Remembering Eudy, KwaThema’s brightest, killed on its darkest night

Eudy Simelane

Eudy Simelane’s portrait hovers above her parents’ lounge in KwaThema.

KwaThema, South Africa | At dusk in early winter, smoke from coal fires shrouds this bustling black township in a persistent haze resembling volcanic ash.

Among slag heaps of the heavily mined East Rand, temperatures are certain to dip below freezing on a clear night toward the end of June. The corrugated-tin dwellings of KwaThema, established in 1951 to house blacks relocated from white areas southeast of Johannesburg, lack heat and electricity. So outdoor fires already have started.

The parents of the late Eudy Simelane wear hats, scarves and coats both indoors and out. Her father, Khotso, eats his evening meal beside the kitchen stove, the only heat source in the trim double-pile house. Knotted around his neck is an Arsenal scarf. “It is real,” he says, looking down and fingering the tasseled ends. Several years earlier his daughter had brought the scarf from an overseas trip with Banyana Banyana, the senior women’s national football team, for whom she was a midfielder.

The scarf is not a local product but originated in north London, an impossibly distant land from which Premiership matches would be beamed to Khotso and Mally Simelane‘s home in KwaThema’s Tornado section. Khotso watched games along with Eudy and Eudy’s brother, Bafana, on the small television in his lounge.

Eudy Simelane died on 28 Apr 08 less than 200 yards from the four-room house, behind which she lived in her own bungalow. On the Monday following Freedom Day, commemorating independent elections of 1994, police retrieved Simelane’s body from a culvert. According to a medical examiner’s report, she had been stabbed eight times in the neck, abdomen and thighs. She was 31.

Scenes from KwaThema

Scenes from KwaThema on 29 Jun 09, including Eudy’s mother, Mally, at lower left.

Simelane’s murder numbers among a series of attempted sexual assaults and “corrective rapes” in which black South African men have targeted lesbians based on the women’s sexual preference. So says a coalition pushing government to live up to a progressive constitution that bars discrimination on grounds that include sexual orientation, conscience, belief and culture. With human rights, at least theoretically, at the center of the 15-year-old democracy, South Africa since 2005 has recognized same-sex marriages.

Since February hundreds have demonstrated outside Delmas circuit court, Mpumalanga province, famed for “treason trials” of anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s. One of the accused, Thato Mphiti, on Feb 13 received a 32-year sentence after pleading guilty to murder and to assault and robbery.

The fate of three alleged accomplices, Themba Mvubu, Khumbulani Magagula and Johannes Mahlangu, became more uncertain in late July when Mphiti recanted previous testimony and said that he had acted alone. Closing arguments have been postponed until Sept 21.

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Eudy Simelane was born two months’ premature at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on 11 Mar 1977. The hospital, with more than 3,000 beds, covering 173 acres, is the largest in the world. Complications after birth kept Eudy at hospital for several months. According to women of the family—including Eudy’s mother as well as her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Skosana, and aunt, Busi Skosana—Eudy’s early fragility resulted in special treatment. She resisted domestic routine and household chores.

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