South Africa: New anti-hate policy defends sexual and gender orientation (IPS)

| March 3, 2014

Download this story

Thembela is one of many terrified lesbians in South Africa. She says, “Every day I live in fear that I will be raped.”

The 26 year-old filmmaker, who is open about her sexuality, says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on “correcting” her sexual orientation.

She says: “I live with my partner and we live alone. Many guys in my neighbourhood know this, and at any time they can come and kick down our door and rape us. They usually come in gangs and we would be powerless to stop them. Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.”

Reports of “corrective rape” are common in South Africa. Lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgendered and intersex (LGBTI) people are often targeted. But it is unknown just how many women and men have been raped or even murdered because of their sexual orientation.

South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development hopes to address this lack of data with their new Policy Framework on Combating Hate Crimes, Hate Speech and Unfair Discrimination.

John Jeffery is a Deputy Minister in the Department. He says the policy is the foundation for what will later become law. It aims to send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa. The new law would create a separate criminal category for hate crimes, including homophobic attacks and hate speech.

Ingrid Lynch is the research, advocacy and policy coordinator for the Cape Town-based lobby group, Triangle Project. She says the new legislation would meet the “desperate need” to monitor the extent of violence and hate crimes against LGBTI people.

Ms. Lynch continues: “Without a crime category that recognizes the influence of homophobic prejudice in violence against LGBTI people, we have no hope of systematic data collection and monitoring of the problem. What we currently know is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Professor Pierre de Vos is an expert in constitutional law. He cautions that laws alone will “not change people’s hateful attitudes.” South Africa already has several progressive laws that protect the rights of LGBTI people, including the legalization of same-sex marriage. But he says that, in practice, these laws do little to protect people increasingly faced with violence and victimization.

Sibusiso Kheswa is the advocacy coordinator for Gender Dynamix, the first African organization that focuses solely on the rights of transgendered people. Mr. Kheswa says the root of the problem is that the system is not victim-friendly. He says this results in victims not reporting crimes because of “fear of secondary victimization by the police and other players in the criminal justice system.”

Johan Meyer is the health officer for the Johannesburg-based LGBTI advocacy group OUT. He is pleased with the policy framework and says there is a good measure of political will behind it.

He says, “I do believe that in this case … there is real and committed involvement on a national level from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as from the [police] and the National Prosecuting Authority.”

Back in their home, Thembela and her partner triple-bolt their doors and seldom venture out at night. But she is hopeful that the fledgling law will one day allow her to live free of fear.

She says: “If we had our own law to protect us, a law that really punishes these guys for raping us, it might make them think twice. And if they think twice, maybe they will stop and I can stop being scared all the time.”

Editors’ note: Thembela’s surname was withheld to protect her identity

To read the full article on which this story was based, go to: