National Arts Festival marred by homophobic hate crime attacks

Devon Florence's injuries

Devon Florence’s injuries

Incidents of violent homophobic hate crimes marred the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown over the weekend.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, 21-year-old Rhodes music student Devon Florence and four of his friends, two men and two women, were attacked and beaten outside the Friars club.

The trouble started earlier inside the venue when a man objected to two of Florence’s friends, a gay male couple, kissing, and spewed homophobic slurs at them.

“It was just masculine chest puffing from his side,” Florence told Mambaonline. “It seemed resolved and later he even came up to me and apologised and we shook hands.”

Later, when the friends left the club they were confronted outside by the same man who again started becoming aggressive and following them as they tried to leave.

“We just kept walking up the street and he started to get physical and then another guy also got involved. The first guy called to his friends and there was a third guy involved,” said Florence

“There were screaming ‘you fucking moffies’, that kind of stuff. The first guy tried to strangle me with my shirt and kept tightening my collar around my neck.

“He shoved my friend to the ground and kicked him. I got head butted by one of the guys, which caused an eye injury and I started bleeding.

“They threatened to kill me, and one threatened to rape my [female] friend,” Florence said.

The group only escaped further abuse after police officers intervened, leading the three men to run off. “At first the police just thought it was a drunken brawl, but they helped us to be safe.”

Florence said that while the experience was “very scary” he wasn’t personally too shaken afterwards, explaining that, “I’ve been bullied for a very long time, so for me, it happens.”

He added that, “One of the guys with me had never experienced something this hateful before and it was a big shock and an emotional experience for him.”

Florence has reported the attack to the police who plan to visit the club to view CCTV footage in a bid to identify the attackers.

“I don’t necessarily want them to go to jail or to be fined – I want them to be ashamed. I want people to know who they are. If people are recognised as the person who beat up someone, it will change their life and they cannot get anyway with it,” he said.

“No one came and helped us until the police,” Florence pointed out. “People must get involved even if it’s just to call the police. If you don’t get involved you are allowing this kind of mindset to thrive; that it’s okay to beat someone because of who they are.”

The festival’s newspaper, Cue, reported that on Friday night another man, Christian Botha, was also verbally attacked and had his shirt torn in a scuffle at the Rat and Parrot.

“The only reason they could have for attacking me was what I was wearing,” he said. “I was androgynous and was wearing tights and my nails were painted. I wasn’t trying to make a move on anyone.”

Botha claimed that the bar’s bouncers did not intervene in the attack. He has chosen not to press charges.

Tony Lankaster, CEO of the National Arts Festival, told Cue that he was disgusted by the attacks. “Behaviour such as this runs completely contrary to everything the festival stands for and we condemn it outright,” he said.

The festival ends this coming Sunday.

Update: Florence has praised Friars for their help in trying to track down his attackers, including offering their CCTV footage to the police. “One of the Friars bouncers came forward with information regarding the descriptions of the suspects based on a conversation he had overheard,” said Florence. “He and Friars are both helping to try and find the culprits. I’ve visited Friars many times before and never had a problem. They do not condone this kind of behaviour.”

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