It took two weeks for the news of the brutal murder of a young Khayelitsha lesbian, Zoliswa Nkonyana, to filter from the streets to the media.
The original police investigation appears to have been sluggish. According to the Sunday Times, the single witness had only been contacted after a journalist alerted police to her existence. The investigating officer denied this. “I was getting round to taking a statement from her,” said Constable Geldenhuys this week.
No political party or city official has publicly condemned Nkonyana’s murder.
Local media say the failure to pick up the story was because police and gay lobby groups did not alert them to it. Activists and members of the lesbian and gay community charge that mainstream media has never been sufficiently attuned to the unique circumstances or threats that face black lesbians and gay men.
“But the gay community itself is also to blame,” said Glenn de Swardt of the Triangle Project.
“We have come to accept such abuse as a way of life, and most gay people think the only way to deal with it is to keep quiet.
“Zoliswa’s murder got out because the Sunday Times called me about an unrelated gay issue around the time I heard about her funeral. If it had not been for that, it would have been just another murder in Khayelitsha.”
In what gay lobby groups have termed a classic hate crime, the 19-year-old was clubbed, kicked and beaten to death by a mob of about 20 young men on February 4.
The youths, aged between 17 and 20, chased Nkonyana, pelted her with bricks and finally beat her with a golf club a few metres from her home. She and a friend had initially been taunted for being lesbians by a group of heterosexual girls, who had encountered them in a street. Six of the youths have since been arrested and appeared in court this week. Their bail application was postponed to February 28.
Triangle director Dawn Betteridge said that although the police response was initially slow, “they are now making significant progress”.
Lesbians and gay men who in live in the Cape’s townships are not surprised at the police response.
Thso Gcakafi, Nkonyana’s friend and Wini Soccer club teammate, said township police often laughed or belittled lesbians or gay men when they reported rapes, assaults or threats to their lives.
Betteridge said township lesbians and gay men live with extreme and ongoing levels of verbal abuse, violence, rape and intimidation.
“They are so conditioned to it that when it goes beyond this they are strangely surprised,” she added.
Gcakafi, who lives in Nyanga East and is one of the founders of the Wini Soccer club, said the club was established two years ago to try to keep young lesbians out of shebeens and other unsafe areas where they were often raped.
“We are targeted because we are lesbians. Men see that as an invitation to rape,” Gcakafi said.
She added that although lesbians and gay men were often harassed, she had never feared for her life until Nkonyana’s murder.
“But we are not going anywhere. We will protest against this. We will protest against the way the police deal with us. We will make sure people become aware of who we are,” she said.
There are, however, also pockets of hope and understanding. Said Nkonyana’s mother, Monika Mandindi: “I loved my daughter and knew she was a lesbian even when she was a little girl. Everyone here accepted her for what she was. My heart is broken; she was my only God-given child.”
More than 400 people attended Nkonyana’s funeral two weeks ago and the first-ever Gay Pride march in Guguletu took place last weekend in her honour.