A national task team is to tackle hate crimes against lesbians and gays, the justice and constitutional development ministry said on Wednesday.
The decision came in response to a 170 000-strong Change.org campaign calling for action on “corrective rape”, spokesperson Tlali Tlali said in a statement.
It followed the murder of lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza (24), who was stoned, stabbed with broken glass and gang-raped in KwaThema, Johannesburg, last month.
Used condoms, a beer bottle and a large rock were found on or beside Nogwaza’s body. She was a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee.
“Corrective rape” is an increasingly common hate crime in which men rape lesbians to “cure” them of their sexual orientation.
Tlali said the decision to set up a task team was taken on Tuesday during a meeting at Parliament of senior officials and activists. It would begin deliberations on July 15. It would include six representatives from the judiciary and the police and social development, and six representatives from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
“The team will be charged with developing a legislative intervention plan, a public awareness strategy, and LGBTI-sensitive shelters,” he said.
In response to the government action, Ndumie Funda, founder of Luleki Sizwe, an organisation that advocates for the rights of township lesbians, said: “It shows that they are willing to work with the gay community, but we continue to fight for LGBTI rights until the last drops of blood are spilled.”
Benjamin Joffe-Walt, a representative of Change.org, said what the campaign accomplished was “remarkable”.
“In less than six months, a tiny group of township activists has mobilised more than 170 000 people from 163 countries and gotten the highest levels of government to address their basic demand, that the sadistic crime of ‘corrective rape’ be taken seriously.”
Intervention options discussed at the meeting included amending the Sexual Offences Act to include the victim’s sexual orientation as an aggravating factor, which would lead to heavier sentences.
Preventative measures such as allowing for equality courts to address harassment, discrimination or hate speech, and consultations on minimum sentences for hate crimes, including rape on the basis of sexual orientation, were also considered.
‘Climate of understanding and acceptance’
The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa on Wednesday called on the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) to raise awareness of gay and lesbians rights. “The frontline role of the ANCWL will go a long way in creating a climate of understanding and acceptance of gay and lesbian people as an … integral part of our society,” spokesperson Castro Ngobese said.
“Gay and lesbian people have a right to exist and be free in our country without any fear or threats of murder or intimidation.”
Human Rights Watch told French news agency Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that evidence suggested Nogwaza had been targeted because she was a lesbian, and that the murder “appears to be the latest in an epidemic of brutal homophobic attacks”.
The attack is said to be reminiscent of the 2008 murder of Eudy Simelane, who played for the South African women’s national soccer team. Simelane’s partially clothed body was found in a field in KwaThema. She had been gang-raped, beaten, and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest, and legs.
Two men were found guilty for the killing, and two others acquitted.
Police spokesperson Colonel Tshisikhawe Ndou said on Wednesday no arrests for Nogwaza’s murder had been made yet, and investigations were continuing. — Sapa