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South African Lesbians Forget Their Pain by Playing Football

by Savitha C Muppala on July 5, 2010 at 6:00 PM
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 South African Lesbians Forget Their Pain by Playing Football

Football makes Tshidiso Mofokeng forget the manner in which she was violently beaten few days back for being a lesbian in South Africa's townships.

"He called me faggot, lesbian, dirty monkey. I was bleeding on the floor when my mother arrived and defended me. But I did not press charges because he said he would lay charges against my mother for assault," she said, pausing to wipe her tears with her jersey.

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All the women on her team, the Chosen Few, are lesbians who have similarly suffered insults, violence, and all too often rape.

"Being a lesbian is like being a soldier. You don't sleep at night," said the 22-year-old.

She worries every time she leaves her home at night that she could become a victim of "corrective rape", which attackers justify as a "cure" for homosexuality.
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It's a widespread problem in a country where women generally suffer high levels of violence. Nearly half of South African women will be raped at least once in their life.

Hatred of lesbians puts them at particular risk, even of murder. South Africa's post-apartheid constitution grants equal rights to gays, but only on paper, said activist Emily Craven.

She coordinates the Joint Working Group, gathering 26 gay organisations, and says at least 10 lesbians have been killed over the last five years.

Only two men have convicted, in the case of Eudy Simelane, a professional women's footballer who was gang raped and killed in 2008.

"With the World Cup, everybody seems united, brought together. But in fact, violence and homophobia are still here," Craven said.

Dikeledi Sibanda, coach for the Chosen Few, said the constitutional reforms have filtered into the daily lives of young lesbians, especially in poor townships.

"The justice is failing us," she said. "At the police station, we'll be laughed at (when we report a rape). People don't take it seriously, even the government. They're not feeling the pain."

Football has become a refuge in this climate of fear, where the Chosen Few's 20 players feel safe and rally for their cause.

None of them have jobs, and most dropped out of school to escape the discrimination they endured.

"I was in a women's team, and there were lesbians but they were hiding," said the captain Pinky Zulu, 23. "Here, I'm free and proud, I don't have to hide myself."

Football has also opened a door to the rest of the world. They will compete in the Gay Games in Cologne in late July, which will be the group's third time at the international event.

That represents a small victory in a country where women's football isn't taken seriously.

"We don't have any resources locally, we're not taken seriously," said Mofokeng.

"But we're motivated by our love for football," she added. "It's our love of football and especially to play for the ones who haven't come out, to tell them they are not alone."

Source: AFP
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