The body of Noxolo Nogwazi was found lying in an alley in KwaThema township. Her skull had been crushed by a brick, and witnesses found an empty beer bottle had been brutally forced into her vagina. Noxolo Nogwazi had been brutally murdered and raped for living as an openly gay woman. 

KwaThema  is the same township where, just over three years ago, Eudy Simelane, a midfielder for South Africa’s women’s soccer team, was raped and murdered in circumstances very similar to Noxolo’s. Eudy Simelane, like Noxolo Nogwazi, lived an open life as a lesbian.

In the fortnight since Noxolo Nogwazi’s death alone, two other incidents of gay hate-crime have taken place in South Africa.

Nqobile Khumalo was beaten and choked to death by her ex-boyfriend in Kwamashu because she had subsequently entered into a relationship with another woman.

Recently, in Pretoria, a transgendered 14-year old was raped and left unconscious after his assailants demanded to know whether he was a boy or a girl.

These are the latest three entries on South Africa’s shameful litany of hate crimes against gays. In the case of Noxolo and Nqobile, they were brutally murdered. In all three cases, they were violently raped.

These horrific episodes form part of what activists are starting to call an “epidemic” of hate-crimes against South Africa’s gay community, and in particular against gay women. Rape is always about power, but the rape of a lesbian is understood to be motivated by a further dimension: the idea that by raping a gay woman, one can ‘correct’ them into becoming heterosexual.

Incidents of ‘corrective rape’, as the act is known, are on the increase.

The question of why these crimes seem to be suddenly growing in frequency is one that it is difficult to answer. Is it the case that more and more gays, buoyed by the protection offered them by the Constitution, are choosing to come out and live visibly – thus, ironically, rendering themselves targets for homophobes? Or is it possible that this kind of crime always took place but is simply being identified now for its real motive?

South Africa is not alone in Africa in witnessing an increase in violence against gays. The Ugandan parliament has been debating passing a “Kill The Gays” bill, punishing homosexuality with death. Although the bill has caused uproar among foreign donor nations, reports suggest that it has considerable support among the Ugandan population. Ugandan gay activist David Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in January after a tabloid newspaper included him as one of a list of 100 ‘known homosexuals’ published under the headline ‘Hang Them’.

Why are gays in Africa more likely to suffer violence than elsewhere? Those who defend anti-gay legislation such as that being mooted in Uganda answer that homosexuality is “un-African” – a form of deviance imported to Africa by Western colonialists, and a scourge from which Africa must now rid itself. But this argument cannot account for the fact that homosexual behaviour is known to have occurred continent-wide long before the colonial invasion. Bisexuality is common among the Wolof people in Senegal; Zulu teenage boys have long practiced ukusoma (thigh-sex) with each other; Ugandan kings took young male lovers.

If South Africa is to make itself safe for gay people – and particularly black lesbians – this notion of homosexuality being ‘un-African’ needs to be tackled at its root: debunked via education and community awareness initiatives. We need prominent black lesbian public figures to normalize the identity, and the media to do their part.

Isidingo’s pioneering introduction of an HIV-positive character (Nandipha Sithole, played by Hlubi Mboya) into their cast is said to have done much towards reducing stigma directed at individuals living with AIDS. We need positive black lesbian characters on Isidingo, on Generations, on Egoli. 

It is not enough for gay activists to march through Cape Town with pink banners. We need the marching, of course; but we also need a systematic unpacking of the cultural beliefs that lead people to this terrible violence. 

What, in your opinion, should be done about 'corrective rape' in Africa?