2-2-2012By Paul LeGendre
Director, Fighting Discrimination Program
Yesterday a South African court set an important precedent by sentencing four men to 18 years in prison for the brutal slaying of an openly lesbian woman, Zoliswa Nkonyana. The verdict sends a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated.
Local and international human rights groups have documented high levels of violence, including so-called “corrective” rapes, targeting lesbians in South Africa’s urban townships. Over the past year alone, other lesbians have been violently attacked:
- In September 2011, the body of Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka was found in a dustbin in Nyanga, Cape Town.
- On May 3, 2011, Nqobile Khumalo was attacked and murdered in KwaMashu township in Durban. Her ex-boyfriend confessed, saying he’d killed her because she’d left him for a woman. Khumalo was reportedly raped prior to her death.
- In March 2011, Nokuthula Radebe’s body was discovered in a playground in Soweto. Plastic covered the 20 year-old’s head; she’d been strangled with shoelaces. Nongovernmental groups believe she’d also been a victim of “corrective” rape.
Successful prosecutions for hate crimes in South Africa are rare. The trial of Nkonyana’s killers was postponed more than 40 times over the course of five years, and activists noted a number of shortcomings in the process.
To improve its response to anti-LGTBI hate crime, the government created a national task team of government agencies and civil society representatives. South Africa is also in developing legislation that will serve as a foundation to address various forms of hate crime, including xenophobic violence, and crimes where race and religion are contributing factors.
Senior leaders in the government have begun to speak out against discrimination and hate crime, and they’re also working to improve police responses. But the government needs to do more:
- Senior government officials should speak out consistently against all forms of hate crime and ensure that authorities thoroughly investigate hate crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.
- The government should introduce legislation that expressly criminalizes violence against individuals or property on the basis of a person’s race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
- Law enforcement agencies should develop the capacity to use police and justice statistics to track both hate crimes and the police response to them. This will help police, justice officials, and prosecutors overcome barriers to successful prosecutions.
- To increase the likelihood that victims are willing to report hate crimes, law enforcement should build ties to community groups, and authorities should ensure thorough investigations and prosecution of police misconduct and abuse.