A 13 year old lesbian girl was raped in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, last week. Corrective rapes have become somewhat of a common practice is Africa’s most progressive country. In South Africa, the rights of homosexuals are guaranteed by the 1994 constitution, but many fear that the police and the judicial system are not doing enough to protect and prevent anti-gay acts in the country.
For those who don’t know, a corrective rape is an attempt by a group of, generally, adult men who try to cure lesbian women of their homosexuality.
Given the publicity around this case, the National Prosecuting Authority announced it will investigate the case and bring perpetrators to justice.
This incident occurs only one month away from the brutal public murder of Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee. She was publicly stoned to death in a township outside Johannesburg.
These issues speak volumes not only of the social tensions in the country but also of the crisis of sexuality that some South African men are experiencing.
With rampant poverty cutting across ethnic and racial lines, many men feel their own sexuality and authority are being threatened.
The link between poverty and sexuality is rather subtle. In the past, families followed local logics of social and familial reproduction. In brief, the patriarch of the family dictated most of the social rules by which the members of the household lived. In exchange for recognizing his authority, the family received good care, education, properties and other social, symbolic and material benefits. Moreover, the wealth accumulated by a patriarch was subsequently redistributed among his children upon his death. That wealth was often used by men in the family to get married, pay the bride wealth and start a new life.
But with the rise of poverty, this logic of social reproduction no longer follows its expected track. Families are torn part, children often migrate towards the city, while many men, especially the older ones, are threatened by these social changes and witness their social empire falling apart.
Lesbians constitute only the latest additions of threats among a changing social order in South Africa. In some cases, they become the easiest target for revenge for disgruntled men who are becoming increasingly incapable of controlling the social reality they inhabit.
Some human rights activists have voiced they opinions, blaming the government for not doing enough to protect the sexual minority’s rights in the country. I tend to agree with this analysis.
It’s not enough to be a progressive country on paper. The true challenge comes when laws have to be sanctioned and followed in the field.