Gay Congolese refugee Junior Mayema claims police officers at Claremont police station beat him up in a homophobic attack. (Photo: Daneel Knoetze)
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) on Monday confirmed that it is investigating claims of police officers dragging a gay Congolese man to a back room of Claremont, Cape Town, police station and beating him with metal poles.
The victim, 26-year-old refugee Junior Mayema, says police shouted homophobic slurs at him before and during the attack. Suspecting his right arm had been broken, Mayema went for x-rays at Groote Schuur Hospital two days after the alleged attack. There was no fracture, but doctors there are assisting with the injury report required by IPID for an investigation, Mayema says.
“I had to escape my own country, because my homosexuality resulted in people abusing and beating me wherever I went,” he says.
“My own family tied me up and beat me. My mother asked one of her friends who was a nurse to inject me with petrol so that I would die. I fled for my life. But, now, I fear for my life again. Because I have reported them, those officers will abduct me and kill me if they see me in the street. I have to flee again.”
While on the run in the Congo, Mayema linked with activists assisting homosexual people escape persecution in sub-Saharan African countries, where homosexuality is illegal and cause for societal discrimination and exclusion. Mayema learned of South Africa’s progressive laws and Constitution, which protects the rights of gays and lesbians. He arrived in the country on a tourist visa in 2010, and moved to Cape Town.
“My only aspiration was to be free, to love who I wanted and to live my life,” he says. “I thought that I could achieve this in South Africa, but [I cannot]. The South Africans, the Congolese, the Department of Home Affairs, and the police – I have faced so much bigotry and abuse. I have been stabbed in the head and, now, beaten by the police who are there to protect us. Even refugees have a right to be protected.”
The assault came when Mayema tried to report his landlord, with whom he lives in a house in Claremont, for refusing to allow him to have his lover or other male friends over as visitors. On Friday evening, 18 July, the landlord stormed into Mayema’s room and physically removed one such visitor from the house. Mayema says that, because he is gay, he is the only tenant forbidden from having visitors.
“I went to the police to report this. At first they agreed to come to my place and to confront the landlord. But, then they realised I was gay. Their attitudes changed. They mocked me, swore at me and told me that ‘they make the rules’ when I complained about the poor service.”
When Mayema threatened to report the two police officers, and attempted to take their photos as “evidence” the verbal abuse suddenly became a full blown assault. He was dragged from the public reception area to a back room and kicked and beaten before being thrown out on the street.
Now, with the help of Human Rights lawyer Guillain Koko, from refugee rights group People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), Mayema has reported the assault at Wynberg police.
“Mayema’s experience is typical,” Koko says, speaking from the annual Public Interest Law Gathering (PILG) Johannesburg, where he presented on the topic of homosexual refugees and abuses they face, regardless of the rights they enjoy under South African law and international law.
“Homosexual refugees to South Africa are discriminated against at every step of the way: in their home countries, by South African authorities during applications for asylum and upon arrival in the country. The laws protecting them are clear, but often the individual prejudices of state officials and members of the public stand in the way of these laws being respected and implemented.”
Claremont station commissioner Colonel Enolium Joseph confirmed that an internal investigation into the alleged assault was under way. The possible suspension of the two officers would be dependent on the outcome of this investigation, he said.