Published March 15, 2011
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Rights activists are speaking out against rapes targeting lesbians in South Africa.
About 25 demonstrators rallied outside parliament Monday while their leaders met with government representatives.
Luleki Sizwe, which means "guide a nation," a small group of lesbian activists in the townships of Cape Town, also circulated an online petition calling on Justice Minister Jeff Radebe "to address 'corrective rape,' the increasingly common hate crime in which men rape lesbian women to 'turn' them straight or 'cure' them of their sexual orientation."
In three months, the organization gathered more than 170,000 signatures around the world. The online campaign also led thousands to send e-mails to Radebe.
Luleki Sizwe founder Ndumie Funda said: "We have shown that we can mobilize tens of thousands of people in South Africa and around the world, and the ministry now knows that they can no longer ignore our long fight against corrective rape. The question now is what they will actually do about it. The ball is in their court."
Activists are pushing the ministry to set up a commission to research, develop and implement a national plan to address sexual violence, violence that targets lesbians and gays and hate crimes.
"We want the government to label corrective rape ... as a hate crime," said Eugene Brockman, one of the demonstrators at parliament.
Same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa and the country has among the most liberal laws on sexual orientation on a continent where many others ban gay sex. But the rapes in South Africa are a brutal sign that cultural attitudes remain deeply conservative.
The most notorious cases include the 2008 death of Eudy Simelane, a star on South Africa's women's national soccer team. Simelane, a lesbian, was gang raped, beaten and stabbed. Two men were jailed, while two others were acquitted in the attack.