"After everything we're going to do to you, you're going to be a real woman, and you're never going to act like this again". These were the last words Mvuleni Fana heard before she passed out. Mvuleni was a victim of one of many ‘corrective rape’ cases in South Africa. Corrective rape, or ‘queericide’ as its known colloquially, is a hate crime with the intention of converting lesbians to heterosexuality. Mvuleni is among the minority of corrective rape victims: she survived. In the past 15 years, at least 15 did not.
Though this phenomenon is rampant throughout South Africa, my home province, KwaZulu-Natal, is the worst offender. The majority of its population are dedicated Christians, including my South African family who live only 45 minutes from Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the conservative state. Simphiwe Thandeka was only 13 when she fell victim to corrective rape in the capital. Her mother felt she looked like a “tomboy”, a phase many young girls go through in order to discover who they are. I went through a similar phase at the age of 12, but unlike Simiphiwe’s relatives, my parents knew I’d grow out of it. Simiphiwe was not so fortunate: a male relative asked her why she dressed like that, only to rape her one night, putting a pillowcase over her face.
Simphiwe went to her mother about her ordeal only to be told that it was a “family matter”. She failed to mention that her attacker was HIV positive. She only discovered this for herself three years later when she became pregnant by a friend of the man who’d raped her as a final attempt to “correct” her sexuality. She called her baby Happiness. Simiphiwe was then pursued by a local man who had been told that she was gay. He said “I’ll prove this girl is not a man, but is a girl”. The man came to her house to apoligise for the comment. Instead he raped her in the dining room. She called her second child Blessing.
South Africa is known as the rape capital of the world, a woman is raped every 17 seconds, 500,000 rapes a year. That equates to one in every two women being raped in their lifetime. I have over ten female members of my family living in KwaZulu-Natal. Statistically speaking, half of my family should have, or could still be, raped in their lifetime. But this is unlikely.
The majority of rape victims, to correct their sexuality or otherwise, are found in the townships of the country where education is limited and religion is sacred. Three of South Africa’s ten largest townships are within an hour from Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal. There’s a racial stereotype which is associated with the people living in these townships. As awful as it sounds, it’s not wrong. A quarter of schoolboys in Soweto, a township a short 30 minute drive from my family home on the north side of Johannesburg, described "jackrolling" – the local term for gang rape – as "fun".
Of all 57 countries in Africa, South Africa should be the least likely to suffer from homophonic hate crimes; it was the first country in the world to secure the equal rights of LGBT people in 1997 and in 2005, allowing gay marriage. It was the fifth country in the world to fully legalise gay marriage. The irony is astounding.Regardless, it doesn’t help me sleep any safer at night knowing that my family could become victims of rape, irrespective of sexuality, at some point in their life.