South African Sex Contradictions Exposed

by VR Sreeraman on  September 2, 2009 at 12:59 PM General Health News   - G J E 4
Songs for Eudy Simelane filter into the courtroom where dozens wait, with flasks of coffee and endless patience, for the men accused of the lesbian footballer's gang-rape and murder.
 South African Sex Contradictions Exposed
South African Sex Contradictions Exposed

Meanwhile, far from the narrow wooden benches in the sterile courtroom, South Africans have whipped up an outpouring of near-hysterical patriotism for returning gender row champion Caster Semenya.

The parallels are striking: Simelane and Semenya are top sportswomen from humble backgrounds with muscular "butch" builds that defy social norms. Both have been touted as gender cause celebres.

But gold medallist Semenya has been feted as a national hero preyed upon by global bullies who ordered a probe to determine if she is really a woman, after a dazzling 800m win at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin last month.

Former national women's soccer midfielder Simelane is seen as a target of growing anti-lesbian violence. Her supporters mourn her death in songs from outside the courtroom, but the attack hasn't sparked similar national outrage.

"There's a certain nationalistic enthusiasm informing the response to Caster Semenya. People have rallied around because it appears as an insult and attack from the outside," said Lisa Vetten of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre.

"But the minute that the attacks come from inside and are directed toward effeminate men and masculine women, we're not going to say and do terribly much."

South Africa's constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the nation now prides itself as a symbol of freedom.

But the continent's largest economy also juggles deep rooted apartheid-era and traditional conservatisms that its sweeping liberal laws have failed to penetrate.

The result is often grimly macho: attacks on women who wear mini-skirts or trousers, abductions of rural teenage girls for marriage, and a staggering one in four men admitting to rape in a recent study.

Simelane, 29, was a trainee professional referee when her body was found in an open field in Kwa Thema township, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southeast of Johannesburg, the day after South Africa marked the 14th "Freedom Day" since the fall of apartheid.

Activists believe she was singled out by four attackers for being a lesbian as part of rising attacks, that can include forced sex to "cure" homosexuality, with at least 31 killings in a decade.

"You must link this to corrective rape," Phumi Mtetwa of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project told AFP.

The phenomenon, Mtetwa explains, is guided by the idea that: "By raping you and giving you a penis, I will prove that I will correct you so that you understand your role as a woman."

The courts have ruled that Simelane's rape and killing was not linked to her sexuality, but the trial unfolding in the mining town of Delmas has exposed some uncomfortable contradictions about gender in South Africa.

Gays are still often characterised as "un-African", and even South African President Jacob Zuma was forced to apologise for calling gay marriage "a disgrace" in 2006, before taking office.

Last year, a five-year study by the Human Sciences Research Council found that more than 80 percent of South Africans felt that sex between two men or two women was "always wrong".

For Simelane's mother Mally, a former domestic worker who lives in a humble four-roomed home, the hatred is difficult to understand.

"Eudy liked to be a lesbian since she was small. I accepted her," she told AFP. "I want to tell the other mothers that these are my children. They are not creatures, they are human beings. They are our children of South Africa today."

While Semenya's sex and not her sexuality is under the spotlight, some analysts question the depth of public support for the 18-year-old dubbed "our golden girl".

"Now the questions are whether the same public will rally around that, whatever the sex results are," Mtetwa said.

Source: AFP

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