A birthday celebration went horribly wrong for a young gay teacher from Amanzimtoti, south of Durban, who was brutally attacked on the beach by three violent homophobes.
Last week, the day before his 21st birthday, Michael Anderson went to the town’s main beach where he planned to meet a friend to mark the occasion at a local pub.
The primary school teacher and student sported highlighted blond hair and was wearing a Durban Pride t-shirt when he drove to the beach. As he got out of the car in the parking lot, three men started verbally harassing him.
“I do speak a little bit of Zulu, and because of the shirt saying gay Pride they were speaking about the fact that I was a ‘stabane’ (a derogatory word for an LGBTQ person),” Michael tells MambaOnline.
“I’ve been blessed in that I haven’t really been affected by any homophobic people before. I’ve never really been in this position so I kind of just brushed it off and proceeded to move from my car down towards the beach area,” he says. “They were following me but at the time I thought that, ‘you’re just being paranoid’.”
He went into Valentino’s cafe where he waited a while before going onto the beach to look for his friend, who wasn’t replying to his text messages. At that point, he could no longer see the men and believed it was safe to go back out.
Michael walked over a dune to find his friend when he was “blindsided” by the men. “I at first assumed it was a mugging, so I gave them my cellphone and they took my watch, and my gold ring which I had been given by my [late] grandfather,” he says.
“But then the homophobia came through, where they started asking me if I ‘wanted to be a woman’ with my hair and ‘why am I wearing earings?’ And then they ripped my shirt as they proceeded to beat me. I managed to punch the one guy but it was three on one. And then one guy got on top of me and proceeded to choke me while they kicked and punched my face and head.”
“I am not an abomination”
Thankfully, a fisherman heard Anderson shouting and rushed to assist him, causing the assailants to flee into the shrubbery. Anderson suffered bruising on his face and head, is wearing a neck brace and going for physiotherapy for the neck injury. He is also grappling with the severe psychological effects of the attack that have shattered his confidence as an LGBTQ person.
“I’m seeing a psychologist to just debrief me and you know help me with the trauma and the nightmares. It’s sad because now when I’m at the mall I’m scared that it’s going to happen again. I’m wondering, ‘am I acting too feminine or being obviously gay, am I going to get attacked again’?”
He adds: “It’s actually caused me to now cut my hair short and dye it black to, you know, try to be more ‘masculine looking’. My psychologist, for the time being, supports that just so that I feel safer in public places.”
Shortly after the hate crime, Michael posted a powerful letter on Facebook addressed to his attackers in which he said he forgave them.
Some of Michael’s injuries
“I would just like to point out that I am more than just a gay man. I am a son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin, a godfather, a friend, a future teacher, a poet, an artist,” he wrote. “I am more than my lifestyle choices. I am not an abomination as you claimed while you proceeded to boot my face. I’m a child of God, I believe in a God who is just and righteous just as much as he is gracious and forgiving. I am loved beyond compare and I’m pure of heart and all I can say is that God alone will be the one who will judge you for what you did to me on Sunday, but I forgive you.”
Michael says the response on social media has been extremely positive: “The amount of support and love I have received is absolutely overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
He bravely decided to speak out about the hate crime because he hopes “it will help other people” and will highlight the reality that the LGBTQ community continues to face discrimination and violence in South Africa.
KwaZulu-Natal, in particular, is one of the most homophobic regions of the country, as noted by the Institute of Race Relations. It’s something Michael is struggling to come to terms with. “I do live in a very conservative, little coastal town, and I need to be more careful. At the same time, I need to also not hide who I am.”
He observes: “My straight friends don’t even comprehend… what a straight couple take for granted, being able to hold hands or take romantic photos on the pier. We have to check over our backs and make sure people aren’t staring. As much as the law is behind us there are still so many people who are not accepting of it and obviously there are a few extremists. Unfortunately, I encountered three of them.”