Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Sexual Offences Courts Matter, and Here’s Why

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, and so last week, to launch Women’s Month, and presumably `to honor’ women, two judges of the Pretoria High Court reduced to 20 years the life sentence of a man convicted of having repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, a girl he says he regarded as “a daughter.” The judges reduced the sentence because they determined that the 11-year-old girl “seemed to be a willing partner.”

What? What?!?

According to South African law, not to mention common sense, an eleven-year-old child is never a willing partner to anything. An eleven-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact, and nobody gives consent to sexual violence. Period.

From start to finish, the decision is all wrong, and, yet again, one can only be outraged and, yet again, foment and rage and lament the betrayal. Or …

Or one can consider this abysmal case as the proof, if one were needed, that greater attention must be paid to serious investment in Sexual Offences Courts.

Alison Tilley began the week by asking, “Did you know we have only fifteen functioning sexual offences courts?” Last August, the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters launched its Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. After a year of study, the task team issued a strong and clear report, with direct and clear recommendations: “In the final analysis, the report makes a clear finding that there is a need for the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa … The Department must give priority to the immediate upgrading of the 57 regional courts that have been identified as being resourced closest to the Sexual Offences Court Model. This upgrading process must be done against available resources, and must commence in the 2013/2014 financial year.”

The original plan was to have 22 functioning courts by the end of 2013/2014 financial year. There are 15.

In South Africa, sexual offences courts began in 1993. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts. Little by little, the courts were closed because of “budget constraints.” The budgets weren’t `constrained.’ The legislators decided, with their wallets, that protection of the vulnerable just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s happened before, it’s happening again.

Last year, the discussion of Sexual Offences Courts was impelled by the torture of Anene Booysen. This year, perhaps, it will be moved by the judicial violence done to an eleven-year-old girl raped by a man who thought of her as “a daughter” and by a court, and court system, who didn’t think of her at all.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, slightly different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Hiding behind Women’s Day. Again.

I remember as a child going with my mother to register our domestic worker for a pass book. Two women and a child going to a place far from home to wait in a queue to deal with men behind counters who told us what to do and who represented a violent system. This would have been in the early 1970s, almost 15 years after women protested the pass laws in their march to the Union Buildings in 1956. Now we have a day to celebrate those women and everyone seems to have forgotten that protesting against structural violence was what their march was all about. This is what we should never forget: that we were a country that deliberately oppressed people, restricting their movements and keeping them from their own power.

Today the oppression of women and of poor women in particular continues. We may not be able to say that it is entrenched in our laws the way the apartheid system was but I worry that Women’s Day actually becomes a way to forget, to hide from and to obscure the very real issues that we face today. In an atmosphere of celebration it seems wrong to stand up like the evil fairy at the princess’s birthday party and say, “We are not free.” To invade the corporate pamper day and say, “Our rape statistics are some of the highest in the world. This needs to change.” To stand on the platform at the ceremony to honour women’s achievements and say, “What have we not achieved?”

One of the effects of this watering down of the real issues is that the public forget about the individuals, organisations and communities that do deal with the reality of rape and violence against women every day. Everyone wishes the ugly problem would simply go away. Let’s not taint the celebration with doom and gloom. Also of course, let’s not leave men out. I’ve heard so many people say, “Why don’t we have a Men’s Day?” as though this were the commercial opportunity of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And then there is the lure of the dream, “Let’s find the solution to this scourge and move forward.” I would like to find that solution. I fear it may just be a dream.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are certainly not in the business of chasing dreams. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the people. We don’t have the money. What we do have are a group of extraordinarily committed women who work every day to make sure that change happens. The change that one woman makes when she comes out of a counselling session and says to herself, “It was not my fault. I did not deserve this.” She sees that she can heal. Or the change that a group of peer educators make when they stand in front of the assembled teachers and learners of their school and say, “Don’t be ashamed to report rape. You were not to blame even if you were wearing a short skirt on that day. A skirt is not an invitation to commit a crime.” They see that they can change the hearts and minds of others. Or the change that a government makes when it drafts a law that says it will empower the victims of crime with information, with counselling, with a proper tracking system for cases in the justice system and with joint planning between government departments to ensure well coordinated, cost effective services. It sees that it can provide a deterrent.

Women’s Day is a day to commemorate. To remember and to show respect. This need not be without celebration but that celebration should include an action that gives tribute and that ties the past to the present in service of the future. Otherwise it is just another holiday or an opportunity to commodify women. Join us as we march from St George’s Cathedral to the Artscape Theatre on Saturday 9 August 2014 at 9.30am but don’t let it stop there. Take your #mydoekselfie every Friday and share it with your friends on Facebook but don’t let it stop there. Make your own extraordinary commitment. It is not for me to say what that should be but let it be something that moves you, something that allows you to change. To change in a way that frees you and a woman that you know. Something that makes her feel safer, more respected, better supported and more free to make her own choices and decisions. Don’t hide. Speak out. Make just one change.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

The Women of Marikana invite you to bear witness to their lives

SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana invite you to bear witness to their lives in Marikana in August 2014

Re: site inspection and speak out by the women of Marikana, 12 August 2014

WHAT? A site inspection of Wonderkop, Marikana followed by a brief speak-out in which the women of Marikana and widows will testify to their ongoing pain and experience of injustice. They will talk about what they want to change in their lives.WHO? Ministers and Parliamentarians, the Office of the Premier in the North-West province, representatives of Chapter Nine bodies, prominent civil society leaders and cultural workers.

WHEN? Tuesday 12 August at 11am outside the main entrance to the Wonderkop Stadium.

Nearly two years has passed since the massacre of striking mineworkers in Marikana on 16 August 2012. Media and public attention has since been focused on the Farlam Commission and, more recently, on the five-month plus strike action on the Platinum belt. Eyes have long been turned away from day-to-day life in Marikana, and the distant rural villages and towns from which some of the mineworkers, killed in the massacre, originate and where their surviving families remain.

As we approach the two year anniversary of the Marikana massacre, it is an appropriate time to ask:

-     Are the Lonmin workers and community members living in conditions any better than two years ago? What has Lonmin done to improve lives? What has the local municipality done?

-     What justice has there been for the widows of Marikana and the families of the mineworkers that were killed? Has there been any compensation for their grievous losses? How are these families being supported by Lonmin and government?

-     Do workers and the community feel that justice has been served in the past two years?

The women of Marikana – organised as Sikhala Sonke – invite you to bear witness to their living conditions, their continued suffering and their acute feeling that justice for workers, for widows, for the community as a whole has not been served.

Please RSVP or send your queries to sikhalasonkejustice@gmail.com. You may also phone ThumekaMagwangqana on 084 714 0111.

We look forward to meet you on the 12th August in Marikana,

Sikhala Sonke

 

SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana

Site Inspection and Speak Out, 12 August 2014

Programme

10:30am           Gather at tent erected close to the Wonderkop Stadium, Nkaneng, Marikana

11:00am           Welcome, why we are here and outline of programme for the day (Sikhala Sonke)
Bishop Jo Seoka – opening words and prayer

11:15am            Depart for site inspection (Sikhala Sonke)

12:15pm            Conclude site inspection at assembly point
Testimonies from women and widows of Marikana
Remembering Paulina Masuhlo (Sikhala Sonke and family of Paulina Masuhlo)
Reading of Sikhala Sonke letters to government

1:00pm            Responses from invited guests and other organisations gathered in solidarity
Reading messages of solidarity

1:50pm            Closing words and prayer – Bishop Paul Verryn
Refreshments and departure

 

 

One can ask the question

One can ask the question

One can ask the question
empowering young minds
as a 77-year-old is doing
at Lavender Hill High School
(outside of our ritual Days)

One can ask the question
why the white woman label
20-odd years in to a democracy
the media reports as such
(are they still group-thinking)

All the white I know
is the hoary-old ditty
A whiter shade of pale
a little-known collective noun
a whiteness of swans
(and the Beatles’ White Album)

I ask the question
from a non-racial rearing
enfolded by humanists
political educators teachers
civic-minded campaigners
(African) Marxists and Socialists
feminists and womynists too

(with Achebe and Ngugi
and Neruda and Brecht
they made their mark though
not with corporal punishment)

One can ask the question
with all the progressive battles
(no normal sport in an abnormal)
where has all the non-racialism gone
was it just a passing charade

One can ask the question
what seeds do we plant
as June Orsmond is doing
(the power of one person)
in Lavender Hill and elsewhere
in the ghetto of young minds

Marina da Gama grandmother June Orsmond’s work, in “The power of one” (Argus, July 2 2014), brings forth the question.

Ayesha Bibi Dawood has returned

Late last week, Ayesha Bibi Dawood passed away, and was buried on Sunday. Her biographer, Zubeida Jaffer, puts it succinctly, “Ayesha Dawood, one of a few remaining leaders charged with Treason with Madiba in 1956. The funeral leaves her home in Durban Road, Worcester. She leaves behind a daughter and son and six grandchildren.” She leaves behind a story that needs to be told and understood, a story of an Indian woman in a rural town in the Western Cape.

Ayesha Bibi Dawood was born in Worcester, in the Western Cape, on 31 January 1927. Her father was an Indian merchant and her mother a Malay woman from Calvinia. As Dawood tells the story, “It all began like this. I used to read the daily newspaper- Die Burger and the Cape Times- for my father. I started hating the Apartheid laws especially the Group Areas Bill and the Pass Laws. In 1951 came the call from the trade union movement, supported by the left, to stage a one day strike on 7 May. I then decided to throw in my weight against these unjust laws. I went to the trade union office in Russell Street and volunteered to help organise the strike.”

In Worcester, that one-day strike was a raging success, a success many credit to Dawood’s organizational prowess. For one day, just over 16,000 Colored, African and Indian people said a resounding and unified “No!” to the removal of the Colored people from the Common Voters rolls and to the 9000 Whites of Worcester. Bibi Dawood had arrived.

From there, Ayesha Dawood kept on keeping on. In 1952, she co-founded the Worcester United Action Committee, and helped turn Worcester into a center of the Defiance campaign and of regional trade union organizing. In 1953, she represented the Committee of Women in Copenhagen, and then visited and spoke at factories, meeting halls, union halls and elsewhere. She also visited her family in India on that trip. In 1955, she was charged with incitement and spent nine months in jail. In 1956, she was one of the 156 charged, with Mandela, in the Treason Trial.

In 1961, Ayesha Dawood married Yusuf Mukadam, an Indian who had met her during her stay in India. Mukadam was a worker in the Royal Navy. So taken with the young South African woman was he that, six years later and after numerous failed attempts, he jumped ship in Durban, made his way to Cape Town and then on to Worcester.

Soon after, Mukadam was arrested as an undocumented resident, and Dawood was told that she had one choice, to become an informant. She refused, and, in the delicate and discrete language of the day, was “served” with an exit permit that permanently “endorsed” her out of the country.

The young couple and their two children journeyed to Mukadam’s village, Sarwa, where Dawood knew nothing and no one. Mukadam spent much of the rest of his life as migrant worker in Kuwait.

Dawood organized women in the village. At one point, they wanted her to become chairperson of the local committee of the Congress People’s Party. Although she declined, her house remained a local organizing and community center.

And throughout, Ayesha Dawood knew that one day the Apartheid regime would fall and she would return. She prepared. She taught her children Afrikaans as well as English. In 1990, the return began. First her two children, Gulzar and Shabiera, were issued South African passports. In 1991, Ayesha Dawood returned home … in every sense.

Her story is captured in Zubeida Jaffer’s Love in the Time of Treason.

Many have expressed their sadness as well as their gratitude to the 86-year-old committed activist and veteran, one of the million sparks that set and constituted the decades long struggle. Let’s celebrate her version of her own story: “My story is just an ordinary story depicting a particular phase in history.” Imagine the joy of Ayesha Bibi Dawood as she returned home, to her home. Imagine the joy and then remember it really happened, thanks to her struggle combined with that of so many others. Rus in vrede Ayesha Bibi Dawood. Hamba kahle. Rest in peace.

Saziso Nkala spent over five years in prison awaiting trial

Saziso Nkala spent five years and two months in prison, in squalor and degradation, awaiting trial for a crime she never committed. In 2006, Zimbabwean immigrant Saziso Nkala was arrested for robbery and sent to the Johannesburg Women’s Prison, or Sun City, to await trial. When arrested, she was a single mother with a seven-year-old son. In May 2011, after five years and two months, her case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. At the age of 32, Nkala was unemployed, broke, without any compensation from the State, and struggling to make a life with a boy now 12 years and a stranger. When Saziso Nkala left Sun City, she carried the mark of prison, for, while inside, she had contracted tuberculosis. Innocent until proven guilty. Free.

For years, Saziso Nkala lived in a cell with 36 beds, and life was hard: “That side, if you are sick, they don’t care – especially if you’re a foreigner… one lady was dying in the cell. We called the warders, but they said they were busy having breakfast. Then she died. Inmates who die in the cell after lockdown are left with the other inmates in the cell until morning. If you start getting labour pains and the door is locked, it’s locked. You bang (on) the door for help – and if they eventually come – they only come to the window. They will not open till the following day…”

They will not open till the following day.

This week, the South African Parliament heard that the number of long-term remand prisoners, prisoners awaiting trial, is declining, as a result of new regulations implemented last year. That `improvement’ means that since last year the number of remand prisoners who had been behind bars for two years or longer dropped from 2200 to 1816. While that is a reduction, it means that 1816 people, innocent until proven guilty, have been imprisoned for two years or longer. According to the Department of Correctional Services, as of Tuesday, of 157,394 prisoners, 43,735, or 27.8 percent, are remand prisoners.

Despite reports of `improved conditions’ in South Africa’s prison system, the situation remains grim, according to The State of South African Prisons, a report released this week by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, or NICRO. This report considers only sentenced prisoners.

According to NICRO, South Africa’s prisons’ maximum capacity is 118,154 people. Of that, 25,000 places are held for remand prisoners. The total prison population is 162,162. When NICRO finished its study, 49,695, or 31%, were remand, and 112 467 were sentenced prisoners. That means a national level of overcrowding reaching 137%. It also means that remand prisoner overcrowding was at 200%. Today, remand prisoner overcrowding is at 175%.

Women make up 2% of the sentenced prison population. 45% of sentenced women prisoners have committed `economical crimes’. For men, it’s 22%. 10% of sentenced women prisoners are in for `narcotics’ offenses, while for men, it’s 2%. Proportionally, more women prisoners are awaiting trial than are men prisoners. Most `economic crimes’ are survival crimes. How many women awaiting trial are in for the crime of being poor? How many are remanded because they cannot afford bail? How many are Saziso Nkala? For too many women, innocent until proven guilty has become guilty until you can show a receipt. Who will compensate for that bill?

For Nozuzile Mankayi, the struggle continues

Nozuzile Mankayi is a gold widow.

Her husband, Thembekile Mankayi, spent 1979 to 1995 working underground in the Vaal Reefs gold mine, in South Africa. In 1993, Mankayi contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. He received treatment, improved slightly, and then suffered a recurrence, and had to leave. When he left, he was paid a mere R16,000 for his troubles. In 2006, he was diagnosed with silicosis.

In 2006, Thembekile Mankayi sued AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. for 2.6 million rand. He sued for dignity. Four years later, in August 2010, the Constitutional Court heard the case. Seven months later, March 2011, the Constitutional Court decided in Thembekile Mankayi’s favor.

Thembekile Mankayi died one week before the decision was announced.

It’s been three years, and his widow, Nozuzile Mankayi, has not received a single penny.

The South African compensation system is designed to strangle and choke gold widows to death. First, they have to submit their respective partner’s bodies to a post mortem. For many families, cutting open the body is forbidden. So, women have to be prepared to withstand often intense opposition and worse.

Second, women survivors receive far less than their partners would have.

Jenni Williams, of the Women’s Legal Centre, has argued, “The women who take care of miners are doing unpaid care work. At the moment we are developing a strategy around what would be the best way to litigate around this, but for now we are saying that unpaid care work should be recognised in the context of damages claims, but also in government planning and budgeting. There needs to be recognition that women contribute towards the economy in that they are working for free, which means that there is a saving. In other words, where you had to hire a nurse to look after the sick person, you would have the wife or daughter doing this for free. In terms of this class action suit, what we are proposing is that part of the damages award is a trust that is set up that acknowledges the saving that the mining companies would have by virtue of the fact that these men’s partners and daughters are going to look after them … The court should take that into account when they look at the damages claim because the person doing the harm is actually benefiting from the woman’s unpaid care work.”

It has been said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” All the harm addresses women. When miners are attacked, in their lungs by dust and in their chests by bullets, women carry them, through the long day’s night and to the graveside. The persons doing harm benefit from that. They benefit from women’s unpaid labor and used up lives. They benefit from the tragedy of others deemed unheard and unseen: women.

Thembekile Mankayi waged a mighty campaign against predators who ultimately exploded and collapsed his lungs. Nozuzile Mankayi will not stay unheard or unseen. For her, and for the more than 200,000 former gold mineworkers and gold widows now engaged in a class action suit, the struggle continues.

 

 

THE CRY OF THE GANGSTER PARENT

THE CRY OF THE GANGSTER PARENT

Ooh I wish this day was never gonna come
Ooh how I wish that I will never hear these words
Ooh how I wish that I will never see this scene
Ooh how I wish that I will never have to say I told you so.

All the words of Wisdom from me never said a thing
Tragic deaths of your friends and the likes never woke you up
Several police arrests of you never deterred you
Miserable life style you lived never brought you back
Six gun shots in your leg never stopped you.

Ooh how I wish I would never said these words
Ooh how I wish I would never had to see this scene
Ooh how I wish I would never have to hear these words
Ooh how I wish I would never have to say that I told you so!

Even though I knew that it was supposed to be
Even though I knew that the sun rises from the darkest nights
I have hoped that there is a way out even in the densest forest
I was optimistic that one day you will come to your sense of reasoning
Religious teachings told me that the prodigal son will come home begging for crumbs

But with you it was never gonna be.
The night with you was never gonna dawn
The forest with you was full of beasts
The sense of reasoning with you was n’t gonna be
The prodigal son in you was lost forever

Ooh how I wish I was never gonna say these words
Where is the power of wisdom to stop this madness?
Where is the power of prayers to stop this cry?
Where is the power of humanity to push this inhumanity back?
Where is the power of community to bring back our being?
Let this be done before it dawns forever!

(Please find and share the poem I wrote after my nephew was shot down yesterday afternoon from his gangster activities.  Conditions of gangsterism are created by our society and it is this society that have to deal with it.  What can we do to preserve the precious life for all?)

What Dembe, Mari, Masani, and Flavirina knew and what they learned

Dembe Ainebyona has suffered: State violence, mob violence, rape. Ainebyona is a 31-year-old lesbian, originally from Uganda, currently living in the Cape Town metropolitan area. In 2009, she applied for asylum status in South Africa. Unaware of South Africa’s liberal laws concerning LGBTQ people, Ainebyona hid her lesbian identity and hid the real reasons she had fled Uganda. She was denied asylum. Her appeal comes up in a few months.

This is not a story about Uganda. This is a story about South Africa and the reality of its so-called liberal laws as lived by LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty story.

A recent report, Economic Justice: Employment and Housing Discrimination Against LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa, read against the account of Dembe Ainebyona, reveals a story, that of asylum seekers and refugees in the Cape Town area.

Why focus on Cape Town? Dembe Ainebyona lives there. It’s a global tourist as well as refugee destination. It’s a `model’ for neoliberal urban redevelopment.

And this: “In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Cape Town RRO [Refugee Reception Office] and refused to accept any new requests for asylum at the location. The temporary shutdown was particularly problematic for undocumented LGBTI newcomers because it placed them at risk of detention and subsequent repatriation. In fact, the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers reside in Cape Town. To push back, PASSOP and other advocates protested outside the closed RRO. Another human rights organisation also challenged in court the legality of the RROs closing. In July 2012, the Western Cape High Court ordered the DHA to continue accepting new asylum applications until the court provided a final determination on the case, thereby providing new asylum seekers entering Cape Town interim relief. After months of rallies and public outcry spearheaded by PASSOP, the Western Cape High Court ordered in March 2013 that the RRO fully resume operations by July 2013. However, despite these 2012 and 2013 court rulings, it was reported in April 2013 that the Cape Town RRO had not accepted any new applications since June 2012.” Welcome to Cape Town!

Here’s the story of Mari, Masani, and Flavirina, residents of Cape Town.

Mari: “Lesbian asylum seeker Mari has an educational background in finance management and worked as an accountant in her home country of Angola. She reports that she had two interviews where, after having a positive reception on the phone, the potential employer would not even ask for her CV or paperwork after meeting her in person and assuming her sexual orientation … Mari, who recently escaped from Angola with her girlfriend, explained that she and her girlfriend had to sell all of their possessions and combine their savings to purchase plane tickets to flee to South Africa. Since arriving in Cape Town, they have been unable to find work and therefore are unable to afford housing. (Mari explains that despite their efforts to find employment, they are extremely limited because they cannot seek asylum seeker status and obtain legal documentation since the Cape Town DHA office has stopped accepting new arrival applicants.)”

Masani: “Lesbian refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable as they are often victims of sexual assault. As a result of discriminatory attitudes, police officers do not take reports of sexual assaults targeting the LGBTI community seriously. [Masani, a Ugandan lesbian] explains that police often respond with additional harassment when speaking with victims, asking questions such as, `How can you enjoy sex with ladies?’”

Flavirina: “Flavirina arrived in Cape Town from Burundi as a guest for an LGBTI/transgender conference. When people in her hometown heard why she had left the country, an official from Burundi contacted her and warned her to stay out of the country or she would likely be imprisoned or attacked upon her return. She applied for refugee status in South Africa and is still pending a determination. Since living in South Africa, she has lived in various shelters, on the streets and is currently living in a township. At one point, Flavirina found refuge at a Christian shelter, where she had to hide both her Muslim religion and her gender identity. The shelter separated the living quarters by gender, forcing her to share showers, dressing rooms, and other living quarters with men. As the shelter did not allow new members to leave the premises for the first three months of their stay, Flavirina was trapped in this environment, having to dress and act male. After coming out to the pastor in charge of the shelter, he told her he could no longer guarantee her safety.”

Most interviewees in this report were aware of the protections in South Africa’s Constitution, and the minority that were not came to the country following rumors of tolerance in the nation’s communities.” They found violence and promise, persecution and hope. They found that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for lesbians. They found as well that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for women marked as `foreigner’.  As non-national Africans and as lesbians, they face housing and employment discrimination.

In February, Free Gender, the Khayelitsha-based Black lesbian organization, celebrated 20 years of democracy and lamented 20 years of fear. They celebrated the rule of law as they decried the rule of violence and torture.

For those who decry and work to reverse the current wave of homophobic legislation, continue to do so. At the same time, ensure your country has more than good laws. Make sure you welcome and care for the stranger in your strange land, whoever she may be.