By Jane Zwide –
At an informal, unlicensed bar at a house at a corner of a street in Botshabelo, men and women sip extra cold beer, mingle, flirt and sometimes dance to grooving house rhythms.
They share a secret. The bar, called a tavern in the townships, is one of the places where young, black gay people do not have to hide who they are, where they can talk openly and find companionship and a safe haven in an often hostile township.
As much as most people think that the gay community is free and violent-free, that is not the truth. Most homosexuals are being attacked by people they know and trust in their communities and sometimes discriminated against by their own family members.
In 1996, South Africa was one of the first countries to adopt a constitution that protects people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But legal protection does not always guarantee tolerance and acceptance in the community.
The reality is often a life of fear, violence, rape and sometimes even murder.
“I was on my way home when two men approached me and almost beat me to death. The sad part is I know the two and when they were beating me, they were saying horrible things like I’m a faggot, a disgrace to men, that I was cursed and they needed to cast demons out of me,’’ said a young black gay from Botshabelo who shall not be identified for his own safety.
“It wasn’t my intention to be gay. I didn’t wake up in the morning and decide to be gay. I was born this way and I wish some people could understand and respect us as gays,’’ said the boy.
In May this year, 26 year old Stephen Nketsi was found dumped in a hole in Botshabelo. It was believed that this gay socialite was stabbed on his way home from the tavern after an event.
Interestingly, nothing was stolen from him as his wallet and phone were found on him.
A Bloemfontein-based lawyer who is part of Human Rights Watch said that gays and lesbians in South Africa face abuse and violence simply for not fitting social expectations of how men and women should act. Human Rights Watch works to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s rights.
They advocate for laws and policies that will protect everyone’s dignity.
In 2014, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) held a seminar which focused primarily on implementing the African Union Resolution 275 of 2014 which deals with “Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of real of imputed sexual Orientation or Gender Identity”.
Unlike most African countries, South Africa is different in the sense that the gay community is more visible and vibrant because of legal protection and the fact that attitudes are changing slowly.
“Discrimination against the LGBTI community has decreased but there are some people who still have that stigma and discrimination against lesbians, gays, bi-sexual, transgender and intersexual people. All that can be changed if the government gets involved.
“We have had so many events but none of the government officials have attended and we feel like if they attend our events they will learn about the LGBTI community. If the community sees that government officials are supporting us, they will follow suit,” said Tankiso Shubani from Rainbow seeds.
While society takes it time to transform and accept the rights of the gay community, violence and sometimes death continue to stalk innocent young men and women.