To hear of human rights abuses of Uganda’s LGBTQ population is not new, sadly. Gay activist David Kato was the father of the Uganda’s LGBTQ rights movement. To many of his fellow countrymen, Kato was a dead man walking once his homosexuality became public. The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, dubbed the “Kill the Gays Bill,” criminalizes same-sex relations. And depending on which category your homosexual behavior is classified as — “aggravated homosexual” or “the offense of homosexuality” — you’ll either received the death penalty or, if you’re lucky, life imprisonment.
Kato didn’t live to receive either punishment. On a list of 100 LGBTQ Ugandans whose names and photos were published in an October 2010 tabloid newspaper calling for their execution, Kato was murdered in January 2011.
Throughout the African continent there are stories of homophobic bullying, bashing and abuses of its LGBTQ population. None of us will forget Zimbabwe’s despot Robert Mugabe, who treated his LGBTQ citizens with torturous action but has yet to be brought to justice. Mugabe’s condemnation of his LGBTQ population is that they are the cause of Zimbabwe’s problems, and he views homosexuality as an “un-African” and an immoral culture brought by colonists and practiced by only “a few Whites” in his country.
However, the one country you don’t expect to hear anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and human rights abuses from is South Africa.
South Africa is the first African country to openly support LGBTQ civil rights. In 2004, its Supreme Court ruled that the common-law definition of marriage included same-sex unions. And in 2005, South Africa’s Constitutional Court “made any inferior status imposed on same-sex partners unconstitutional.”
But South Africa has a serious problem with its LGBTQ population, and especially with lesbians. Its method to remedy its problem with lesbian is “corrective” rape.
On any given day in South Africa, lesbians are twice as likely to be sexually molested, assaulted and gang-raped as heterosexual women. There’s a reported estimate that at least 500 lesbians are victims of “corrective” rape per year. And in Western Cape, a province in the southwest of South Africa, a report put out by the Triangle Project in 2008 stated that as many as 86 percent of its lesbian population live in fear of being raped. And their fear is not unfounded.
“Lesbians get raped and killed because it is accepted by our community and by our culture,” a South African man told New York Times reporter Lee Middleton.
“Corrective” rape is the South African version of “reparative therapy.” Its intended objective is to rectify the sexual orientation of women who are lesbians or perceived to be lesbians to that of heterosexual.
The term “corrective rape” was coined and first identified in South Africa after well-known cases of “corrective” rapes of lesbians like Eudy Simelane and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public internationally.
Because of the stigma associated with homosexuality and gender non-conforming behavior, members of the women’s family or their local village sometimes supervise these rapes.
Corrective rape is a hate crime that for the most part goes unreported and un-prosecuted in South Africa. These rapes are the major contributor to HIV/AIDS epidemic among South African lesbians.
To many South African men who hunt down lesbians or happen upon them, “corrective” rape is seen neither as a hate crime nor as a sexual assault. South African men are sexually entitled to do them. And it’s just what patriotic men are expected to do for their country and tribe in a culture that upholds violent heterosexual patriarchal views at penis point.
In depicting a double rape, hers and that of her friend’s, Lungile Cleopatra Dladla shared with The New Yorker reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault how matter-of-factly their rapist was with them.
“An armed man, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, came up behind them and directed them to a field. Then he undressed us. He tied us, and then he was going, ‘Ja, today I want to show you that you’re girls.’ He raped [us] both. And then, immediately after, he dressed and untied my friend’s hand and then untied my feet and then he walked… From a distance, he shouted, ‘Now you can dress and go.’”
Dubbed as the “Rape Capital of the World” (A study by Interpol, the international police agency, has revealed that South Africa leads the world in rapes), sexual violence is a problem throughout South Africa from the highest man in office to the goat herder in a small village.
According to South Africa’s rape statistics for 2011, “It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read.”
In 2011 a woman was raped in South Africa every 17 seconds. One in four men admit to having raped, and “of South African men who knew somebody who had been raped, 16 percent believed that the rape survivor had enjoyed the experience and had asked for it.”
For example, South African President Jacob Zuma has been accused of rape. He was acquitted of charges that he sexually assaulted the daughter of a family friend. “He said that the woman in question had provoked him, by wearing a skirt and sitting with her legs uncrossed, and that it was his duty, as a Zulu man, to satisfy a sexually aroused woman,” Hunter-Gault reported.
And “baby rape,” not a new phenomenon in South Africa, has come out of the closet. It’s the belief that having sex with a baby or virgin girl child cures AIDS. But what’s not being talked about in “corrective” rape is how it too can be seen as a cure for AIDS.
For these men who are feeling the societal pressures and scorn of raping babies and young girls, lesbians are the next best choice.
With both populations of females believed to be virgins, “corrective” rape can convince a rapist that he’s doing his manly duty and he’s being rewarded by being cured of AIDS, too.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.