’We have a precedent’ – activists

2012-02-05 10:00
Yazeed Kamaldien
Zoliswa Nkonyana’s murderers have been jailed but for four other women like her – all lesbians killed in horrific hate attacks in the past 10 years in Cape Town townships – there has been no justice.

Lesbians living in these neighbourhoods now fear revenge attacks after four of the men who stoned and stabbed 19-year-old Nkonyana to death outside a Khayelitsha tavern were sentenced to an effective 14 years in jail on Wednesday.

During sentencing, Magistrate Radia Wathen referred to Nkonyana’s killing as a hate crime.

This was hailed by rights groups as the first recognition of a hate crime against lesbians.

Activists from Free Gender, who protested outside the court before every appearance of the now-convicted Lubabalo Ntlabati, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba, celebrated on Khayelitsha Remembrance Square.

The delight was tempered by fear. Pearl Mali said: “I’m relieved that we don’t have to follow this case for another year. This gives us hope that other cases will end.

“But there will be more anger towards us now.

“Some people won’t like the fact that the guys are behind bars and we are rejoicing. We are targets. The battle has begun. We need to try to make them understand that lesbians are here to stay.
“We are not going anywhere. They don’t have to accept us. I always say hate me, but don’t hurt me.”
Mali is ostracised because of her sexual orientation.

“People tell me that I am beautiful and I should be married to a man.
“They ask why I’m lesbian. But I tell them that I didn’t choose to be a lesbian. I just am this way,” she said.

Free Gender chairperson Funeka Soldaat spoke at a public gathering in Khayelitsha yesterday, remembering Nkonyana and the four other lesbians who were murdered in the area, and nine others who were assaulted and raped.

One of them is Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka (21) from nearby Nyanga, who went missing in September 2010. Her body was found a year later in a rubbish bin a street away from her home.

A neighbour, Vuyisile Madikane, is on trial for her murder in the Athlone Magistrates’ Court.

But nobody has been arrested for the murders of the three other women, who Soldaat didn’t identify as their families don’t want their names published.

She said she hoped that residents would listen to Magistrate Wathen’s words.

“Everybody will be reading newspapers. The community will know what is happening. We will now have meetings with various groups and the community policing forums in townships to say that they must protect lesbians.

Lesbians are being killed. This case proves what we have been saying all these years,” says Soldaat.

As celebrations continued outside court, Nkonyana’s mother, Monica Mandindi, hid inside weeping. Her husband, Nkonyana’s stepfather, Gcinumzi Mandindi, spoke of their happiness that the men responsible for the death of their only child were going to jail.

“We are happy about the sentence. It was difficult for so many years,” he said.

“We all wish that she will rest in peace now. No more talking. We can only talk when we remember her.”

The Triangle Project, a sexual rights group, has tracked the case since it began. It’s director, Jayne Arnott, said Wednesday’s sentencing was a watershed moment for the movement.

“It’s the first time we have had discrimination based on sexual orientation introduced as an aggravating factor in sentencing. It’s historic and significant to take our work forward,” she said.

“We have a precedent.”

The Treatment Action Campaign staged numerous protests outside court against the many delays. This case has dragged on over almost six years and through more than 40 postponements.

“Five of the men arrested have been acquitted because of a lack of evidence,” it said in a statement.

“But a longer sentence would have sent a stronger message. An effective sentence of 14 years for this murder, just a day after three men were sentenced in Phalaborwa to 25 years in prison for rhino poaching, cannot help but raise questions.”

Eric Ntabazalila, Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, defended the handling of
the matter.

“This case did take a long time to be finalised, but the majority of the delays were due to the legal representatives of the accused. We had to follow the law to get a good conviction, which we got.”