The crime is horrific in itself, but few countries can point an accusing finger at South Africa and not admit that crimes like this happen within their own borders. On April 28, in Kwatema near Johannesburg, the body of a prominent black lesbian activist and former soccer player was found lying in a weedy field. Eudy Simelane, 31, had been gang-raped and riddled with stab wounds.
Just two days later, on April 30, five young men were taken into custody on suspicion of her murder. At least one of the five was a neighbor of the victim, and had been seen in her company prior to the killing. According to news reports, three other men may also be arrested.
Simelane had lived for soccer, as a midfielder for South Africa's gallant but struggling national female football team, Banyana Banyana ("The Girls"). S.A. women's soccer struggles because it's still far from getting the respect and funding that men's soccer gets -- according to one player, the team often played with worn-out shoes. After Simelane stopped playing, she stayed in the sport as a referee, and became an activist after she came out.
Her memorial service took place at the local Methodist Church; she was buried next day. Simelane leaves behind a grieving lesbian partner, Sibongile Vilakazi.
As the news hit the international wires, human-rights advocates didn't doubt that this gruesome crime was meant to send a message of hate and intimidation to South Africa's emerging LGBT community. The town, where liberal issues have evidently made some progress, was outraged over Simelane's fate. With noisy pickets in the street outside the courthouse, and furious messages being sent to the African National Congress, and every seat in the courtroom packed, the five men were arraigned the other day. The judge took note of the crime's extreme nature, and denied bail.
In the last two years, at least three other South African lesbians have been raped, tortured and murdered. The murderers have never been caught; it's said that S.A. police often "lose" vital documents, so anti-LGBT cases seldom go to trial. This despite the fact that South Africa became the first nation on earth to outlaw discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in its Bill of Rights.
Indeed, Simelane's death explodes in the context of a global trend: growing violence against women and girls, whether heterosexual or lesbian or bi or trans, in a growing number of countries. The killings are done by individuals or groups of men who act as vigilantes or death squads, driven by a self-righteous sense of duty and conviction that their victims have "transgressed" against the dictums of whatever religion or morale code the men feel they represent. My guess is that trial testimony will reveal that Simelane's killers harbored objections to the idea of a lesbian playing on a football side with heterosexual women.
S.A. soccer is governed by the South African Football Assn., which was recognized by FIFA in 1992 as apartheid was ending and the nation was rejoining the international community. South Africa will host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. But it's fair to say that the shadow of Eudy Simelane's murder will fall across the event, if the full measure of justice is not done to her murderers. -- Patricia Nell Warren