“Asoze saphel’amandla” (We will never lose strength)… “Silwela amalungelo ethu” (We are fighting for our rights). These were some of the songs sung and the message sent out at the Women’s Day march in Meadowlands, Soweto, which comprised part of the 07-07-07 Anti-Hate Crimes Campaign.
The campaign was launched in response to the killing of two lesbians, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massoa, on 07 July 2007 and is an unprecedented and concerted effort by a coalition of organisations and movements to raise the consciousness of South African leaders and local communities about the violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. It also aims to lobby for decisive action and measures to combat hate-motivated violence.
Although the protest began almost an hour later than the planned 10am starting time, the delay did not dampen the mood of the more than 150 marchers who were assembled outside the Meadowlands Stadium singing jubilant struggle songs. These protestors came from or were affiliated to such organisations as Concerned Residents of Soweto (Hate Crimes), People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Positive Women’s Network, Forum for The Empowerment of Women (FEW), One In Nine Campaign, the Joint Working Group (JWG) and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
The march was led by several cheerleaders wielding banners from a number of these organisations as the group joined in song and made its way from the Meadowlands Stadium to the Meadowlands Police Station a few blocks away.
As the march proceeded, several bystanders joined in and sang with the marchers. Whether they knew exactly what the event was about is not certain but it was clear that the protest made waves in the neighbourhood. Once the marchers reached the police station, the group congregated at the traffic island outside the precinct premises and continued singing and dancing.
This was followed by the public reading of messages of solidarity from various international and local organisations such as the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP). The messages expressed outrage at the murders and condemned the violation of the human rights of LGBTI people while urging the state and civil society to take serious action to combat this scourge. These and other messages have been posted on the Behind The Mask website for public viewing.
An announcement was made that four suspects had been arrested in connection with the case and were currently in custody, prompting a huge cheer and handclapping from the crowd. As the details of their anticipated trial were explained, spontaneous chants of “No bail! No bail!” and “Abadlwengula ama-lesbians mabagwetshwe!” (Those who rape lesbians must face justice) were heard.