Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

The baseless belief that homosexuality can be cured through forced sex is widespread, especially in South Africa where many LGBTI persons have fallen victim. Greater public awareness needs to be created around this issue urgently

‘An injury to ONE is an injury to ALL!’

Hate crimes, homophobia and discrimination against queer [1] people are global phenomena that are common practice. This situation is especially experienced in Africa and the Middle East where harsh and punitive legislation and policies are authorised and endorsed. The lack of democracy, or the protection thereof, also perpetuates extreme human rights abuses, which often takes the form of physical assault. A case in point is in South Africa where the advent of democracy brought protection of rights of citizens, yet there is an increase in hate rapes, particularly of black lesbians, and violence against people in same-sex relationships.

By definition ‘curative’ or ‘corrective’ rape is problematic. The words ‘curative’ or ‘corrective’ signifies some form of justification for this heinous crime. There is thus a need to move away from this term of reference and rather refer to it as hate rape as will be the preferred usage in this document. The word ‘hate’ is also contentious as all rape could be rationalized as stemming from hate and violence that often also stems from self-hatred. However, the act is so abhorrent that it is indeed difficult to find words to describe it and understand how people could indulge in such acts.

By explanation it is the intentional raping, especially of women, in order to ‘cure’ them of their lesbianism. It is claimed that the majority of cases are often perpetrated by gangs of men. This is a global occurrence and seems to have become common practice in South Africa. What is worse is that the government and society turns a blind eye to it and it is still not acknowledged as an area of priority. Even more reprehensible is the fact that families and friends, including parents, are known to have arranged sexual encounters for individuals who they feel are ‘misguided’, or ‘going through a phase’. These people honestly believe that they have the right to intervene in the hope that they could enforce change through this horrific act.

Given the dire implications of this form of hate crime, it is also astounding to note the deafening global silence; as one activist remarked: ‘This is one of the most egregious instances of moral numbness that I have witnessed in my lifetime.’ So where is the thunderous public outcry? The only time that this matter reaches the public eye is when a hate rape is committed and LGBTI organizations and allies raise their placards to condemn these atrocious acts. This raises a sporadic spark of interest and for a short while rage is felt everywhere, then it all dies down. Where are the feminist voices? Where are the gender activists?

Hate rape is a human rights violation that is generally perpetrated by men who have warped viewpoints and are often extremists in their attitudes. So, in order to achieve social justice, it is necessary to engage issues through a feminist lens that dissects men and masculinity because hate rape is escalated by the mainstream, patriarchal and the heteronormative social construct of how sexuality is defined in society. It is evident that there is a need to broaden the issues of hate rape among a wider spectrum of communities, especially on the African continent and the MENA region. Creating dialogue via various media strategies will thus be very useful.

The socialization of society has its roots in religious and often conservative communities. Most often religious texts are misquoted and used as a justification to discriminate and oust those who identify with sexualities other than heterosexuality. Hence, it is necessary to provide alternative religious perspectives that encompass non-judgmental attitudes, compassion, dignity and human rights for all; regardless of sexual orientation.

The current economic recession gives spontaneous rise to poverty. As a result of poverty there is a leaning towards religion for answers; creating an escalation in orthodoxy. These attitudes are slowly influencing policy on the African continent, for example, in countries such as Uganda and Rwanda there is a rise of homophobic laws. Moreover, gender and other social issues are slowly moving off the agenda and there appears to be the enactment of oppressive legislation, discriminatory policies and practices, particularly in African contexts.

An example of the stance of African states is clearly exemplified by the gathering at the 2011 United Nations General Assembly, whereby 79 predominantly African countries (including South Africa) initially voted in favour of an amendment which removes sexual orientation from an anti-execution resolution. This signifies that LGBTI rights are not considered as important and protection against death and other harsh treatment are not provided. These factors indirectly also contribute to the escalation of hate crimes.

As alluded to earlier, hate rape has been part of the broader LGBTI and gender struggle and mainly seen in the form of reactive advocacy when someone has been raped. In South Africa, there have been previous attempts by civil society to launch a campaign against hate rape. However, it was fraught with power struggles and control as well as clashes of perspectives and ideologies of individuals and organizations. Politicking around the issue was often the case and this reduced the impact of the struggle. Its focus was based on the aftermath of hate rape, rather than its prevention. This then gave rise to another campaign, which was predominantly located in the LGBTI sector and similarly marred with inner conflict. So there is a need to inject a new life into a campaign that is more preventative, cooperative and inclusive.

It is time to place hate crime, specifically hate rape, on the mainstream rights agenda and place it as an issue that need a preventative strategy to eliminate it. South Africa and the world need a strong voice to counter the looming threats posed by hate rape. There is a need for strategically placed organisations in various sectors to stand together on lobbying and advocating for change with wide media coverage.


In an article by Kinoti

"Every day you feel like it’s a time bomb waiting to go off," she said. "You don't have freedom of movement; you don't have space to do as you please. You are always scared and your life always feels restricted. As women and as lesbians we need to be very aware that it is a fact of life that we are always in danger."

The voices of activists and government officials

"There is no awareness around hate crimes and corrective rape … We need a programme of action, we need intervention and research, a budget to find out the problems lesbian women encounter." (Funda)

"From New York to Afghanistan, to the Balkans, across Africa, Latin America. I’ve been to many conferences ... (curative rape is) a global phenomenon and it’s often friends and family … It has always been in society since the onset of patriarchy and been used as a tool to control people’s sexuality, women in particular ways and also some men. Many, many of my women friends and comrades themselves are survivors of curative rape." (Muthien, Engender)

"The police and prosecutors refuse to investigate on the basis of hate, the criminal justice system generally is slow and we live in a violent society. For every one murdered there are scores of victims," (Craven, JWG)

"We don’t have enough understanding of the constitution especially around equal rights. Everyone has inherent dignity … We need to include these issues into the school curriculum, address issues around gender and sexuality we’ve avoided for too long." (Madladla-Routledge)

* Pepe Hendricks grew up in the period of apartheid that inspired integrity, dignity and resilience within him in a constant struggle towards promoting equality, dignity and human rights as well as editing the book Hijab: Unveiling Queer Muslim Lives.)


[1] The word ‘queer’ is often considered as a derisive and derogatory term by many people because it was initially used as an offensive term to classify people that associated with sexuality other than that of heterosexuality. However, during the 20th Century, the term was significantly transformed by many activists who reclaimed it as a means of empowerment to desensitise the word. It was embraced as a term to describe diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities or gender expressions that does not conform to hetero-normative society. Hence the word ‘queer’ is celebrated as the collective term used to describe the spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) communities.



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.