CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Navigaytion and Bronx are two iconic LGBT bars that have become quite renowned tourist attractions to the gay friendly city of Cape Town in South Africa. Yet recent police harassment may well show signs that notwithstanding South Africa’s all-inclusive pro-LGBT constitution, the authorities have yet to grasp that homophobia may well keep the tourists at bay -- especially when a Saudi prince gets beaten up in a nightclub by plainclothes police.
South Africa is unique in Africa and among very few countries in the world to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in its Constitution.
This week the following message appeared on a nightclub manager’s Facebook page:
“We would like to inform all our members and friends from Navigaytion and Bronx of the following, rather horrific incident that took place on Friday night 16 September 2011, at Navigaytion:
As some of you might know we have been fighting a losing battle with the police regarding what time we close. Hence the irregular closing times, and sometimes in a very abrupt manner, which we sincerely apologize for. We are trying our best and are currently seeking professional legal help to resolve this issue for once and for all, giving you the best night out, without spoiling your fun.”
Regarding the Sept. 16, 2011 incident, in the words of the club’s manager, Ari Nitzan: “A Saudi prince was in the club on Friday night, when the police barged into the club bringing the night to an abrupt end. The Saudi prince has become one of many loyal and regular customers at the club. The police shouted at everyone to get out. At this time the prince was sitting at the bar sipping his almost finished drink, when a plain clothed policeman rudely demanded that the unnamed Prince get up and leave the club immediately.”
The prince apparently replied: “I am just finishing my drink” -- not knowing what the fuss is all about, and as all the policemen were dressed in street clothes and not identifiable to the public as police officers.
“Next thing the policeman slapped him in the face and off his chair, another 5 policeman jumped in beating him up quite badly. Screaming and shouting took place. He was handcuffed and thrown into the back of the police van. On the way to the police station he was beaten up some more. If that wasn’t enough, once in the cell at the police station, a Muslim policeman came to him and asked him if he is Muslim and if he is gay, to which he replied yes. He was beaten up some more.”
He was released later around lunch time with a R100 “admission of guilt” fine. Later that afternoon his very upset boyfriend went to the police station to inquire about the incident and no case number or “admission of guilt” were to be found. The prince is now in hospital for a blown eardrum.
"Clearly this is a case of homophobia and police brutality. It’s disgusting to think that in this day and age, homosexuals can be treated like this and the police get away with it. We don’t cause trouble all we want is to have a good time and to be left alone.”
I called the manager of the club in Cape Town, only to find out that the prince wanted to remain anonymous. There is no record of the incident at Cape Town Police Station, yet I have the names of the officers who were involved.
The Saudi prince is seeking legal advice as he wants to sue the police but has asked the club manager not to mention his name and he will make no statement until such time as he clears the matter up through his lawyer.
Nitzan informed me that he has had every newspaper under the sun calling him to write an article about the incident because of the fact that the victim is a Saudi prince, making the story extremely newsworthy. “To me this should not make any difference, just the fact that a customer of ours was brutally assaulted is enough,” Nitzan said.
Further to the incident Nitzan argues:
“As times are very difficult financially, Bronx and Navigaytion only start making money from 2 am if the cops keep trying to close us at 4am we will be forced to close our doors as most of our money is made from the door between 3 am and 5am. Which will be very sad as Bronx is one of Cape Town’s tourist icons and has been around for over 15 years . As far as I understand it we are not breaking the law, we stop serving liquor at 4am as per our liquor license but carry on serving soft drinks. We have a 24 hour business license The police want us to chase everyone out and close our doors at 4am. They are saying that because our liquor license ends at 4am the business must also end at 4am. This makes no sense as, if you take a company like checkers which sells liquor, but stops selling liquor as prescribed by the liquor license, that would mean that they have to close their shop when they stop selling liquor which of course is not the case," he said.
"The police harassment has been an ongoing saga and to me it’s like the apartheid years where the police can to do and say what they like and nothing is done about it. Place like the club liquid are allowed to trade until all hours but we are forcefully made to close which is a pure case of homophobia,” Nitzan said.
“Unfortunately until such time as the Saudi prince is willing to make a statement, I can’t give out his name. He is obviously worried about being a Muslim, in his country he could be hung for being gay. I do have the names of the police that were involved."
Other than confirmation of the management, we have been unable to verify the incident any further.
Melanie Nathan of San Francisco is a South African native who writes for GAYUSA the Movie and Blog, and has been published often by SDGLN.com. She can be contacted at Melanie@gayusathemovie.com.