Her name was Simelane

Lesbian lives don’t matter – not enough, not the way they should. Hate motivates vicious attacks and gruesome murders of women. South African soccer star Simelane Simelane suffered such a fatal fate.

The screening of Eudy Simelane: A Life Cut Short at the Batho ba Lorato Film Festival in Gaborone re-opened in February, salting closed wounds.

Eudy Simelane was a renowned South African national soccer star. She was brutally gang-raped and murdered in her home town Kwa-Thema, near Springs on the East Rand, in Gauteng, South Africa. Her killing unveiled a deep cancer within the community – it personified the cultural, religious and societal intolerance towards the LGBTQI community. It forced people to internalise how bigotry creates a ripe environment for hate crime.

The documentary unloaded the  results of society’s violent obsession with gender roles and sexual orientation. Simelane came from a family of avid soccer fanatics. Both her parents and brother, Bafana, were soccer players. However, Simelane’s undeniable talent for soccer and autonomic expression was met with stigmatic hues from perpetrators.

In the film her brother expressed anguish in reaction to the men who brutally violated his sister’s body: It was planned. You cannot be famous in the township, and have someone do something bad to you as if they don’t know who you are.

“They knew her. Why couldn’t they ask her out? Or try to establish her gender and fail knowing that they tried to ask her out?”

Rape cases like Simelane’s are barely reported in Botswana. As the Gender-Based Violence indicator study in Botswana shows, that the number of reported rape cases has increased by 24% from 2003 to 2010. There was a larger number of unreported cases based on stigmatic practices, as lesbians face different forms of marginalisation in society.

Simelane’s story ignited the need to speak out more on the importance of eradicating discrimination and protecting the lives of lesbians in Botswana. A conversation that could not be ignored inside of one the most popular cinemas in the country, where the film festival was hosted.

The fifth edition of the festival ignited discussions surrounding discrimination and the internalised pain that the LGBTQI community face. It also trekked a journey towards an inclusive society where LGBTQI rights could be implemented. The festival included a panel discussion where the audience could express their thoughts on the movies screened.

One of the panelists shared their thoughts on Simelane’s documentary taking it back to basics: “What is corrective rape?” she asked. “What are they correcting?”

This focused on how even society’s definition of the hate crime is problematic. She further mentioned that if society carries on using  the term ‘corrective rape’ people will think that there is something wrong with the victim. That something about them needs to be corrected – fixed.

She recalled a conversation she’d had with a colleague where they’d expressed their  sympathy – some semblance of understanding towards the perpetrators of this hate crime. This because society had taught them that there was something wrong with the women.

The panelist boldly pronounced the need for LGBTQI activists to keep spreading accurate information. She insisted on the importance of the practice to continue with similar conversations where the definition of targeted rape towards lesbians is redefined. Especially lesbians who are practicing their right of freedom of expression and so challenging stereotypical gender identities in how they express themselves.

When festival goers were asked to share the thoughts the screenings induced they said:

Hillary Molebatsi speaks

Hillary Molebatsi speaks

“The only way I can be comfortable with myself is if I have friends who are gay, if I have friends who are cool about it, and a family that is supportive. It’s unfortunate that not all of us have that background and people  in the community carry those issues internally. I like that the festival shows these issues.” – Hillary Molebatsi

Ava Avalos speaks

Ava Avalos speaks

“It’s you, young people that are going to change the dialogue. It’s not just about watching a movie. It’s about building communities; communities of wisdom, communities of awareness –  that is what is going to save us. That is the only way we are going to overcome HIV in the LGBTI community. But  how do we overcome ignorance, really? How do we go about changing the conversation entirely?” – Ava Avalos

Refilwe Gaelesiwe speaks

Refilwe Gaelesiwe speaks

“I think it’s safe to say that Botswana is fighting and it is not backing down in its fight. People are coming out to say: ‘This is who we are and we need to be heard.’ It’s becoming  louder and louder in the sense that people now recognise their freedom of assembly They are no longer afraid to assemble and talk about issues that affect them.” – Refilwe Galeisiwe

Bonnie Sepora speaks

Bonnie Sepora speaks

“Every time we talk of LGBTI issues we link it to sex, But LGBTI persons are more than just sexual beings; we are social beings, psychological beings, emotional beings, political beings, cultural beings, religious beings. I think this is something that we really need to teach the community – that there is more to being gay than sex.” – Bonnie Sepora


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