On April 28, 2008, Eudy Simelane left a bar in her hometown outside Johannesburg and was accosted by some men. She was robbed of her phone, shoes, and money. She was then murdered, her body later found in a creek in a park, a place known as a dumping ground for local gangsters.
According to reports at the time, Simelane had been gang-raped and beaten before being stabbed somewhere between 12 and 25 times in the face, chest, and legs.
Eudy was 31 years old when she was killed and about to begin a new job working for a law firm in Pretoria that would enable her to support her family. She was also very well known as a star of South Africa’s women’s national team – Banyana Banyana. She still played for Springs Home Sweepers, a club near her home, while studying to be a referee and coached local soccer teams.
She was also a lesbian and a campaigner for equality rights.
“Why did they do this horrible thing?” her mother asked after she was told of her daughter’s murder. “Because of who she was? She was a sweet lady. She never fought with anyone. But why would they kill her like this? She was stabbed – 25 holes in her. The whole body. Even under the feet.”
Two men were convicted of her murder. Several others were acquitted.
“I’m not sorry,” said one of the killers, as he was taken from the courtroom to jail.
The court initially ruled out sexual orientation as a motive but Simelane, who never hid her sexual orientation, was something of a celebrity in parts of South Africa and most definitely in KwaThema, her hometown. A thousand people came to her funeral. Gay rights activists said the case raised awareness of many issues. One, especially, being “corrective rape” which is how similar attacks on lesbians have been described. The concept is simple: You are raped and then you will no longer be a lesbian. Cured.
Last week, five years after Simelane’s murder, a top official from the Nigerian Football Federation claimed that lesbians – and lesbianism – are “officially banned” from Nigerian football.
Geography experts will rightly point out that Nigeria is not South Africa and that is correct but not the point. What’s important is a frightening trend and a perhaps growing culture.
Remarks by Dilichukwu Onyedinma, the chair of the Nigeria Women Football League and an NFF executive committee member, were widely reported in Nigeria – and across Africa – last week. Onyedinma declared at the federation’s Annual General Assembly that: “Any player that we find is associated with [lesbianism] will be disqualified.
“We will call the club chairmen to control their players and such players will not be able to play for the national team. [Lesbianism] is happening but we have to talk to the clubs, and look inside the clubs and these things have to do with clubs. There are particular clubs that don’t even want to hear about it and once they heard it the players involved will be sacked.”
It’s not the first time Nigerian football has considered sexual orientation a threat to something or other. In June 2011, national women’s team officials gloated at how they’d thrown lesbians from the team.
“When I was drafted to work with the Falcons last year, I decamped some of the players, not because they were not good players, but because they were lesbians,” said James Peters, a team technical adviser.
The culture is enabled by Nigerian laws that criminalize homosexuality. It’s not an issue at the forefront of FIFA’s agenda either.
When asked at a press conference at the launch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup about the Nigerian “ban”, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he’d not heard the reports. This suggests either willful ignorance or someone, somewhere, within FIFA not doing their job apprising Herr Blatter of the issues of the day.
This time around, the world governing body says it has written a “letter” to the Nigerian federation seeking “clarification” on developments.
Meanwhile, we still have Eudy Simelane or at least her memory to remind us how these kinds of things can play out.
“I have lost everything,” Eudy’s mother, Mally, told a reporter after her daughter’s killers were convicted.
“Eudy had a heart of gold. I can’t sleep at night. Sometimes during the day I forget that she’s dead, I imagine she’s at a tournament abroad or maybe just on a football pitch somewhere. That I might see her on TV again. But then I remember. And then I cry.”