BEING a lesbian can be a death wish in Khayelitsha, where a gay woman is seen as an affront to masculinity – a way of telling a man she is not for the taking – and so it’s safest not to let it show. But when two lesbian soccer teams met in Khayelitsha on Saturday, there was more at stake than the satisfaction of winning.
With about 200 skeptical, smirking men in attendance, the players took to the dirt patch looking for respect. And as the smirks broadened into grins in the heat of battle and an epic overtime, respect is exactly what they got.
“It was fun and it was interesting because it was ladies,” spectator Themba Rala said.
“We learnt something from them. They are tough, they are not soft like they are supposed to be. Some could play (with the men) next time.”
Initially viewing with raised eyebrows, the men jumped and flailed their arms on several plays, not expecting to become so involved. Their perceptions of lesbians – if not dramatically changed – were reconsidered and amended by the end of the match.
“Even me,” Rala said. “I didn’t expect it. Everybody’s mindset has changed.”
The teams were formed by two lesbian organisations based in townships: Lulekisizwe of Gugulethu and Free Gender of Khayelitsha. Gay rights activist Zanele Muholi has led the fight against lesbian violence for nearly a decade and came up with the idea to bring the 34 young women together.
“It’s beyond soccer,” Muholi said. “It’s about forming new friends … We don’t need to come together just because a lesbian has been raped. We can come together to play soccer, to have fun.”
Fun is a given when these women get together. Muholi’s Angels, ranging from late teens to early 20s, clapped and bounced to the beats of DJ Lenzo as they packed into their van.
And Eulander Koester, 23, of the Lulekisizwe squad said: “We can be ourselves (being together) because it’s like a family for us.”
Heads turned and the men whispered to one another as the teams left their vans and walked towards the field. The women were unfazed, engaging in horseplay amid the apprehensive onlookers, before swopping baggy jeans and caps for green kits. Once they took the field, any questions the men might have had about the level of play were soon answered. Part spectacle and part high-quality play, the physical and fast-paced match garnered growing interest. With the match squared at 2-2 at the end of regulation, the crowd moved to enclose the penalty area, and Lulekisizwe goalkeeper Ayanda Mqakayi deadened a straight shot to seal the 8-9 victory.
“Most of the guys are so homophobic,” Mqakayi said, fearing the match in Khayelitsha because she knew someone who was killed there for being a lesbian.
“But for these guys to support us the way they did, was surprising. Maybe I judged them wrong … I am afraid of this place, but today I feel free.”
The main purpose of the match was to give the young women a way to express themselves and have fun. When the teams left the field they went to lunch at a house in Makhaza where they sang and clapped on the stoep.
“People ask what makes me tick,” Free Gender co-ordinator Funeka Soldaat said. “It’s when I see girls like that. I know how hard it is for them, but nothing can change how they feel after today. There’s nothing they can’t handle.”