For countless foreign visitors, Cape Town is an indelible symbol of the beauty and promise of post-apartheid South Africa.
Beyond its stunning scenery and great wines, its logo – an outline of majestic Table Mountain superimposed over a rainbow – emphasises the historic mix of races and cultures.
But does this nation’s celebrated rainbow end where the mountain meets the sea?
With South Africa becoming the first country in Africa and the fifth in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, the gay scene is booming.
Scantily clad LGBT people are lining the streets in their thousands for Cape Town Pride, clubs are jam-packed, all united under the rainbow flag and De Waterkant’s trendy nightclubs and restaurants are thriving on the pink pound.
Undeniably, the beckoning lesbian scene provides a much needed diversion for city dwellers from the daily ordeal of electricity blackouts, high crime rate and the continuing ‘JZ’ effect. Jacob Zuma, President of SA, was cleared of rape but shocked many people by arguing that there was little danger of him contracting HIV from unprotected sex. He said taking a shower after having intercourse with the woman had reduced the risk of transmission.
In 2006 he made a speech saying that “same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, ‘ungqingili’ (homosexuals in isiZulu) could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out.”
South Africa’s trailblazing legislation is no substitute for acceptance. Life here for lesbians and gays is a mix of the good, the bad and the blatantly ugly.
The good: here in Cape Town the women’s scene is rocketing, with regular ladies – only clubs like the Beaulah Bar. This safe oasis for lesbians may look quite sterile from the street, but inside, the meet and greet spot that’s become synonymous with girl power is anything but boring. A bigger, better bar area, a comfortable and cushioned lounge space and a dance floor complete with a stripper pole is bound to make even the most mundane of Monday nights into some sort of tale for tomorrow.
Many South Africans still oppose gay marriage and homosexuality. Conservative churches have vocally stated their opposition, and many traditional groups denounce homosexuality as ‘un-African’, but despite this there’s a noticeable increase in people of colour attending Pride events.
A beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, a rich diversity of people, culture and heritage – is fast making South Africa the destination of choice for lesbian and gay holidays.
The bad: black lesbians living in African townships are at the highest risk of being raped, tortured and even murdered for loving another woman. This is a side to Cape Town that the tourists are unlikely to see. Living in shacks or storage containers, the uneducated, coinciding with the vampiric nature of a patriarchal society, these densely populated townships are a melting pot for rape cases. The misconception is that a lesbian woman hasn’t had satisfying sex unless it is with a man. In other words, the men who are perpetrating this violence, believe that by raping a woman they can turn her into a ‘real African woman’.
The ugly: the shocking statistics show that 10 new cases of corrective rape occur every week in Cape Town. Suicide is not uncommon among victims of corrective rape, who also often experience torture, exposure to HIV and an unresponsive justice system.
Beyond the traumatising consequences of experiencing selective and discriminatory rape, the act violates inherent rights guaranteed by the reformed South African Constitution and poses a major public health concern. With escalating HIV infection rates, the act of ‘corrective’ rape must be penalised to ensure the safety of all South Africa’s female citizens.
‘Corrective’ rape is extremely violent, often including stabbing, mutilation, beating, and stoning. It is usually perpetrated by more than one man. It is a leading cause of HIV infection among lesbians. ‘Corrective’ rape is so brutal and causes such physical and emotional trauma, it leaves the victim scarred for life – or dead.
Club culture freely co-exists with township lesbian rape. Their relationship to each other is antagonistic, presenting an unacceptable disparity between the two.
Fanney Tismong, an acclaimed Johannesburg based film-maker who specialises in gay issues and township life, says huge strides have been achieved in South Africa but he agrees deep prejudices still remain in many parts of the country.
“We are making progress and we stand out alone in this regard in Africa, but we are not quite at the end of the rainbow yet.”