Eudy Simelane, born in Kwa-Thema, a township in Gauteng, south east of Johannesburg on 11 March 1977 was a ‘diamond’ and dedicated her life to football.
She was a well-known LGBT and activist and one of the first openly gay women to live in Kwa-Thema. But Simelane was brutally raped and murdered in 2008, aged just 31 because of her sexuality.
BBC Sport shared her story detailing how the legacy of her death is still impacting South African society.
Simelane’s interest in football started when she was only four years old, demanding her brother Bafana always took her to practice with him despite it not being a sport commonly played by women at the time.
“Five o’clock in the morning, she [would be] at the gym – football was her favourite and her priority”, her late mother Mally recalled at a memorial lecture five years ago.
Affectionately known as ‘Styles’ because she was left-footed, midfielder Simelane joined her local team, Kwa-Thema Ladies, now known as the Springs Home Sweepers.
In an interview with BBC World Service in 2018 about Simelane’s popularity on the pitch, her father Khotso said: “Everyone came to the ground when she played, number six”.
Simelane, who was a campaigner for equality rights and social change played several times for Banyana Banyana and coached four local youth teams and wanted to qualify to become South Africa’s first female referee.
“In sport she was a diamond, scoring beautiful goals. She was a marvellous person, intelligent, everything. It was a package. Everything you would find in Eudy. Jokingly she was playing, teasing others. That is what I miss about her,” said her brother Bafana in the 2020 Eudy Simelane Memorial Lecture.
According to multiple reports, on 27 April 2008, Simelane’s body was found in a stream just a few hundred metres from her home in Kwa-Thema. Reports stated she was approached after leaving a pub, raped and then stabbed repeatedly.
Despite her death shocking many, activists claimed many lesbians in South Africa were targeted for ‘corrective rape’, a crime where the perpetrator aims to ‘cure’ the victim of their sexuality, converting them to heterosexuality.
Thato Mphuthi pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Simelane in February 2009 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The following September, Themba Mvubu was also found guilty of the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. When questioned by reporters in court, he responded: “I’m not sorry.”
Simelane’s sexuality put her in a vulnerable position, something her mother recognised, telling the BBC, “the whole of South Africa knew Eudy was a lesbian”.
The sad reality is Simelane’s story isn’t unique – she is one of many victims of similar, horrific crimes in the country.
Despite South Africa becoming the first African nation to decriminalise same-sex acts in 1998 and legalise the same-sex marriage in 2006, the country still has the highest number of recorded rape cases per capita.
And it’s young, black, lesbian women that often fall victim to violent ‘corrective rape’ crimes in South African townships.
49% of black members of LGBT+ communities in the country are likely to know someone who has been murdered for being LGBT+, compared to 26% of white community members, that’s according to data released in 2017 (data released in 2017)
More often than not, the perpetrators of these awful attacks are not prosecuted for their actions.
Simelane’s case has been an exception though. Her profile and story captivated the nation and brought the issue of ‘corrective rape’ to attention.
Following Simelane’s death, her mother Mally was instrumental in the fight to change her community’s views on homosexuality, using her Methodist faith as a platform. She united with her local Pastor, Smadz Matsepe, in a fight to change attitudes towards LGBT+ individuals in society. Mally was fully committed to fighting prejudice until her passing in 2019.
“It opened the eyes of many and it challenged us to deal with the LGBT+ issue,” Matsepe told the BBC.
A bridge was built over the stream in Kwa-Thema, next to the football field where Simelane’s body was found. The bridge features her face imprinted on it and was built “as a reminder of the freedom, dignity and equality for all”, according to the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project in The Times.
In the 2020 lecture, Simelane’s brother Bafana, said: “History repeats itself, so now, this lecture is eye-opening to the community and other families that they must not take it as a curse if someone is gay, lesbian or transgender”.
Despite the tragic death of Simelane, it sent an important message across South Africa and was a catalyst for these projects and conversations to take place.
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By FARPost Reporter
Source: BBC Sport