It was a year of extremes in South Africa – from basking in the glow of legalised gay marriage to the horror of the hate crime murders of lesbians. We explore the most significant local headlines of 2007.
The Civil Union Bill
The year began on a high note: same-sex marriage in South Africa had been legalised in December 2006 thanks to the Civil Union Bill – a first on the African continent – and by mid January 84 gays and lesbians had been married. But we were to discover later in the year that liberal laws would make little difference to the actions of murderous homophobes.
Implementation of the bill was however not especially smooth. Marriage officers struggled to be licensed to be able to officiate under the new Act. The Cape Argus further reported that the first same-sex couple to get married in South Africa, Western Cape game rangers Vernon and Tony Gibbs-Halls, received death threats.
March also saw reports of the first impending South African gay divorce just over three months after same-sex unions were legalised. Richard Thornton and Andrew Jacobs however went on to reconcile temporarily leaving the dubious distinction of being the first local gay divorcees to fall on Pretoria’s Kenneth Henning-Hattingh and Jaco Johan Henning-Hattingh later that month.
It was reported that seventeen minor South African churches had been given the go-ahead to perform same-sex marriages, but that the list – provided by the Department of Home Affairs – excluded the major churches, such as the Anglican Church, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church – which all barred their ministers from playing any part in officiating gay unions.
Over 500 prominent South African Christians signed a petition urging the synod of the Dutch Reformed Church to end its discriminatory stance against the gay and lesbian community. Notable signatories included singer Steve Hofmeyr, Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange and Allan Boesak. The petition did little to change the church’s policy however – at its annual general synod meeting in June it refused to allow clergy to bless same-sex marriages.
In contrast, the South African Union of Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) chose to allow its rabbis, and lay marriage officers, to marry same-sex couples in a full Jewish ceremony. The decision was taken at the National Assembly of the SAUPJ in Durban.
In July, South African prisoners had something to rejoice about when the department of correctional services announced that same-sex inmate couples would be allowed to marry in prison.
In January, the Citizen newspaper reported that Juan Uys, the head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GLA), and thought to be the man behind the Crime Expo website was on the verge of being arrested on charges of “theft by false pretences.” Uys and his discredited organisation have been the bane of legitimate LGBT organisations over the years, issuing outrageous statements and claims supposedly on behalf of the lesbian and gay community.
In one of the year’s biggest and most bizarre stories, a furore erupted in May over an anonymous self-professed former male prostitute’s internet blog in which he claimed to have serviced a number of South African male celebrities and then proceeded to name them. These included prominent actors, politicians and sports figures.
As the blog released the names of more public figures and alleged lurid details of their sex life amid a media frenzy, there were soon suspicions that the man behind the site was really Juan Uys. Following threats of legal action by a number of the men named, the blog was shut down. The author’s identity remains unknown to this day.
The notorious Uys was finally arrested on charges of theft, as a result of a minor business dispute, at his mother’s home in Kroonstad, in the Free State. The elusive Uys is believed to have used a number of aliases over the years and had rarely been photographed. Later news reports suggested he may have also been linked to the murder of a prison official in 1993.
Ultimately all charges against Uys were dropped due to lack of evidence. He denied having anything to do with either the Crime Expo website or the male prostitute internet blog. He and the GLA remained quiet and out of sight for the rest of the year.
The killing of our sisters
In what was the start of a spate of attacks on lesbians in 2007, it was reported in March that a 19 year old woman was raped near Witbank by two men who wanted to know what it would feel like to sleep with a lesbian.
July became the South African gay community’s darkest month of 2007 when it was reported that two lesbians, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were murdered, after apparently being raped, in an alleged hate crime in Meadowlands, Soweto. While two men were briefly detained in connection with the crime, they were later released. No one has to-date been charged with the murder. The killings were to become the impetus behind an anti-hate crime campaign by LGBT activists known as the 07/07/07 Campaign (named after the date of the murders).
As the country celebrated National Women’s Day in August, an international Human Rights organisation called on President Thabo Mbeki’s government to make a commitment to “equality and tolerance a reality for the nation’s gays and lesbians.” Human Rights Watch further called on the government to ensure that the investigations of the murders of Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were thorough and impartial.
Local activists also made their voices heard in a march on the same day in Soweto to protest against the murders and hate crimes against LGBT people. A few days later a group of New Yorkers gathered outside the South African Consulate in New York to demand an end to hate crimes in South Africa.
There were reports in November that another group of women, some of them lesbian, was attacked in Johannesburg. According to a number of activists, Lebogang Mabe and three friends were attacked early on a Saturday morning by a group of men. When the women resisted the men allegedly started firing guns – shooting one woman in the head and Mabe twice in the stomach. She was rushed to the Johannesburg General Hospital and the other victim is reported to have died on the scene.
The rest of the news
February was a landmark month for Exit newspaper – South Africa’s longest running lesbian and gay publication – which turned 21 with its 200th edition.
The global gay community was shocked by the news that millionaire Gary Frisch, the South African born co-founder of popular gay dating site Gaydar, had died in London after throwing himself off his flat’s balcony. Investigators later concluded that he was under the delusional influence of the drug ketamine.
Parts of Cape Town’s city centre came to a standstill when hundreds of gays and lesbians took to the streets for the city’s seventh annual Pride Parade, which was followed by a successful street party. Cape Town was also the scene of the trial of the murderers of gay actor Brett Goldin and fashion designer Richard Bloom who were brutally murdered in 2006. Samantha Goldin, Brett’s sister called on supporters to protest against South Africa’s crime epidemic outside the courts.
Local airline, British Airways Coma