South African jailed for rape and murder of lesbian star

A South African man has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder and gang rape of a lesbian footballer who played for the national team. The conviction of Themba Mvubu, 24, was greeted as a "breakthrough" by gay rights activists at the court in Delmas, outside Johannesburg.

The appalling murder of Eudy Simelane has drawn awkward parallels with the national outcry over the treatment of fellow athlete Caster Semenya. Both talented and physically strong young women of supposedly masculine appearance, Ms Semenya has been celebrated as a national hero, while Ms Simelane was repeatedly raped, stabbed 12 times, stripped and left by a river.

While the court rejected an explicit link between her sexuality and her murder, campaigners have used the trial to raise awareness of lesbians in South Africa being targeted for "corrective rape": a practice that is meant either to punish the victim or "cure" them of their sexual orientation.

The 31-year-old striker was well known in her community and the first openly gay woman in her township, Kwa Thema, close to South Africa's commercial capital, Johannesburg. She had represented the women's national team Banyana Banyana.

Friends said she had hoped to be a line official at the men's 2010 World Cup being hosted by her home country.

Those hopes were dashed in April last year when she was attacked while leaving a pub. "Eudy Simelane suffered a brutal, undignified death," Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng told the court. "She was stripped naked, stabbed, assaulted, raped. What more indignity can a person endure?" Two other men were acquitted yesterday although the judge appeared to be unsure of their innocence, warning them "God will be your judge".

Phumi Mtetwa, of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, welcomed the verdict as a landmark but said it "must be linked to corrective rape". "By raping you and giving you a penis, I will prove that I will correct you so that you understand your role as a woman," said Ms Mtetwa, attempting to explain the psychology behind the practice.

As many as 150 women are raped every day in South Africa and a survey in 2009 showed that one in four men in the country admitted to having raped somebody. Sexual violence against lesbians is even more pronounced, campaigners warn, and corrective rape is on the rise.

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