Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Nexus between African Traditional Practices and Homophobic Violence towards Lesbians in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Nexus between African Traditional Practices and Homophobic Violence towards Lesbians in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

Article excerpt

In spite of the advent of western civilization and religions, coupled with the fast encroachment of globalization and universal principles of human rights, freedoms and liberties, traditional practices are still deeply embedded within most African local communities. The over four decade-old observation that "Africans have welcomed the message of the Gospel, but have not yet left behind beliefs and practices that for centuries have been part of the philosophy of their present existence and of life beyond the grave"1 is still of relevance today. There is thus a tendency for Africans to fervently hold on to and revere customs and traditional beliefs. Practices such as ancestral worship, divination, sorcery, secret societies, liturgy and the rite of passage are still deeply revered by the 'traditional African'. These traditions are not some imaginary, archaic and uncivilized superstitions, but a religious dogma, the essence of being and a way of life that define most African rural communities. Given this premise, opposition to such traditions especially within rural areas in most of Africa, is often considered offensive and blasphemous. "If you see things other than the way the community sees them, they will demean your understanding and systematize with your 'ahenness'"". Among such practices considered as sacrilegious within most rural communities on the continent, is homosexuality.

It is difficult to trace the origins of homosexuality in sub-Saharan Africa. There is still a belief in the myth that "the practice is a decadent, bourgeois Western innovation forced upon colonial Africa by white men or, alternately by Islamic slave traders"iii. It is against this premise that homosexuality has been condemned by leading African statesmen including former president Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and Sam Nujoma of Namibia. President Robert Mugabe maintained that homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs. The practice is outlawed in Uganda with punishments extending up to 7 years in prison. In Cameroon, homosexual acts are banned and are punishable with imprisonment from six months to five years and a fine of up to 400 dollars". Throughout most of Africa, the practice is considered a corrosion of established traditions and customs. This is particularly so within rural and semi-urban areas of most parts of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa wherein some traditional practices are still deeply entrenched and generally observed especially among the Xhosa people.

This study is based on the premise that the patriarchal and sexist nature of African traditional practices predominantly account for the violence towards women in general and lesbians in particular, within rural parts of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriages on 30th November 2006. In spite of this, there has been a perpetual persecution of mostly lesbians in the country for overtly professing their sexual orientation. Documented incidents of this persecution reveal that it usually manifests itself in verbal harassment, 'corrective' rape, and even murderv. A 2010 report by People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) and Aids Legal Network (ALN) documents the murders of five lesbians within townships in South Africa between 2006 and 2008. Even though the South African police do not classify records of sexual violence on the basis of sexual orientation, numerous instances of violence towards lesbians based on their presumed or known gender orientation have been documentedvi. The Eastern Cape Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Organisation (ECLGBTI) reports an estimate of 10 incidents of corrective rape every week. Much of the recorded evidence reveals that the apparent homophobic violence towards women is more predominant within townships and villages.

3rd Degree, a program aired on ETV, a South African television channel on the 5th July 2011, showed the extent of homophobia in South Africa. …

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