Update on the Zoliswa Nkonyana murder trial

Zoliswa Nkonyana was a 19 year old lesbian woman who was brutally murdered on 4 February 2006 by a mob of 20 men of which only 9 have so far been arrested and charged. The trial has faced delay after delay and has now been scheduled for August 22nd with instructions to all defense attorneys to be prepared.

Members of the 7-7-7 campaign are furious that because there is no legislation on hate crimes in South Africa those arrested will be tried for murder but not for the additional crime of “hate crimes”. The same will apply to those arrested for the murder of Eudy Simelane as well as those (if any) arrested and charged with the murder of immigrants over the past week of violence. By adding the charge of “hate crime” to that of murder the prosecution could call for additional sentencing and it would also serve as a documentation of the murder based on hate. There is an interesting debate in the US on whether or not to legislate for hate crime or make changes where it already exists.

“Violence and brutality against black lesbians go unreported and does not enjoy the same priority, media attention, vigorous police investigation and access to justice as similar crimes in well-resourced urban areas do. Political leaders are quick to condemn crime and violence if they are linked to well-resourced, privileged families. Ordinary women in rural areas and previously disadvantaged communities still find themselves on the margins and periphery of those communities. Activists and human rights defenders need to be vigilant and outspoken so that crimes of hate and violence against vulnerable women, particularly black lesbians, is condemned and uprooted from its very core,” said the Alliance’s spokesperson and provincial convener, Marlow Valentine.

Triangle Project’s director, Vanessa Ludwig expressed her anger at the increase in fundamentalism and misogyny based in heterosexual male power and privilege. “These men believe it’s their right to ‘cure’ or ‘correct’ lesbian women because they see access to women’s bodies as their right. Women are still seen as commodities owned by men, especially in township and rural communities where the daily lived realities of women are far removed from our constitutional rights. Class, race, and gender and heterosexism are all contributing factors in justifying the oppression, victimization, marginalization and abuse women — very often to the point of taking the lives of women. We need to interrogate ourselves as a nation when we do not consider the alarmingly high rate of violence against women to be national emergency.”

Addressing the crowd after the hearing, Commissioner Yvette Abrahams from the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) explained the reasoning behind the postponement. “The CGE is dedicated to monitoring this case and all other crimes of hate brought to our attention. Our legal officer, Keegan Lekay, will work closely with the State to ensure that full justice is sought for the murderers of Zoliswa. I urge the community to remain vigilant about gender-based crime linked to sexual orientation so that women feel supported and protected as survivors of these crimes.”

Funeka Soldaat from Women in Action in Khayelitsha added her voice of concern and condemnation. “Women must know that they have rights. We cannot allow race, status and class to become barriers for township women to access justice or support. We can’t do this on our own, but we cannot wait for others to fight for us – we need to stand up, become visible and challenge the pillars that upholds destructive, stereotypical and discriminatory value systems.”