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Queer man, you are on your own

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Homophobia and the police: Queer man, you are on your own

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Welcome Mandla Lishivha is a journalist, a doctoral candidate studying the jurisprudence of Simon Nkoli at the University of Pretoria and an author with an upcoming memoir, Boy On The Run.

‘Those meant to be my protectors chose to be my abusers instead. The police don’t believe in the justice and dignity of queer people; no wonder we have not seen justice for the brutal hate crimes committed against the queer community.’ Welcome Mandla Lishivha describes his encounters with the police as he tries to get protection against his abuser.

I should have removed my nail polish before making my way to the police station, I thought to myself, as they gawked at my nails with curious and disgusted faces. I had put on the red nail polish because it makes me feel beautiful and powerful. I did not do it to attract the homophobic disdain of the police.

I had approached my nearest police station hoping to get protection from my abuser and was sent around to four different police stations, who all refused to help me. The sting of their evident hate hurt more than the assault I encountered from the abuser who led me their way.  

My nearest police station shrugged and told me to go to the family court in Johannesburg. I asked for a lift to the court, they said no. I took an Uber to the court, arrived just after 2pm and was told to return the next morning. 

After waiting my turn the next morning, a clerk gave me a form to fill in for the application of a protection order and told me to return it the following day. When I returned to hand in the form, I waited nearly five hours before I was told to return again the next day.

“I will not fill in another form when you can just take this one,” I retaliated. She was tired of speaking English; there were only two clerks serving the entire city of Johannesburg, she was tired and needed a break, she said. 

“What about my safety? And the potential threat to my safety and life?”

“Well, your court date will probably be a month from now. What will happen to your life then? Mm?” she said, while handing out forms to the people I had been in the queue with, telling them to return the next day. 

I stayed behind, and she handed me over to another clerk saying that I had an attitude.

The first thing that the clerk said to me was “the magistrate is tired, he had every right to be tired. He would only see my application the next day, and even then, there was no guarantee that he would approve my application for the protection order.” 

“You see that pile behind you? That’s the reject pile. There are no guarantees here.” 

My nearest police station refuses to help

However, I received an interim protection order the next morning with a court date that I had to go serve at a ‘Lynwood SAPS’ — near my abuser. This is despite me indicating in the application that I would prefer for my nearest police station in Johannesburg to serve him the protection order. 

I was scared of bumping into him, so I asked “May you please change it to get my nearest police station to serve him the protection order instead?”

“You can’t expect the police to go that far,” he said and walked back into his office. I tried my luck and went to ask my nearest police station to serve the protection. The acting station commander said the address on the protection order was not in his policing area. 

“But … What about my safety as a resident in your policing area? What about your responsibility to my safety?” 

When I pointed out that refusing to help me went against the law, he dared me to go to court.

A second police station refuses to help

There is no police station in Lynnwood. Only the Brooklyn and Garsfontein police stations that serve the area, I was told by the Gaubus driver upon arriving in Hatfield. Not only did the clerk refuse to help me, but he also misdirected me to a non-existent police station.

“We can’t help you. You must go to the Garsfontein police station,” I was told by the acting station commander in Brooklyn. 

The address on my protection order was a street away from their policing area, said one officer.

I cried over the long distance I had travelled from Johannesburg, the sleep I had lost over my safety. He agreed, only for them to drop me off at the Garsfontein police station. On our way there, the officer decided, out of the goodness of his heart and despite his acting station commander’s word, to go serve the protection order. It was on the way, anyway; he said. 

He began to terrorise me with questions asked with a raised voice.

“Where do you think we will find this person when we get there? Huh? Where are you going to point when we get there? Huh? Where are you going to point? Where? That place is big.” 

He was impatient and annoyed and I felt more fearful than I did when I was harassed. 

When we arrived, the security guard was still explaining that the person we were looking for had left about an hour ago when the officer turned to hand me the protection order. He told me to go to the Garsfontein police station, it was their job anyway. 

A third police station refuses to help

At the Garsfontein police station front desk, a police officer went to stare at the large map on the wall, scratched his head, then invited another officer to confirm what the previous police station said.

“This protection order was outside our policing area,” he said upon his return. The Brooklyn police were supposed to help and not send me away. He suggested to one of the warrant officers to drop me off on the side of the road or at a garage for the Brooklyn police to pick me up and go serve. 

I again pleaded over the long distance I had travelled by Gautrain, and bemoaned the help I was denied all the way back from my own police station in Joburg.

The warrant officer dialled the Brooklyn police station in front of me to find out (if and) why they refused to help me. 

They hung up on him three times. 

Please don’t send me back, I pleaded with him until he convinced a warrant officer to go serve my protection order.

When we arrived, the security guards said my abuser went out for a meeting and was not around. The woman constable who had joined the warrant officer for the drive insisted that she wanted to go check, in case they were trying to protect or hide him. 

When they went into the building where his business was, I felt my heart sink into my stomach at the realisation that my address was still on the application form attached to the order they were about to serve him. I had asked them to remove it, and they said that they couldn’t change the court papers. I had put myself in even more danger coming this way; I was contemplating changing houses. 

He was not around to be served again. 

If I opened a criminal case, the investigation unit could track him down, one officer said when I was trying to lay a complaint against the station. No one had told me that. I asked him to help me open the case, and he told me to go open the case where the assault took place, in Krugersdorp. They had merely done me a favor by trying to serve my protection, and I was asking for too much. I was told to go back to Brooklyn.

The final straw

I summed up what little strength and dignity I had and went back to the Brooklyn police station on a rainy morning. The two women officers at the front desk said, without even checking the map as the Garsfontein police did, that it wasn’t their area — “Go back to Garsfontein”.

I unfastened my burgundy leather satchel bag and asked their names. 

“It’s still too early, don’t start,” said one of the women sergeants.

“Don’t start what, sergeant?”

“I told you. Don’t start.”

I asked for the station commander and they sent out a clerk called Helena with silver curly hair who said that it was actually their responsibility to serve my protection order. 

Soon after, a constable came to collect the protection order and returned with the news that he again wasn’t around to be served. 

I asked to lay a criminal charge for the sexual harassment, intimidation, psychological and verbal abuse I had endured at the hands of my abuser. The women officers sneered at me over the counter and called Captain Dinkwe to come and take my statement at the front desk. 

I told him everything, despite his apparent disdain for me. 

He raised his voice as he asked: “Where did he touch you?”, “what did you say?”, “Why did you not report him to the hotel?”, “Why were you in the same hotel room?”. 

I had to ask him not to yell at me.

As I was closing off my satchel with the protection order and application form inside, I realised he didn’t note down my abuser’s work address. 

“Uhm…,” — I said unfastening my satchel to take out the form with the address for him to note in the file — “don’t you need to write his work address somewhere in there?”

“No,” he said as he signed the bottom of the statement.

“… but … how are you going to find him?” My heart sank, realising that he couldn’t wait to get rid of me.

“We will,” — he said with a smug expression — “Next,” he added as he closed the file and tossed it to the side. 

I walked out humiliated, unsafe, and helpless.

It has now been six months and the protection order has not been served. 

The case I opened that day is with the Krugersdorp family court, and the investigating officer called me months ago to say that they could not find him at the business address I provided. The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, agreed to help me. They have asked for my case to be removed from the court roll and have since reported that they were struggling to trace him. 

The other queer advocacy group who offered help when tagged on my Facebook post said ‘mmh’ when I told them nothing had happened with my case over the phone.

I am on my own

My abuser said that he was not done with me. His words weigh heavily on me each day. Those meant to be my protectors chose to be my abusers instead. 

The police don’t believe in the justice and dignity of queer people; no wonder why we have not seen justice for the brutal hate crimes committed against the queer community. Almost every day I wonder: when he comes to finish what he said he would, will I have anywhere to run for help? 

Or will my justice become another hashtag? DM/MC

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  • “The police don’t believe in the justice and dignity of queer people;” actually, the police don’t believe in justice and dignity of any people, gay or otherwise, so yes your justice will almost certainly become another #. It’s the way it rolls in SA and you are not alone in this, Welcome.

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