Melanie Nathan- March 14, 2011
CAPE TOWN – Considering there was a taxi strike today, TV , Media and a large crowd of protesters, holding sign and banners, “Mr. Radebe Take Action Today,” “Dead Lesbians can’t Vote” and “Stop Corrective Rape” greeted Ndumie Funda of Luleki Sizwe and Melanie Nathan of MEUSA, Ambassador to Africa – and International communications director for Luleki Sizwe, as they entered Parliament today – attended a meeting with the Ministry of Justice at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, following a successful campaign on Change.org, where LezGetReal and Melanie’s reporting on the topic of “corrective” rape in South Africa, served as the impetus.
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional development, the Honorable Mr. Radebe had gone on National TV to invite Luleki Sizwe’s founding Director, Ndumie Funda to a meeting with the minister and other government officials. Unfortunately the Minister could not attend the meeting because of a “matter of critical importance” which Mr. Tlali Tlali could not identify further than to say, “you will see why on the news tonight.”
Mr. Tlali Tlali, Ministerial Spokesperson (akin to an under Secretary in USA) led the meeting consisting of various government officials to include 8 senior members of the Department of Justice and The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In addition to Ndumie, me, and Benjamin Joffe-Walt, also at the meeting was a director from a Hate Crimes Coalition, a Director from a Rape Crisis NGO and two members of The Triangle Project an NGO based in cape Town.
The Ministry under Tlali Tlali’s direction started off with a Greeting and a welcome, and an apology as to the absence of Minister Radebe.
Mr. Tluli’s statement was very warm and welcome. He stated specifically that the purpose of the meeting was to address the question of corrective rape through the desire of the Minister and via communications with Ndumie Funda of Luleke Sizwe. He specifically noted that this meeting was of an exploratory nature “between us and Ndumie Funda of Luleki Sizwe, to understand what the issues are. If valid then we will broaden this to other stakeholders. If it is our decision we are open to taking a hard line.”
He said, “the presence of the officials here shows that we are taking this matter very seriously; and when referring to the rapists he said “who are they to think they can choose the next person’s orientation?”
I was the first to speak after Mr. Tlali and this is what I said:
Mr Chair, Tlali Tlali, and other members of Government who are present today – on behalf of Luleke Sizwe and specifically Ndumie Funda, thank you for this opportunity to speak as a voice for all victims of Corrective Rape. Thank you also to all the groups that are here in solidarity and support to help find a way to address this problem effectively.
Corrective rape is a crime meant to “cure” lesbians of their sexual orientation AND “turn them straight. Such a thing is not only impossible, but also a crime of hate and violence against lesbians that has been on the increase throughout South Africa, where we have a Constitution that protects all people as equals.
While Rape of woman, men and children is deplorable, this is a particular HATE CRIME that is a result of homophobia and ignorance here in South Africa. Gays and lesbians are a particular target in South Africa, as they are across Africa, where traditional social conservatism is increasing into angry homophobia.
Ndumie is here to tell her own story – but while everyone has a unique story hers is told, today, for all the lesbians who are victims of this hateful violent crime.
On behalf of all here today, we are respectfully requesting that the Government establish a Commission with various committees that will be a partnership of – Included in Commission -
a. Government Officials; (Include Prosecutorial Authority/ Police / Dept of Education/ Health Department/ Dept of Justice)
b. Volunteer Victims of “Corrective rape” to include Lesbians and Transgender people;
c. Lay Experts and Academics: Medical / Legal / Cultural / Psychological;
d. Grass Roots activists; and
e. Civil Society Groups with mission statements that incorporate the issue of Rape of Lesbians as a specific issue.
The Function and Goals of Commission:
a. Victims: To address urgent needs of victims;
and the Long Term Needs of Victims and their Families:
b. Hate Crimes:- To pursue the establishment of hate crimes legislation – with harsher sentences and bail restrictions;
c. Police & Prosecutors:- To Educate and make protocols for South African Police and National prosecuting Authority, to include but not limited to Transportation to Court hearings, Safety measures inside and around the Courts to protect witnesses and victims and their families ;
d. Medical:- To put a special medical plan into place for victims of corrective rape, noting the unique needs – including HIV/AIDS – Rape Kits / Paid on going medical care and Psychological care close to victims home;
e. Education and Public Awareness:- Establishing a plan to educate the public – through public awareness programs, school education, media promotion that helps emphasize the Constitutional rights of LGBTI people and the fact that there is really no such thing possible as correction of a lesbian through the violent act of rape.
Again we thank you. We are handing in a package containing Joint Statements and a cover request of the all stake holders here today. We urge this Department to form this commission as a matter of urgency and hope to start forming this alliance through further discussions over the course of this next month.
Then Ndumie told her emotional and moving story – of how she founded and named Luleki Sizwe for her beloved partner who was raped at gunpoint by five men, contracting HIV /AIDS as a result and succumbing to a death from resulting meningitis. “My Partner is a great loss to me and also to her own mother – my partner wanted her mother to retire and support her for the rest of her life – but now that right is gone….”
She then went on to express what it has meant to nurture other women who had come to her for help, including the case of a young woman whom she had turn away because Ndumie had been threatened yet again with her won life for helping victims in the township of Gugulethu. She aslo did not have enough resources. The young woman could not stand the stigma and Ndumie said she killed herself – “I now feel responsible -because I did not help her!”
Ndumie spoke to Mr. Tluli by saying she is a “comrade from the dust of the township” and she is expressing the rights of the people.
Her testimony was very moving and it was abundantly clear that she had been heard and was receiving much respect from the authorities there.
The other NGO’s did not have much tio say except to introduce their respective Statements. Ndumie handed over the 170,000 signatures from 168 countries via the Petition that we believe was the impetus for the meeting today.
At the end of the meeting Tlali requested members of his department issue a report within the next two weeks reflecting this meeting and the suggestions and questions derived from it, to set the stage for other stakeholders as well as the victims and grassroots activists towards a series of monthly meetings addressing the various complex issues that came out of the discussion. The next meeting is scheduled for May 03, 2011.
For Luleki Sizwe, the immediate need is great. They struggle to find money for basic needs. She is unpaid. There is very little by way of direct support and resources to victims and families in the township., Tlali noted this emergency need and we trust that prompt action will be taken to attend to this.
What further emerged is that it would be most useful to ongoing talks to provide the communities with awareness and information campaigns to direct them to government resources that may actually already be in place. Then to reconcile what is in place with what is still needed. That may form part of the report.
The meeting was a great success – it went very well. We felt heard and it was productive. More details will follow of the actual issues.
The media turned out in great force, CNN is working on a documentary, Independent film/ documentary makers were there, Magazines, radio and SABC TV. A lot of good came of this meeting today and we are all excited that this issue of hate crimes against lesbians, via the anomaly of “corrective rape, will no longer be mere semantics, but rather stands a good chance of accomplishing legislation and protocols to afford it the imperative and urgent reforms so desperately needed.
Picture: Mel with 170,000 Signatures to deliver to Minister of Justice.
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