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Lesbian footballers fight South African homophobia

Andrew Harding | 13:01 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tumi Mkhuma is showing me her photo album in the small room she rents in a tough neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg. "That's me when I was 11 - wearing trousers of course," she says. "I knew I was gay even as a young child."

Tumi has only had sex with a man once. That was last year, when she was dragged from a bar, beaten unconscious, and then raped. "A month later I got morning sickness - that's how I found out he raped me," she says.

To be poor, and black, and a lesbian in South Africa is to live in danger. "Corrective rapes", beatings and murders are disturbingly common in conservative communities where homophobia remains deeply entrenched.

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Last week I was shown the ditch where the body of Eudy Simelane was thrown. She was South Africa's most high-profile victim - an openly gay, former star of the national women's football team. Her friend, MJ, said Eudy had been raped, tortured and stabbed in 2008. "Homophobia is rising, really rising," she said. "I've been through a lot in this community. I even have wounds in my body from being attacked for being lesbian."

"Chosen Few... Chosen Few... Chosen Few." A dozen women are shouting out the name of their football team on a scrap of wasteland just north of Johannesburg's city centre. Tumi is leading the chant. She's now the striker and obvious star of South Africa's only openly lesbian team.

"We're all lesbians so I feel like I'm with my family. They always put a smile on my face," says Tumi, breaking off from a twice-weekly practice session. "In township teams lesbians are not allowed." We talk about the World Cup. The women have mixed feelings - happy it's coming to South Africa, frustrated that they can't afford tickets, and angry that women's football is not given the same high profile.

After two energetic hours, Tumi takes off her boots and sets off for home. "I always worry. When I'm walking the streets I watch left and right. I'm not just a woman, I'm also lesbian, and there is no justice here."

The man she says assaulted her is still living in the neighbourhood, and although she's reported him to the police, they have yet to arrest him. "The police don't take it seriously," she says. "He's threatened me again and says he knows where I live. I don't have any protection. I don't have weapon. I don't have anything. I'm just me. Just me."

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  • 1. At 10:44pm on 01 Jun 2010, Gaynor Kelly-Teare wrote:

    Thankyou for drawing my attention to the plight of these brave women. Is there a way I can send a message of support to them without causing problems? G

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  • 2. At 00:57am on 02 Jun 2010, erika ann wrote:

    A good story for the world to see. It's also important to remember many rape survivors do not consider this act of violence as "having sex" in any consensual sense of the term ("Tumi has only had sex with a man once"). If those are her words, it's one thing, but it didn't come across that way. Mr. Harding should consider an alternative word choice in the future.

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  • 3. At 08:51am on 02 Jun 2010, cwscms wrote:

    Yes, please let us know if there is a way to contact these women or to donate to their cause. Thanks.

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  • 4. At 12:52pm on 02 Jun 2010, LAL wrote:

    Thankyou for bringing to the world's attention the outrageous way in which Lesbians are treated. Not enough attention is paid to Lesbians in Africa and it feels like if you are Gay then rape is ok. This must be stopped and condemned through international pressure.

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  • 5. At 5:19pm on 02 Jun 2010, petrosworld wrote:

    While one can hold moral or social reservations regarding homosexuality (as I do), no one who respects the basic dignity of a human being created in the image of God can do anything but shudder at the evil debasing sexual violence directed against Ms Mkhuma. Rape as a form of control or retribution is possibly the greatest act of evil on the planet. It was historically used in warfare and confrontations in most "civilized" societies until alarmingly recently, and is a plague on the African continent at this time. My heart goes out to Ms Mkhuma.

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  • 6. At 7:45pm on 02 Jun 2010, CeciliaP wrote:

    If you looking to help hatecrime victims for example lesbians who has suffered corrective rape there's a organisation called Triangle Project, based in Cape Town that work a lot with rape victims. There's also a organisation for tans-identified persons called Gender DynamiX who do a lot of good work. Both organisations are well worth looking up if you want to support the lgbti comunity of South Africa.

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  • 7. At 08:52am on 04 Jun 2010, Andrew Harding BBC wrote:

    I think the best way of contacting "Chosen Few" is to go to the FEW website - www.few.org.za
    They're the umbrella organisation working with the footballers.
    Erika Ann - thanks for your comment. I was indeed using Tumi's words - although not in quotation. I take your point about the implications of the phrase.

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  • 8. At 12:47pm on 04 Jun 2010, Steve Evans wrote:

    Thank you for a disturbing but important article. I support Sex and Relationships Education in Secondary Schools in Bradford and part of that work is to challenge LGBT predjudice. Is there any way I could download the video clip for this article to show to young people in school?

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  • 9. At 4:31pm on 04 Jun 2010, Englishman_in_Jozzi wrote:

    Thank you Andrew for such an enlightening artical and although South Africa does have one of the most advanced sets of laws to protect its Gay and Lesbian citizens and their rights as equal citizens it is shocking to see that the people who are meant to be enforcing those laws i.e. the police seemed to have turned a blind eye by not arresting the attacker.

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