Eudy Simelane’s parents sit on the bridge bearing her image that was built in her memory
Warning: This article includes references to sexual assault and violent crime.
An international footballer, coach and aspiring referee, Eudy Simelane dedicated her life to the sport.
She was one of the first openly gay women to live in her township of Kwa-Thema in South Africa and was a well-known LGBT+ activist.
But because of her sexuality, Simelane was brutally raped and murdered in 2008, aged just 31.
This is the story of her life and how the legacy of her death is still impacting South African society.
‘She was a diamond’
Simelane was born on 11 March 1977, in Kwa-Thema, a township in the Gauteng province, south east of Johannesburg.
Her interest in football started when she was only four years old, demanding her brother Bafana always took her to practice with him despite it not being a sport commonly played by women at the time.
Passion soon became dedication as she honed her skills daily.
“Five o’clock in the morning, she [would be] at the gym – football was her favourite and her priority”, her late mother Mally recalled at a memorial lecture in 2016.external-link
Nicknamed ‘Styles’ because she was left-footed, midfielder Simelane joined her local team, Kwa-Thema Ladies, now known as the Springs Home Sweepers.
Speaking to the World Service in 2018 about Simelane’s popularity on the pitch, her father Khotso said: “Everyone came to the ground when she played, number six”.
Springs Home Sweepers has produced a number of stars including Janine van Wyk, South Africa’s most capped footballer and captain of the national team, known as ‘Banyana Banyana’, meaning ‘the girls’.external-link
Simelane played several times for the national side, coached four local youth teams and wanted to qualify to become her country’s first female referee.
A campaigner for equality rights and social change, she was one of the first women to come out as a lesbian in South Africaexternal-link.
In the 2020 Eudy Simelane Memorial Lectureexternal-link, her brother, Bafana said: “In sport she was a diamond, scoring beautiful goals. She was a marvellous person, intelligent, everything. It was a package. Everything you would find in Eudy. Jokingly she was playing, teasing others. That is what I miss about her.”
On 27 April 2008, Simelane’s body was found in a stream just a few hundred metres from her home in Kwa-Thema.
Reports stated she was approached after leaving a pub, raped and then stabbed repeatedly.
Despite her death shocking many, activists claimed many lesbians in South Africa were targeted for ‘corrective rape’, a crime where the perpetrator aims to ‘cure’ the victim of their sexuality, converting them to heterosexuality.
Thato Mphuthiexternal-link pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Simelane in February 2009 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The following September, Themba Mvubu was also found guilty of the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. When questioned by reporters in court, he responded: “I’m not sorry.”
‘It opened the eyes of many’
Eudy Simelane’s mother Mally fought to change perceptions of LGBT+ people before her death in 2019
Simelane’s sexuality put her in a vulnerable position, something her mother recognised, telling the , “the whole of South Africa knew Eudy was a lesbian”.
The unfortunate reality is Simelane’s story isn’t unique – she is one of many victims of similar, horrific crimes in South Africa.
A year prior to her death, Sizakele Sigasaexternal-link, a women’s and gay rights activist, and her friend Salone Massooa, were heckled outside a bar and called ‘tomboys’. The women were then gang raped, tortured, and shot dead.
Just a few years after Simelane’s murder, Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian, was found beaten and stoned to death in the same township Simelane lived.
However, as a country, South Africa was at the forefront of same-sex rights and became the first African nation to decriminalise same-sex acts in 1998.
The country also legalised same-sex marriage in 2006, seven years before the act was passed in the UK, and two years prior to Simelane’s tragic death.
Despite this, the country still has the highest number of recorded rape cases per capitaexternal-link. Within this, it’s young, black, lesbian women that often fall victim to violent ‘corrective rape’ crimes in South African townships.
According to data released in 2017,external-link 49% of black members of LGBT+ communities in the country are likely to know someone who has been murdered for being LGBT+, compared to 26% of white community members.
More often than not, the perpetrators of these awful attacks are not prosecuted for their actions.external-link
Human rights activists and supporters of Eudy Simelane in August 2009 outside the Delmas court in Mpumalanga, before the trial
Simelane’s case has been an exception though. Her profile and story captivated the nation and brought the issue of ‘corrective rape’ to attention.
Following Simelane’s death, her mother Mally was instrumental in the fight to change her communities’ views on homosexuality, using her Methodist faith as a platform. She united with her local Pastor, Smadz Matsepe, in a fight to change attitudes towards LGBT+ individuals in society. Mally was fully committed to fighting prejudice until her passing in 2019.
“It opened the eyes of many and it challenged us to deal with the LGBT+ issue,” Matsepe told the .
A bridge was built over the stream in Kwa-Thema, next to the football field where Simelane’s body was found. The bridge features her face imprinted on it and was built “as a reminder of the freedom, dignity and equality for all”, according to the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project in The Times.external-link
Another initiative set up with the aim of changing social attitudes, was The Eudy Simelane Memorial Lecture. This annual lecture, in partnership between the Ujamaa Centreexternal-link at The University of KwaZulu-Natal, The Other Foundationexternal-link, Pietermaritzburg Gay & Lesbian Networkexternal-link, the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council, and Simelane’s family, aims to change attitudes towards LGBT+ people, particularly within some religious communities.
These bodies recognised that for there to be a significant social change, religious communities needed to adopt a new outlook on same-sex relationships and marriage, so that individuals could not try to use religious grounds to justify violence against LGBT+ people.
Professor Charlene van der Walt from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Deputy Director of Ujamaa Centre told the this year: “Eudy’s story is an example of what happens to a lot of families and a lot of faith communities, yet the issue of LGBT+ people in faith is often denied or invisible.”
The lecture is also an opportunity to stimulate conversations around LGBT+ communities.
Van der Walt added it was especially important to continue these conversation during the Covid-19 pandemic where LGBT+ people are “vulnerable” because they often are “in a family setting that doesn’t accept” their sexuality.
“We have made a massive leap in the right direction,” she said.
In the 2020 lecture, Simelane’s brother Bafana, said: “History repeats itself, so now, this lecture is eye opening to the community and other families that they must not take it as a curse if someone is gay, lesbian or transgender”.
Despite the tragic death of Simelane, it sent an important message across South Africa and was a catalyst for these projects and conversations to take place.
If you’ve been affected by issues raised in this article, there is information and support available on Action Line.
Eudie Simelane’s parents sit on the bridge, their image etched in her memory.
Note: This article contains references to sexual assault and violent crime.
Eudi Simelan, international footballer, coach and aspiring referee, has dedicated his life to the sport.
She was one of the first openly gay women in her neighborhood of Kwa Tema in South Africa and was a well-known LGBT+ activist.
But because of her sexuality, Simelan was brutally raped and murdered in 2008, when she was only 31 years old.
This is the story of his life and how the legacy of his death continues to affect South African society.
“She was a diamond
Simelan was born on March 11, 1977 in Kwa-Tema, a town in Gauteng province, southeast of Johannesburg.
Her interest in soccer began when she was only four years old and she demanded that her brother Bafana always take her to practice, even though at the time it was not a sport usually played by women.
This passion soon became altruistic, as she perfected her skills daily.
“At 5 a.m. she had to be at the gym – soccer was her favorite activity and her priority,” her mother Mally recalled at a memorial conference in 2016.
Midfielder Simelan has joined her home team, the Kwa-Thema Ladies, now known as the Springs Home Sweepers, because she is left-handed.
Speaking at the 2018 World Service about Simelane’s popularity in the field, her father Hotso said, “Everyone came to the hall when she played, number 6.
Springs Home Sweepers has produced a number of stars, including Janine van Wyk, South Africa’s most played soccer player and captain of the national team, known as “Banyana Banyana”, meaning “girl”.external link
Simelan played several times for the national team, coached four local youth teams and wanted to become the first female referee in her country.
An activist for equality and social change, she was one of the first women in South Africa to declare that she was a lesbian.
According to her brother Bafana, during the Eddie Simelane 2020 Memorial Lecture, she was in touch with the outside world: “In sports, she was a diamond and scored wonderful goals. She was a great person, intelligent and all that. She was a package deal. Everything you could find in an Eudy. She was playful in her jokes and teased people. That’s what I missed about her.”
On April 27, 2008, Simelan’s body was found in a stream a few hundred meters from his home in Kwa-Tema.
She was reportedly approached after leaving a pub, raped and then stabbed multiple times.
Although her death shocked many, activists argued that many lesbians in South Africa have been targeted for “corrective rape,” a crime in which the perpetrator attempts to “cure” the victim of her sexuality by turning her into a heterosexual.
Tetho Mfuti, the external link, pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Simelan in February 2009 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The following September, Themba Mvubu was also convicted of these crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Asked by journalists in the courtroom, he replied, “I have no regrets.
“She has opened the eyes of many
Eudy’s mother, Simelein Mally, fought until her death in 2019 to change the perception of LGBT+ people.
Simelan’s sexuality put her in a vulnerable position, which her mother acknowledged by saying that “all of South Africa knew that Eudie was gay.”
The sad reality is that Simelan’s story is not unique – she is one of many victims of similar heinous crimes in South Africa.
A year before their deaths, Sizakele Sigasae, an activist for women’s and gay rights, and her friend Salone Massua were huddled in front of a bar and called “tomboys.” The women were then raped, tortured and shot.
Just a few years after Simelan’s murder, Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian, was found beaten to death and stoned to death in the same township where Simelan lived.
As a country, however, South Africa has been at the forefront of the fight for gay rights and was the first African country to decriminalize same-sex relationships in 1998.
The country also legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, seven years before the law was passed in Britain and two years before Simelan’s tragic death.
Despite this, the country still has the highest incidence of rape from external causes. Domestically, it is mainly young black lesbians who are often victims of violent rape in South African cities.
According to 2017 data, 49% of black members of LGBT+ communities nationally are likely to know someone who has been killed for being LGBT+, compared to 26% of white community members.
In most cases, the perpetrators of these horrific attacks are not held accountable for their actions. external link
Human rights defenders and supporters of Eudi Simelan in August 2009 before the Delmas court in Mpumalanga, prior to the trial.
Simelan’s case was an exception. Her profile and story captivated the country and drew attention to the problem of “corrective rape.”
After Simelan’s death, her mother Mally campaigned to change her congregation’s views on homosexuality, using her Methodist faith as a platform. She worked with her local pastor, Smudz Macepe, to change attitudes towards LGBT+ people in the community. Mally was fully committed to fighting prejudice until her death in 2019.
“This has been an eye-opener for many and has prompted us to put LGBT+ issues under the microscope,” Maciepe said.
In Kwa-Tema, near the soccer field where Simelan’s body was found, a bridge was built over the stream. Her face was pressed onto the bridge and it was built “as a reminder of freedom, dignity and equality for all,” according to The Times’ Lesbian and Gay Equality Project.
Another initiative to change society’s attitudes was the Eddie Simelan Memorial Lecture. This annual conference, organized in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Ujamaa Center for External Communication, the Other External Communication Foundation, the Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network, the Christian Council of KwaZulu-Natal and the Simelane family, aims to change attitudes towards LGBT+ people, particularly in some religious communities.
These organizations recognized that religious communities must adopt a new view of same-sex relationships and marriage if meaningful social change is to occur, and that there should be no attempts to use religious grounds as justification for violence against LGBT+ individuals.
Professor Charlene van der Walt of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Deputy Director of the Ujamaa Center said this year, “Eudy’s story is an example of what happens to many families and religious communities, but the issue of LGBT+ believers is often dismissed or neglected.”
The conference is also an opportunity to start conversations in the LGBT+ communities.
Van der Walt added that it is particularly important to continue this conversation during the Covid 19 pandemic, in which LGBT+ people are “vulnerable” because they are often “in a family environment that does not accept their sexuality.”
“We took a big step in the right direction,” she said.
Speaking at the 2020 conference, Bafana, Simelan’s brother, said, “History repeats itself, so this conference opens the eyes of society and other families to the fact that they should not consider it a curse that someone is gay, lesbian or transgender.
Despite Simelan’s tragic death, he became an important message throughout South Africa and served as a catalyst for these projects and conversations.
If you experience problems discussed in this article, refer to the Action Line section for information and support.