For countless foreign visitors, Cape Town is an indelible symbol of the beauty and promise of post-apartheid South Africa. Beyond its gorgeous scenery and great wines, its logo -- an outline of majestic Table Mountain superimposed over a rainbow -- emphasises its historic mix of races and cultures, and its most famous resident, Desmond Tutu, is revered as a symbol of inclusiveness and forgiveness.
But does this nation's celebrated rainbow end where the mountain meets the sea?
With South Africa becoming the first country in Africa and the fifth in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, the gay scene is booming.
Scantily clad LGBT people are lining the streets in their thousands for Cape Town Pride, clubs are jam-packed, all united under the rainbow flag. Sales of the glossy lesbian magazine 'Alice' are growing, and De Waterkant's trendy nightclubs and restaurants are thriving on the pink pound.
Undeniably, the beckoning lesbian scene provides a much needed diversion for city dwellers from the daily ordeal of electricity blackouts, high crime rate and the continuing 'JZ' effect. Jacob Zuma, President of SA, was cleared of rape but shocked many people by arguing, against scientific evidence, that there was little danger of him contracting HIV from unprotected sex. He said taking a shower after having intercourse with the woman had reduced the risk of transmission.
In 2006 he made a speech saying that 'Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, 'ungqingili' (homosexuals in isiZulu) could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out.'
Oh yes, homophobia is alive, ignorant, and as offensive as ever!
South Africa's trailblazing legislation is no substitute for acceptance. Life here for lesbians and gays is a mix of the good, the bad and the blatantly ugly.
The good: here in Cape Town the women's scene is rocketing, with regular ladies -only watering holes like the Beaulah Bar -
This safe oasis for lesbians may look quite sterile from the street, but inside, the meet and greet spot that's become synonymous with girl power is anything but boring. A bigger, better bar area, a comfortable and cushioned lounge space and a dance floor complete with a stripper pole is bound to make even the most mundane of Monday nights into some sort of tale for tomorrow.
Many South Africans still oppose gay marriage and homosexuality. Conservative churches have vocally stated their opposition, and many traditional groups denounce homosexuality as "un-African", but despite this there's a noticeable increase in people of colour attending Pride events. Just eight years ago I could count on one hand non-white girls marching in solidarity
A beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, a rich diversity of people, culture and heritage - is fast making South Africa the destination of choice for great lesbian and gay holidays with tourists flocking to the Mother city.
The bad: black lesbians living in African townships are at the highest risk of being raped, tortured and even murdered for loving another woman. This is a side to Cape Town that the tourists are unlikely to see. Living in shacks or storage containers, the uneducated, coinciding with the vampiric nature of a patriarchal society, these densely populated townships are a melting pot for rape cases. The misconception is that a lesbian woman hasn't had satisfying sex unless it is with a man. In other words, the men who are perpetrating this violence, believe that by raping a woman they can turn her into a
' real African woman'.
Which brings me to the downright ugly: the shocking statistics show that 10 new cases of corrective rape occur every week in Cape Town. According to activists, suicide is not uncommon among victims of corrective rape, who also often experience torture, exposure to HIV and an unresponsive justice system.
Beyond the traumatising consequences of experiencing selective and discriminatory rape, the act violates inherent rights guaranteed by the reformed South African Constitution and poses a major public health concern. With escalating HIV infection rates, the act of corrective rape must be penalised to ensure the safety of all South Africa's female citizens.
Corrective rape is extremely violent, often including stabbing, mutilation, beating, and stoning. It is usually perpetrated by more than one man. It is a leading cause of HIV infection among lesbians. Corrective rape is so brutal and causes such physical and emotional trauma, it leaves the victim scarred for life -- or dead.
As I sat happily drinking a cocktail on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, enjoying the gay scene, I reflected angrily at the heartbreaking stories I had witnessed. My lesbian sisters were suffering as I basked in the sun. Consumed by guilt and emotion, I took an oath that day to try and find a channel to let their voices be heard.
Just because I was heading back to the UK doesn't mean that if something isn't visible, it isn't happening. In daily life I have a constant battle to get these women's stories read. People would much rather see my photographs of Table Mountain, not feel uncomfortable about something that is happening thousands of miles away.
For the time being club culture freely co-exists with township lesbian rape, they are two sides of the same coin. Their relationship to each other is antagonistic, presenting an unacceptable disparity between the two.
Before you book your next holiday, spare a thought for the women in the townships whose lives are in danger for just being themselves and who cannot share the same freedom afforded to us here in the UK.
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