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

In the end, Simelane lost her life for a mobile phone and a pair of “takkies,” black-and-white athletic shoes that one of the alleged attackers, Mvubu, according to his younger brother, wore the morning after the crime. Mvubu’s trousers contained traces of Simelane’s blood near the zipper. Simelane fought her assailants, testified the doctor who conducted the postmortem, and likely had been restrained while receiving the fatal stab wounds. The convicted killer, Mphiti, before changing his story in July also said that Simelane had recognized her murderers. In Mphiti’s words, she looked at Mvubu and said, “Themba you know me, and why do you do this?”

“She grew up here,” said Mally Simelane in June. “Everybody here in this location knows her. It was to us a shock and a surprise, ‘Why did they do this to her?’ Because if these boys have killed her, they knew her. … We never even think that she was threatened outside. Because she goes wherever she likes. She comes back at home.”

Speaking to Dipika Nath of Human Rights Watch in February, Mally said Eudy’s death had transformed her into a resource for KwaThema’s lesbian community. These lesbian daughters, rejected by their families of origin, now call her “mum.”

To those pushing to have Simelane’s case and others recognized as hate crimes, Eudy’s alleged killers were young men threatened by her gay lifestyle. She had a lesbian partner and a reputation for physical strength. Although she had only come out to her mother the year before her death, Eudy had been participating in gay-pride marches in Johannesburg. Her family had not seen pictures from these marches until the memorial service at KwaThema Central Methodist Church.

Girlie S'gelane Nkosi

The cover of the memorial program for Nkosi. An athlete and activist for lesbian causes, Nkosi “lived a proud life,” reads the tribute inside, “transgressing all social gender norms and openly confronting the ills posed by economic exclusion.”

Close to 2,000 attended Simelane’s funeral. Similar numbers filled the service for one of Simelane’s teammates with Tsakane Ladies, who died Jun 22 as the result of internal bleeding from another KwaThema stabbing attack. The funeral program calls Girlie “S’gelane” Nkosi, 37, “arguably the most visible lesbian of Kwa-Thema” with a history of speaking out against hate crimes. Before she died, Nkosi asked that those attending the memorial sing songs from church and from the struggle against apartheid. They sang “Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela” (Everywhere Struggle Is Welcome) and the isiZulu hymn “Igazi Lemihlatshelo” (It Is the Blood of Sacrifices).

Cases of black-on-black violence crystallize arguments from critics who see South Africa, especially disillusioned township youth, losing touch with ideals that energized apartheid-era resistance. Townships such as KwaThema became organizational hubs during the freedom struggle, particularly in the wake of Soweto student protests in 1976. When Eudy was eight, in the winter of 1985, state security police killed seven residents participating in an anti-apartheid demonstration. Two weeks earlier, eight resistance fighters in KwaThema and nearby Duduza township died when their own hand grenades exploded. They were between 19 and 23, roughly the same age, one generation later, as the men charged in Simelane’s killing.

Also during apartheid, writes Phumzile Mtetwa of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, KwaThema helped bring the region’s gay subculture to light. KwaThema resident MaThoko, in particular, emerged as a key figure in gay and lesbian activism in the Witwatersrand. “Drag queens” walked KwaThema’s streets in the early 1980s. “Ordinary members of the Kwa-Thema community would have been perceived as ‘out of touch’ if they dared speak against gays and lesbians,” Mtetwa says.

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