On April 28, 2008, the half-clothed body of a woman was found dead in a ditch outside of KwaThema, Gauteng, South Africa. Hers wasn’t the first body to be found in that area, known to be a dumping ground where local gangs took their victims. Hers wasn’t the only female body to be raped and murdered in South Africa in the early 2000s, either. Yet, her killing shocked the country – and the world. What stood out about this particular body was that is belonged to Eudy Simelane, a well-known former player on the South African national football team, the Springs Home Sweepers.
Eudy Simelane, born on March 11, 1977, was 31 years old at the time of her death. She had just accepted a job at a law firm in Pretoria, having finished a successful career playing soccer. She was also a coach for four other teams and was studying to be a referee for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In the time before her death, she was also well known for being one of the first woman to live openly as a lesbian in KwaThema. She was an equal rights activist and a bold voice in a cacophony of injustice against LGBTI persons.
The night before April 28, 2008, Eudy was leaving a pub and robbed of her mobile phone, shoes and cash. She allegedly recognized one of her attackers before being beaten, gang-raped and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs, including the soles of her feet. According to the international poverty relief NGO, ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission, Eudy was targeted because she was well-known to be gay. In their 2009 report, they labeled her murder a hate crime.
Four suspects were put on trial, a legal process that lasted an excruciating 16 months. On February 11, 2009, Thato Mphuthi pled guilty to rape and murder and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Another, 24-year-old Themba Mvubu, was convicted of murder, rape and robbery and got life plus 35 years in prison. Called out by the judge for not showing any remorse, he said to reporters while being led out of the courtroom, “I’m not sorry.” The other two men tried, Khumbulani Magagula, 22, and Johannes Mahlangu, 18, were acquitted. Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng told the court, “She was stripped naked, stabbed, assaulted, raped. What more indignity can a person endure?”
Eudy’s death happened amidst a wave of violence against lesbians in South Africa, and it continued to rise despite her notoriety. One of the most violent societies in the world at the time, 27,750 rapes had been committed in a six-month span in 2009, a rise of 10.4% at the time. There had been more than 30 reported murders of lesbians in South Africa, yet none of them saw any justice served. Eudy’s murder was the first to see a conviction. Even more shocking was the fact that South Africa had already made same-sex marriage legal – in fact, it was the fifth country in the world to do so. The country’s post-apartheid 1996 Constitution outlined a policy of equality for the entire nation, but at the time, South Africa’s society was deeply entrenched in homophobia on many levels – in educational and religious institutions, the criminal justice system and even within families. Police officers did not document assaults, and family members and religious officials either encouraged, allowed or perpetrated the crimes themselves.
What Eudy was subjected to, an especially heinous called “Corrective Rape” the trend at the time, and all though still an issue today in South Africa, the gay rights law’s implemented by gay rights activists, well-known Judge, writer and public figure Edwin Cameron who himself came-out as a gay man then came out as a gay man with HIV/AIDS, made the crime less frequent. Although in the rest of nations in The Continent of Africa the criminal practice is relatively legal and not punishable as a hate crime. Throughout the rest of the world “Corrective Rape” may known as homophobic rape. It is the practice of raping someone to cure them of their sexual orientation. ActionAid and the South African Human Rights Commission pointed out in their March 2009 report that these crimes were often ignored by the state and went unpunished by the legal system due to the pervasiveness of “macho politics” in South Africa, which saw women as little more than sexual objects and therefore did not consider rape or homophobic rape to be an issue of priority.
The Guardian talked to lesbians in Johannesburg and Cape Town at the time and found that many said they were deliberately targeted and raped due to their sexual orientation and lived in constant fear of violence and threats to their lives. Unfortunately, homophobic rape is not something that died a decade ago with Eudy Simelane. It still plagues South Africa and the world today, with reported cases in Ecuador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Zimbabwe. Perpetrators of homophobic rape target mostly lesbians, but also gay men, transgender people and asexual women thought to be possibly homosexual.
Eudy’s mother, Mally Simelane, was devastated by her daughter’s death, but she eventually turned her grief into activism and spent a decade speaking out for LGBTQ rights in South Africa. She became a figure for LGBTQ acceptance and religious tolerance, often attending the funerals of others in the community. She said in an interview in 2016 that she finally forgave her daughter’s murderers. Mally passed away earlier this year, nearly 11 years after her daughter’s death. In an interview in 2008, shortly after Eudy’s murder, Mally said, “I gave my daughter my support,” adding “She herself always knew who she was. She told us straight out when she was just 12: ‘Mother, I’m a lesbian. Do you still love me?’” An exemplary role model in her own right, Mally also said, “Of course I loved her. When she was grown up and a well-known footballer the whole country loved her.”
Over 1,000 people mourned Eudy’s death at her funeral, including her family, friends, teammates and admirers from all over South Africa. Today, a miniature bridge erected in KwaThema in 2009 honors Eudy’s life, passion and activism, and serves as a somber memorial of her brutal murder. The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, which built the bridge where her body was found, said it was a reminder of “the right to freedom, dignity and equality for all.”
Not even Eudy, if looking down at us from up above, could see or know the Impact of what she went through and her life viciously taken from her was to cause in South Africa and the ripple effects that this would eventually have with in the country. Through her suffrage she’d keep free and safeguarded millions of people under the oppression of anti-gay violence. How her death re-united the LGBTQ originators and founders for more legislation, tighter watches and more education about what gay-rights was. This alone has helped save the lives of thousands. She with her sacrifice and the impact of many other lives taken through violence or through forced silence of HIV/AIDS have paved the way for people to united and confront the issues of gay rights and gay marriage in South Africa and to see how awareness had to be brought up to a higher level. How her death impacted a gay community so brutally that they were forced back into the closet out of fear. And, how her life lost provoked public outcry for stiffer sentences and stronger laws against the practice of Corrective Rape.
Even though, South Africa in terms of laws and policy is way ahead of the other African Nations in terms of gay rights but still the concept was being refuted by these wanton acts of violence in a gay marriage nation. Her unnecessary death was to be a reason to give a rousing up to the causes of the LGBTQ community and head out to protest the court’s decision to acquit two members of the gang rape. Eudy would be pleased to see how her death made her mother an activist until her death and made the lives of four very different courage’s men that founded LGBTQ to be called from their slumber after the long arduous fight from Apartheid and Gay Rights back to the streets in protest over her death. She called back in to action the gay activists of the previous decade to forward the causes of personal freedom, fear and oppression from homosexual violence and the laws governing the perpetrators acquittals in to review for stiffener laws and sentences for future offenders.