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Three on trial for murder of gay football star

EUDY Simelane loved football. In other countries the 29-year-old who rose through the ranks to become captain of the women's national football team would have been feted as a star. In South Africa it cost her her life.

The top striker, who was gay, was set upon by a gang of thugs, gang-raped and stabbed 25 times.

Her sexuality and supposedly butch looks were a death sentence in a country in which the sport is still considered a man's game by many.

Today, the trial of three men accused of her murder in April 2008 goes ahead after being delayed last month when a fourth man who had agreed to be a witness for the prosecution withdrew his statements at the last moment. For the gay community it is a landmark moment.

In South Africa's sprawling black townships Ms Simelane was the most famous victim of an increasing trend in anti-gay violence.

There, lesbians live in fear. At least 20 women have been killed in the past five years. They are often victims of a phenomenon known as "corrective rape" -- the rape of a lesbian by a man either to punish her or cure and correct her sexual orientation.

Attacks

"Most survivors of these attacks do not report them. We believe there are hundreds of people who have been targeted," Phumi Mtetna (36) the director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project said.

"Men are unemployed and feel traditional male preserves such as football or drinking in a bar are under attack. That was Eudy's crime. An aggravating factor was that she did not look like a typical female.

"People are just getting killed here because they are different, like HIV-positive people have been killed in the past. What is important is to get a verdict which includes murder," she said.

Lesbians and gay advocacy organisations say that the problem has not been helped by a lack of support from the authorities in a society that is still highly traditional. They are planning to use the start of the trial to highlight the issue of violence against gay people, particularly in the poorest communities.

South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, but the reality often proves far less tolerant.

"If a lesbian tries to report a rape, police will say something like, 'Who would rape someone looking like you?'" Ms Mtetna said.

In a report this year, the British charity ActionAid said that "corrective rape" attacks were on the increase as gay women suffered a backlash from men feeling that traditional male dominance was at risk.

Support groups emphasised that the issue had to be looked at from the wider perspective of growing violence against women in general and increasing rape incidents.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world. Nearly 150 women are reported to have been raped every day, although activists say that the figure is higher. (© The Times, London)