Warning: This article includes references to sexual assault and violent crimes.
Eudy Simelane, an aspiring international football player, coach and referee, has dedicated her life to the sport.
She was one of the first openly lesbian women to live in her hometown of Kwa-Thema in South Africa and was a well-known activist in the LGBT + community.
But due to her sexual orientation, Similan was brutally raped and murdered in 2008 at the age of 31.
This is the story of her life and how the legacy of her death continues to affect South African society.
It was desperate
Similan was born on March 11, 1977, in Koa-Thema, a town in Gauteng County, southeast of Johannesburg.
Her interest in soccer started when she was only four years old, and she always demanded that her brother Bafana take her to train with him even though it was not a sport that women did at the time.
The passion quickly became a dedication as she honed her skills daily.
“Five in the morning, she is [would be] In the gym – football was her favorite and her priority, “recalls her late mother Mali V. 2016 memorial lecture.
Midfielder Simelane, nicknamed “Styles” because she was left-handed, joined her local team Kwa-Thema Ladies, now known as Spring Home Sweepers.
Talking to BBC World Service In 2018 about Similan’s popularity on the field, her father, Khutsu, said: “Everyone came to Earth when I played, Number Six.”
Springs Home Sweepers has spawned a number of stars including Janine Van Waik, South Africa’s most capped soccer player and captain of the national team, known as “Banyana Banyana”, meaning ‘the girls’.
Similan has played for the national team several times, coached four local youth teams and wanted to qualify as the first woman to rule her country.
Defender of the rights of equality and social change, She was one of the first women to appear gay in South Africa.
In the 2020 Eudy Simelane Memorial LectureHer brother Bafana said, “In sports she was a diamond, scoring beautiful goals. She was a cool person, smart, everything. She was a package. Everything you will find in Eudy. She joked that she was playing, pestering others. That’s what I miss about her.”
On April 27, 2008, Similan’s body was found in a stream hundreds of meters from her home in Kwa Thema.
She was reported to have been approached after leaving a bar, raped and then repeatedly stabbed.
Although her death shocked many, activists claimed that many lesbians in South Africa have been targeted with “corrective rape,” a crime whose perpetrator aims to “cure” the victim of their sexuality and convert them to the opposite sex.
Thato Mphuthie He pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Similan in February 2009 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The following September, Hope Hippo He was also convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. When questioned by journalists in court, he replied, “I’m not sorry.”
Many eyes opened
Similan’s sexuality put her in a vulnerable position, something her mother confessed to, and told the BBC, “The whole of South Africa knows that Iody was gay.”
The unfortunate truth is that Simelane’s story is not unique – she is one of many victims of similar horrific crimes in South Africa.
A year before her death, Sizakele SigasaA woman and gay rights activist, and her friend, Salone Masua, were harassed outside a bar and called a “tomboy”. Then the women were gang raped, tortured and shot dead.
A few years after Similan was killed, Noxolo Noguaza, A 24-year-old lesbian, was found beaten and stoned to death in the same town as Similan.
However, as a country, South Africa was at the forefront of gay rights It became the first African country to decriminalize same-sex acts in 1998.
The country also legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, seven years before the law was passed in the United Kingdom, and two years before Similan’s tragic death.
Despite this, the country still has it The largest number of rape cases recorded per person. Within this, young black lesbian women are victims of violent “corrective rape” crimes in South African townships.
to me Data released in 2017, 49% of black members of the nation’s LGBT + communities are likely to know someone killed for being LGBT +, compared to 26% of white community members.
Most of the time, it is the perpetrators of these horrific attacks Not be prosecuted for their actions.
Simelane’s case was an exception though. Her profile and story captivated the nation and called attention to the issue of “corrective rape.”
After Similan’s death, her mother Mali has played a fundamental role in the fight to change her communities’ views of homosexuality, using her Methodist faith as a platform. She has teamed up with her local sponsor, Smads Matsby, in a fight to change attitudes toward LGBT individuals in the community. Mali was fully committed to fighting prejudice until her death in 2019.
“It opened many eyes and challenged us to deal with the LGBTQ issue,” Matsby told the BBC.
A bridge is built over the stream at Kwa-Thema, next to the football stadium where Simelane’s body was found. The bridge has its face imprinted and built as a “reminder of freedom, dignity and equality for all,” according to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project in times.
Another initiative aimed at changing social attitudes was the Eudy Simelane Memorial Lecture. This annual lecture in partnership between Dr. Crowd Center At the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Another institution, Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network, The KwaZulu Natal Christian Council, and the Similan family, aim to change attitudes towards LGBT people, especially within some religious communities.
These bodies recognized that for there to be significant social change, religious communities needed to adopt a new view of same-sex relationships and marriage, so that individuals could not attempt to use religious grounds to justify violence against LGBT people.
Professor Charlene van der Walt of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and deputy director of the Ojama Center told the BBC this year: “The Eudy story is an example of what happens to many families and many religious communities, yet the LGBT + issue is often denied or hidden by believers.
The lecture is also an opportunity to stimulate conversations about the LGBT + communities.
Van der Walt added that it is especially important to continue this conversation during the Covid-19 pandemic, when LGBTI people are “vulnerable” because they are often “in a family setting that does not accept” their sexuality.
“We’ve made a huge leap in the right direction,” she said.
In the 2020 lecture, Similan’s brother Bafana said: “History repeats itself, so now, this lecture opens its eyes to society and other families who should not consider it a curse if someone is gay, gay or transgender.”
Despite Similan’s tragic death, he sent an important message across South Africa and was a catalyst for these projects and talks to take place.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, there is information and support available at BBC Action Line.