Ten years ago, South Africa showed avant-gardism by adopting a progressive constitution, which legalized homosexual unions. Today, a lack of a true policy to make mentalities evolve means that although the law accepts homosexuality, it remains no less taboo, in particular female homosexuality.
In South Africa, sexual violence is a curse. There are over 35,000 complaints of rape each year, to which one can add those which are not reported. Of these rapes, the lesbians are a preferred target. Over the past few years, an increasing number of them have been victims of ‘corrective rape’. These sexual assaults sometimes even result in murder. The goal of the male perpetrators, who often act as a group, is to ‘cure’ or ‘correct’ the sexual orientation of the lesbians. They consider that if they use this perverse ‘therapy’, it will be for their own good. They want to teach them how to behave like ‘true African women’.
This phenomenon became widely known about in 2008, through the emblematic case of Eudy Simelane, aged 31. She was very famous, as a key player of the national football team. She was raped and assassinated by a gang from the small town of KwaTema, in the province of Gauteng. During the legal case against the murderers, two of them were released without charge. The local association Action Aid claimed that the South African law should specifically recognize these crimes as ‘crimes of hatred’. In South Africa, homophobia, sometimes referred to in legal matters as ‘aggravating circumstances’, is not recognized as a reason for rape. Despite significant work by campaigners, this remains the case today.
Since 2002, a group of about 20 women from the townships around Johannesburg have joined together as a female amateur football team: the Chosen FEW. To these lesbians, often unemployed and activists of the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW), it is a means to break away from their isolation, and to live out their passion for this sport. But, most importantly, it is a means to awaken their consciences, by giving a greater visibility to their fight for women’s rights, and against sexual violence. Some members of the team are themselves victims of so-called corrective rape.
In the suburbs of Johannesburg, many lesbians are forced to hide their sexuality. Their families and their communities marginalize them, and consider them to be ‘un-African’ women. Some of them have decided to break the law of silence, and actively campaign for their cause. Various associations support these women, and help to provide them with shelter or legal assistance if needed. Others organize self-defence courses, or discussion groups in secret locations.
Several recent victims of corrective rape, all black lesbians, testify about the fear they experience.
Several recent victims of corrective rape, all black lesbians, have agreed to testify. They testify about the fear they experience. Their rapists are sometimes unknown perpetrators, but are also sometimes friends, ex-boyfriends, cousins, or neighbors. According to the various associations, only 5% of the rapists are ever punished by the legal system, as there is only one laboratory capable of analyzing samples after rape. There is an average 6-month wait to obtain the results. Therefore, it is a very drawn out legal process for identifying responsibility in these cases.
Lerato, pinky, Mnsisi, Tandeka, Tully,Tshidi ,Precious, members of Chosen Few team start their weekly training in a field by the offices of FEW organization (Forum for the Empowerment of Women) in Constitution Hill. Johannesburg, South Africa - February 13 2010.
Precious (L) and Tandeka (R) members of the Chosen Few , play football during their training . In the background, a 35-t fibre glass soccer ball has been hoisted on the Telkom’s Hillbrow Tower as the city counts down to the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Johannesburg, South Africa - February 13 2010.
Mnsisi, 25 years-old, player of the Chosen Few seats in the courtyard of the former Women’s jail in Constitution Hill, where FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women) has its office. Johannesburg, South Africa - February 13 2010.
Phindi Malaza (L), Project Coordinator of FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women), Skills (C), 23 years-old and Mandla (R), 21 years-old, attend a group session in the offices of POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) with the project coordinator of POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) in Katlehong (R), where lesbians can share about their experience of violence. Kalehong, South Africa - February 12 2010.
Players of the Chosen Few seat in the courtyard of the former Women’s goal in Constitution Hill, where FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women) has its office. Johannesburg, South Africa - February 13 2010.
recious (R), 30 years-old, Queen (L), 27 years-old,members of the Chosen Few put their soccer outfit in the ladies room of the offices of FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women) in Constitution Hill The girls come once or twice a week from their township for their training. Precious comes form Meadowlands in Soweto, and Queen from the township of Alexandra. Johannesburg, South Africa - February 13 – 2010.
Precious, 30 years-old, is on her way back home to Medowlands . She is one of the oldest players of Chosen Few and one of the onliest having a job. She works part time for a call center and has a 7 year-old daughter that leaves with precious’ mother. Soweto, South Africa – February 21 2010.
Precious (R), 30 years-old, player of Chosen Few, and Dineo (L), 23 years-old leave together as a couple. July 7, 2007, two of the couple’s close lesbian friends were raped and killed in Soweto. After this tragic event, a strong activist structure against hate crime called 777 Campaign to Hate Crime was created. Soweto – South Africa - February 21 2010.
Wewe (L) occasional photographer of Chosen Few, and team members of Chosen Few play football in front of the Women’s goal in Constitution Hill while waiting for the bus that is going to take them to a match. Johannesburg – South Africa - February 21 2010.
Thandeka, 24 years-old, player of Chosen Few, shares a flat in Hillbrow ,Johannesburg, with her girlfriend that works in Finance and can afford to pay for it entirely. February 22 2010.
Thandeka (R), 24 years-old, player of Chosen Few reads to her oldest friend Lovepeace (L) the text she wrote on her passion for soccer and danse and tells her dream to become a police-woman. Johannesburg – South Africa - February 22 2010.
Tandeka (C), 24 years-old, player of Chosen Few, changes clothes on the field after a match. Johannesburg – South Africa - February 22 2010.
Phindile (R), 21 years-old,player of Chosen Few and her mum Grace (L), 42 years-old, also a lesbian, stand in front of their home in Mapetha. Grace had another daughter that got accidentally shot last year. Soweto - South Africa - February 20 2010.
View of Green Village in Soweto. Soweto - South Africa - February 15 2010.
Thuly(L) member of the Chosen Few and Mpo(M), play football in the streets of Green Village with their childhood boy friends. Soweto - South Africa - February 15 2010.
Mnsisi (R) and pinky (L) , players of Chosen Few, change clothes in the parking spot underneath the stadium seats before a match. Katlehong, South-Africa – February 20 2010.
During a match played by the Chosen Few. Katlehong, South-Africa – February 20 2010.
Players of Chosen Few argue about strategy during a soccer match. Katlehong, South-Africa – February 20 2010.