Never touch a woman, not even with a rose petal.
“Mother. Don’t go there! It is Eudy. They’ve killed my sister!”
Name: Eudy Simelane
Kiled: Aged 31
As Mally Simelane leaves her house in the township of KwaThema outside Johannesburg she can hear the sound of the TV coming from her daughter Eudy’s room. That’s good, it means she’s home. Mally has only walked a couple of blocks when her mobile phone rings. It is her neighbours, asking her to call round to see them. They say they need Mally’s medical advice.
They are lying. The truth is that the police arrived at Mally’s house just after she left and asked the neighbours to find Mrs Simelane and take her to the police station, although they did not say why.
Mally does not like police stations, but when the neighbour says that her son is in some kind of trouble, Mally goes inside with them. She is met by the chief of police himself. He approaches her and, speaking respectfully, says: “Thank you for coming. I’m afraid I have bad news.”
Mally does not understand anything. Eudy is at home and Mally knows where her husband and her son are. What can have happened.
Eudy Simelane has just turned 31 and she has had a wonderful weekend. On Monday she is starting a proper job, for the first time in her life. She is about to take up a position at a law firm in Pretoria, a job with a regular monthly salary. It is true that she has always worked, doing unpaid voluntary work with people infected with HIV, as a football coach and referee and – above all - as a footballer, but now she will be able to support her family. Her mother Mally has accompanied her daughter to Pretoria to look at the fine new office.
“She called me at the weekend and was ecstatic,” Eudy’s friend Balise tells us. “It was a victory for all those of us who are homosexuals. A woman who lived openly as a lesbian had got a proper job! That is almost unheard of.”
She was one of the first women in South Africa to come out as a lesbian.
Eudy Simelane is the most well-known homosexual woman in South Africa. As a star footballer in the South Africa national women’s team Banyana Banyana, she is famous. She was one of the first women in South Africa to come out as a lesbian. She is a national celebrity and a source of pride for most of the residents in the settlement of KwaThema. But not for everyone.
The women who live openly as lesbians in the South African townships are visible and conspicuous. Most of them dress in long trousers or shorts, sometimes in men’s suits. Many move in an exaggerated ‘manly’ way, they smoke and drink beer, and talk in a deep voice. In a country where a ‘real woman’ is expected to wear a skirt or dress and where a woman’s main duty is to obey her husband, meet his demands for sex, and bear many children, Eudy Simelane and her friends are hugely provocative.
Kunu Semake, who works for the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project organisation, estimates that there are 5,000 lesbians living openly in the township of KwaThema, a gigantic area with around one million inhabitants.
Eudy’s mother Mally Simelane is becoming angry, but she is also anxious.
“Stop tip-toeing round like a cat on a hot tin roof and tell me what’s going on!” she hisses at the chief of police.
“Your daughter is dead,” he says. “Her name is Judy, isn’t it?”
“Her name is Eudy, spelt E-u-d-y. Not J-u-d-y.”
“That’s right. It is her. Eudy Simelane, who used to play in Banyana Banyana.”
“It can’t be her,” insists Mally. “Where is she? Take me to her.”
It can’t be her. Where is she? Take me to her.
The police car takes Mally Simelane to the notorious field in the centre of KwaThema. It is a place where many bodies have been found, a dumping place for local gangsters. Mally shakes her head in disbelief. Eudy would never go there, she does not like such places. The field is full of people. The chief of police clears a way through the crowd:
“Move back. Eudy’s mother is here.”
Mally does not go forward to her daughter’s lacerated body. Instead she meets her son, Eudy’s brother, who has also been called to the scene. He is holding a bloodied piece of material in both hands when he meets Mally.
“Mother. Don’t go there! It is Eudy. They’ve killed my sister!”
There is blood everywhere. Mally crumples. She is shocked, angry, hot and cold, all in turn. Afterwards she remembers very little of what happened next. People help her to get home, and try to calm her down. The phone rings. It is Mally’s mother, Eudy’s grandmother, who is on a trip to Cape Town.
“What’s this I’m seeing on TV?” she screams into the phone. “Has my granddaughter been murdered?”
“Eudy was never like other girls,” her mother Mally remembers. “She never played with dolls, and when I bought her dresses she never wanted to wear them. They called from school and complained that she was refusing to wear the girls’ school uniform: “We don’t know if Eudy is a boy or a girl,” they said. I gave my daughter my support. “As long as you respect other people, go to school and behave yourself you can dress however you like,” I said. “She only played with boys and she loved playing football. She was only four when she started training with her older brother.
“She herself always knew who she was. She told us straight out when she was just 12: “Mother, I’m a lesbian. Do you still love me?” Of course I loved her. When she was grown up and a well-known footballer the whole country loved her.”
Exactly what happened that night is not clear. At the trial different people who were involved tell different stories, but what is known is that Eudy and some friends leave Noge’s Tavern in KwaThema at 1.30 am. Eudy is dressed as usual in jeans, a long leather coat and boots. She is tall, well-built and strong. She has been known to fight, if she has to. She usually wins.
On the deserted field Eudy and her friends meet a group of men, who are aggressive. One, or perhaps several, of her friends disappears. We do not know exactly what happened, but in the end, Eudy is left lying in the small ditch in the middle of the field. She has been assaulted, raped and murdered. There are 28 stab wounds on her face, chest and legs. She even has cuts on the soles of her feet.
There are 28 stab wounds on her face, chest and legs. She even has cuts on the soles of her feet.
The field is surrounded by houses where people are in bed asleep. Some wake from the sound of screaming but no-one does anything. They know that people are murdered and bodies sometimes dumped here. It can be dangerous to get involved. When some neighbours venture out in the dawn light they find Eudy’s half-naked body. Her coat and other clothes are missing. The police find both her clothes and the suspected killers in less than 24 hours.
Four young men will later be charged with raping and then stabbing Eudy. At first they insist it was a robbery, that they used to jump on anyone who passed by, and that they did not recognise Eudy as being anyone special.
“Eudy was a celebrity in KwaThema,” says her friend Balise who was also called to the field that morning. She could not look at the body. Someone had placed a blanket over Eudy’s body where it lay in the ditch.
“Everyone knew who Eudy was. It’s out of the question that the men who raped her and then stabbed her would not have recognised her - or known that she was a lesbian.”
It’s out of the question that the men who raped her and then stabbed her would not have recognised her - or known that she was a lesbian.
Eudy and Balise met when they were children, and played football together throughout their youth.
“She was always the best player on the pitch.”
Eudy was the star who made it, all the way to the South African national women’s team. When she was not working as a volunteer with people infected with HIV, she would be found on the football pitch. She played in two local teams and trained young players the rest of the time.
When Eudy’s father comes home and is told what has happened he wants to kill himself. “Give me some rope! I want to be buried with my daughter!”
The funeral service in the KwaThema Community Hall is huge, with over 1,000 mourners. Eudy’s friends, team-mates and admirers come from all over South Africa to take part.
“Nine buses weren’t enough,” Eudy’s mother Mally tells us. “It was the biggest burial we have ever seen.”
Eudy’s murder made the national news and became a symbol for the violence which affects lesbians in South Africa, mainly in the townships.
“We provoke a lot of men,” says Balise. “They claim we take their girls away from them.”
Eudy Simelane’s murder is unique in one respect only: that the killers were arrested and convicted. Countless rapes and women’s murders get stuck in the system, and it can take years of investigation before legal proceedings are instituted – if it even goes that far.
In the first trial, the killers claimed they had not recognised Eudy, and denied that it was a hate crime.
“The first judge, who was a homophobe,” Balise says without a hint of doubt, “accepted their story that it was a robbery which went wrong. As if Eudy would have been carrying any money! We don’t even have anything to eat before we go to bed!”
The conviction roused South Africa’s LGBT organisations, who called meetings, arranged demonstrations, succeeded in having the subject debated on TV – and finally gained the support of other human rights organisations.
This is the first time the murder of a lesbian woman has been judged as a hate crime.
At the second trial four men were charged and two of them received long prison sentences, one being given a life sentence.
“This is the first time the murder of a lesbian woman has been judged as a hate crime,” says Balise. “Things are slowly getting better in this country. The police have become more professional and the last judge did a good job.”
“There have been fewer attacks against lesbians after Eudy’s death,” says Kunu Semake from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project. “The attention has helped us, at least here in KwaThema.”
However, in other parts of South Africa the violence appears to be increasing. The idea of ‘corrective rapes’, that a lesbian woman who is raped by a ‘real man’ will understand her duty as a ‘real woman’, is spreading.
“I try to avoid going out in the dark,” says Balise. “I know that anything could happen to us. Any time.”
“I have lost everything,” Eudy’s mother, Mally Simelane, says. “Eudy had a heart of gold. I can’t sleep at night. Sometimes during the day I forget that she’s dead, I imagine she’s at a tournament abroad or maybe just on a football pitch somewhere. That I might see her on TV again. But then I remember. And then I cry.”
Maternal deaths: 236 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.3 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion during the first three months of pregnancy depending entirely on the wishes of the woman. Thereafter up to the sixth month of pregnancy if there are special reasons, such as the health of the woman or an abnormality of the foetus. (2007)
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: in 2010 almost 68,000 cases of sexual harassment were reported in a six-month period, most of them rape. It is claimed that almost 28 per cent of the male population have raped a woman or girl. 40 per cent of South African women stated in a report published by the WHO that their first sexual experience took place without their consent.