Luleki Sizwe, an organization made up of a small band of activists hiding in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. Their goal? To wake the world up to an epidemic problem in South Africa, the country once thought to be a shining example of the promise and potential of human rights. That problem: the disturbing phenomenon of corrective rape, whereby lesbian women are targeted by men, and raped in an effort to turn them straight.
A few weeks ago, a volunteer for Luleki Sizwe started a petition on Change.org from a safe house for corrective rape survivors, hoping to persuade the South African Ministry of Justice to declare corrective rape a hate crime. It has since become the most popular petition in the history of Change.org, with more than 66,000 signatures. And though Luleki Sizwe hasn't scored a victory yet, there is ongoing communication with the Ministry of Justice to move discussion on this pressing subject forward.
In South Africa each year, 500 women report being the victim of corrective rape, and perpetrators face little punishment. Indeed, Andile Ngcoza targeted a lesbian woman named Millicent Gaika, raping her, strangling her, and beating her up for five hours. And he was just set free for the equivalent of $10, less than the cost of a large pizza.
Stories like these are all too common in South Africa, where for every 25 men arrested for rape, 24 are set free. It also means that activism to address the problem of rape and corrective rape is particularly dangerous, which is why volunteers with Luleki Sizwe work out of safe houses. Today, two members of Luleki Sizwe -- founder Ndumie Funda and volunteer Billi du Preez -- spoke with Change.org about their work, their pride in seeing the Change.org community lift up their voices, and their goal of not only snagging a meeting with South Africa's Ministry of Justice, but getting the Ministry to finally declare corrective rape what it really is: a hate crime.
The interview is being published in three parts -- one below and the other two on the Human Rights and Women's Rights blogs.
Among the points that Ndumie and Billi stress are that South Africa may have a reputation for being a world leader in human rights, but the country is far from living up to its promise. This is no more evident than in how the country deals with the subject of rape.
Change.org: Why did you choose to target the South African government with this petition?
Ndumie Funda: We have one of the most respected constitutions in the world, but it's just in writing. They are not practicing what they preach. Someone rapes someone and is then walking free in the streets of Gugulethu [a Cape Town township] as if he's done nothing. What is the government doing about that?
We recently got another case on the 17th by a guy who attempted to rape a woman. He told her that he's sick and tired of her being a lesbian. To my disappointment it's a guy that I know. He had a gun and shouted and pointed it at me and her mom.
Billi du Preez: The perpetrators of the rape are being let out on ridiculous amount of bail, they're living in the same areas as the victims, going to the same schools, etc. There is absolutely no protection for victims.
We are being let down by the police, social services, justice system -- nobody is getting involved in this.
Change.org: How would getting ‘corrective rape’ declared a hate crime help?
Ndumie Funda: There are so many people who have been victims of corrective rape and nothing ever happens... Desiree got raped last year and was forced to move to the other outskirts of Cape Town to avoid interaction with that guy. Another lesbian was raped to death and the police denied that someone was found dead. In another case the victim was sent home from court in the same communal taxi as the guy who raped her.
So declaring something a hate crime is a way for us to put pressure on the South African government and show us that we are serious about this. It's about telling the government that enough is enough.
Billi du Preez: I do believe that corrective rape is a hate crime. But our point is that our police, our government and our justice system is well aware of corrective rape and they are not doing anything about it. If it's declared a hate crime we feel that it might be taken more seriously. It also might act as a deterrent, because the sentencing that they are currently getting is so minimal.
Change.org: Luleki Sizwe's petition is now Change.org's most popular of all time. What's your reaction?
Ndumie Funda: I'm very excited and overwhelmed by the support and I am really sorry that I haven't had the ability to thank everyone for their support. We are not a well to do organization and I am flat broke. We do not have Internet access or even a computer. I have to borrow a computer [pictured left] from my cousin so it's not easy to keep in touch.
But I want the entire world to know the suffering of the people in South Africa. I want us to embarrass the South African government for the way they are acting.
Billi du Preez: Yes it's been amazing. I’m the one who actually uploaded the petition and I remember I went to bed, woke up the next morning and was like 'Wow, what the #$% happened last night? (laugh)
If you haven't taken action yet, please sign two petitions: the first urging the government of South Africa to declare corrective rape a hate crime, and the second urging the Ministry of Justice to meet with activists from Luleki Sizwe. Last week, the Ministry of Justice actually wrote Change.org to complain about the volume of email they were receiving. If the burden of email is tough for government employees to bear, then perhaps they should imagine what the threat of being raped because of your sexual orientation feels like. And perhaps they should pledge to help deal with what's become an epidemic of corrective rape in their country.
2nd petition text -
Last month we sent a formal letter to South Africa's Minister of Justice Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe calling on him to take the lead in finding solutions to the 'corrective rape' epidemic and to get it declared a hate crime punishable by the harshest sentences.
When the minister did not reply, we launched a petition on Change.org, the world’s fastest growing social action platform. That petition soon became the most popular petition the platform has ever hosted, and now has more than 60,000 signatures from all over the world.
But to date the leadership of Luleki Sizwe have still received no reply from Minister Radebe - not even a call to discuss how to work together to fight 'corrective rape' in South Africa.
South Africa is besieged by the heinous crime of 'corrective rape', a term used to describe when a male rapes a lesbian with the aim of 'turning' her heterosexual!
Most of the victims are tortured, grievously assaulted and sometimes murdered! They are also prone to getting HIV/AIDS from the assault, and many of them commit suicide as a result of the "corrective rape"!
In the last 10 years 31 lesbian women have been murdered because of their sexuality and more than 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped in Cape Town alone every week. But the South African government and justice system are failing the victims of 'corrective rape' by letting the perpetrators out on ridiculously low bail, and taking literally years to bring the court-cases to a conclusion.
This is an issue which should be of great concern to Minister Radebe, and as we have shown, South Africans and the world are not going to sit by and allow this to continue.
The least the minister could do is meet with the leadership of Luleki Sizwe, a small group of activists working to end 'corrective rape', to find ways to work together in the fight against 'corrective rape'.
I call on Minister Radebe to publicly commit to a meeting with Ndumie Funda, the founder of Luleki Sizwe, at a time of his choosing.
I look forward to your reply.
[Your name here]