonder what makes you think you are a man; taking it further saying that they will show you exactly what a man can do that you as a lesbian cannot do and then proceed to rape you and boast to the community that you are, there-after, their woman.
It makes me shudder to my soul to think that there are lesbians out here that have resorted to closet lesbianism; either being born again – which comes with the expectation of one automatically turning to heterosexual ways; or apparent bisexuality – where a lesbian would have a boyfriend/baby daddy or male sex-buddy just to be able to protect their lives and not be attacked or disowned by their families/communities, for their love of a woman. I reflect to myself about how ungrateful I have been, living in a first world city like Cape Town and complaining about being a minority in the gay capital of South Africa. Then also I realized that I am only safe in our hate crime ridden townships because my physical appearance does not make my sexual orientation obvious, I fear heavily for the butch and tom-boy lesbians, their lives – to sick patriarchal men are like blood to vampires – for pure consumption. It is a life threatening choice to stand steady in your orientation out in these parts, equal to being a gazelle amongst starved lions in the wild.
In the recent meeting of a young, black lesbian by the nickname X; she told me about the horrific ordeal she went through when a local male resident came up to her, held a gun to her head and told her to get into his car and if she screams, he will kill her. He then drove his vehicle out into a destitute area where he proceeded brutally beating her, saying ‘ziyandi chaphukisa itypes zenu’ – your types annoy me (referring to lesbians); she told me that he raped her and recorded the rape with his camera phone; he also proceeded to rape her in her anus and was recording that too. X says that the only way she was able to escape was by lying and saying that she is from out of town, is here just to find herself a man and is unaware of what he is talking about. She had to beg for her life by mentioning that she has two kids (one of which by the way is a product of a corrective rape as well) and he spared her life. X is currently fighting her trial with the challenge of concealed evidence of photos and videos, which her violator took whilst raping her. Her rapist is out on bail and is said to be lurking the streets showing local lesbians signs of sliding his finger across his throat – communicating that he plans to kill them.
In another household a young 19 year old black lesbian is fighting for her sanity, after surviving four counts of rape; two of which she has no recollection of because she was beaten to a pulp and left for dead. She has resorted to alcoholism to escape her thoughts and emotions, she is struggling to complete high school – stuck at grade 11 and is constantly feeling rejected at home because she is made to feel that it is her fault that she was raped, because of being lesbian. Her most recent rape was three weeks ago, she landed up in hospital unable to walk because of the severe damage she acquired to her pelvic area due to the rape. Her life is most at risk in my perspective, because she is now unable to live without being drunk all the time and is therefore vulnerable to being raped all the time, as she is constantly at taverns needing to get drunk until the wee hours of the morning – as was the case in her most recent account of rape. She is said to have episodes of blackouts in her daily living and sober state, where she experiences temporary bouts of insanity and has no recollection of her surroundings. I am unaware of her HIV status, but last heard her mention meningitis about two months ago – God be with her.
The most recent murder took place two months ago, just five minutes across the road from the house that I stay at; a middle aged, black gay man was brutally beaten, anally raped, killed and left with his bum exposed and a toilet brush shoved up his anus, which is the object that he was raped with to the point of his death. He was found the morning after and I remember trembling at hearing the community say that the field that he was found in is a location where people are regularly found beaten and raped – left for dead; or even intentionally murdered.
I keep reading through this article searching for a conclusion but I can honestly say that I am numb and frustrated by having the same questions over and over again, where is the support of the laws that are in place to protect us. I recently spoke to a friend on Facebook who had been updating statuses about her countless bouts of abuse, she said to me that she had gone to report one of her violators and the police told her that they would not process her case because it was her fault that she was raped. Now we have already come to a conclusion that cultural clauses will inevitably make an individual practice their own bias, regardless of the physical law; so we came up with a task force and now have organizations that are in place to specifically target the problem that we are facing. My question is now how come we have not reached these parts of South Africa?
I am certain that we all know a person of queer status in a small town out here, that definitely fears for their lives every time that they come home; so how come we are not rallying for information dissemination in order to put structures in order that can also protect those areas.
My prayer while I am here in Craddock is to bring the National Task Force and a few organizations to the attention of the state of fear that our fellow queer beings are living in, so as to provide them a support that protects their rights when they are in the predicaments of facing abuse and violation. A recent meeting was held in the light of this situation, X – the woman that is currently facing a court case about her rape gathered a group of young lesbians in the township and spoke to us about the desire to start an organization here in Craddock that provides support to lesbians whose lives are in danger. The meeting was attended by a middle aged gentleman that apparently has influence in the community; he is supposed to guide us through the process of speaking to structures of influence in the community such as the police and parents of the community. In that meeting we had established a follow up date where he would bring the heads of our influential community structures to hear our plea, so as to go further and start involving the rest of the community in the awareness of the problem we are faced with. We had that meeting two months ago; he had promised us a follow up meeting the week after the initial meeting, up until today there still has been no response from him – X has tried to be in contact with him to no avail as well.
So where do we go and what do we do to gain this assistance and support in these faraway and remote places of South Africa where gender roles are still steadfastly practised. Where are our voices?
Furthermore what are these voices do to with a lack of platform in plight of gaining assistance. We want to feel safe, protected and spoken for.
I speak of all that is negative that I see, feel and experience; so that a solution can be found towards eliminating it, and carry on speaking of them to ensure solutions that afford no compromise.
Let’s talk about Cradock and create some support hype around small towns with no access.
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