By Bongani Bingwa
Johannesburg - A cautionary tale is told about a prominent gay man who used to beat his partners to a pulp for almost any slight – real or imagined. The fellow was well connected and a senior official in government and would allegedly threaten his lovers with the resources of state institutions if they complained. The rumour mill suggests that not one but several made repeat visits to trauma units at various hospitals. He was a known abuser.
My gay male friends and I have speculated what we might do if we ourselves ever had to be confronted by a violent partner. Every likely scenario has been imagined – from fighting back to frozen shock to simply walking away. The first time always needs to be the last.
It is near impossible to open a newspaper in South Africa and not read a story about gender-based violence (GBV). The stats are trotted out frequently and the extent of the scourge is so horrific that many who are not direct victims are becoming numb.
But who are the likely perpetrators?
I am not aware of any studies that have looked at the problem of this type of violence as perpetrated by and within the queer community in this country but in our particularly violent society one would hardly be surprised if the data does not mirror or exceed countries where this has been investigated.
As a friend remarked this week - same-sex partnerships are a product of the same violent communities and society as heterosexuals. We are bound to showcase the same behaviour. “The problem among the gays is that just like rape, this type of violence is under-reported. We fear being judged and seen as weak, being ridiculed by police asking why didn’t you fight back,” he said.
So when the entertainer and celebrity rapper musician Boity Thulo appeared on social media in a shirt drenched with blood, with cuts on her face, on her lips and near her eyes, the chatter was less about how this had happened to a major star in South Africa but the identity of the alleged perpetrator.
Her friend and media personality Bujy Bikwa has been charged with assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm to Thulo. I tweeted and mentioned the incident on my radio show. A heterosexual friend texted me privately, asking if I was conflicted in commenting on the story given that, “ you are a champion” for the LGBTI community? And in any case was this really a case of GBV – surely it was merely a catfight? He completely missed the violence of his own question.
An Italian study by Rollé et al focusing on Intimate Partner Violence (a sub-category of GBV) among same-sex couples found that the idea that only heterosexuals perpetrate this type violence is a myth. If anything the rate of incidence is comparable to or higher than that among heterosexual couples – it is reportedly even higher amongst lesbian couples with bisexual women the most likely victims.
Echoing my friend on the dearth of data, its findings showed, “there is a lack of studies that address LGB individuals involved in IPV; this is mostly due to the silence that has historically existed around violence in the LGB community, a silence built on fears and myths that have obstructed a public discussion on the phenomenon”.
Buji Bukwa has courted this type of controversy before. In the second episode of his wildly successful podcast Queer Way of Life he invited a self-confessed abuser, the film-maker Banzi Mavuso who declares in her bio that her mission is to tell stories about the modern black and queer experience in South Africa. In the discussion she spoke frankly about having physically assaulted her ex-wife in part because, “she antagonised me and didn’t respect my boundaries with exes in the picture”. Asked if she ever apologised Mavuso said they had worked past the issue but questioned why her former wife smeared her name on social media.
Bikwa shared his own story of being an abuse-accused. Imagine if Buji hit you? It would be like a truck hit you, he quipped! It is likely this was exactly what might have been on his mind when the alleged assault on Boity occurred. Clearly aware of his size and the damage he could inflict, in leaked audio of the incident as on-lookers urge him to stop he promises to “moer her more!” He even boasts that “People will know who I am when I f**k Boity up!”
It is important that this example of GBV moves beyond the tabloids. People should know who Buji Bikwa is. Perhaps then we can begin to realise that the perpetrators of this type of violence have many faces.
Bingwa is the host of the 702 Breakfast and a Carte Blanche presenter.