/ 26 February 2020

Every person’s silence against violence gives perpetrators licence to kill

(John McCann/M&G)
(John McCann/M&G)


On the evening of Thursday, February 6, 23-year-old Lindokuhle Cele went to his butchery in uMlazi, KwaZulu-Natal. While he was waiting to be served, a taxi pulled up and a man jumped out, walked up to Cele and stabbed him. 

“He was crying for help and asking why he was being stabbed,” said his aunt, Nombuso Cele, according to a number of media reports. “He begged and apologised to the suspect, but he continued stabbing him all over his face and back. He cried while the man continued to stab him most viciously.” 

Lindokuhle eventually succumbed to 21 stab wounds on his face, head and abdomen. 

Mvuyisi Mabhuda Moguda, 30, has appeared in the uMlazi magistrate’s court charged with Lindokuhle’s murder.

This murder was not committed in private — away from potential witnesses who could identify the assailant and testify against him in court — but under the full gaze of numerous people in and near the butchery. 

Nombuso Cele remains devastated by the fact that no one assisted her nephew. 

Lindokuhle’s murder occurred in an enabling environment, where people stood by and watched. Even if overcome by fear, these people failed to call the authorities. 

According to Nombuso, Moguda had allegedly regularly expressed hate of Lindokuhle because of his openness about being gay. 

His homophobic statements and sentiments were not confronted. Did anyone tell Moguda that his sentiments and comments were inappropriate? Did people tell Moguda that his homophobic statements constituted hate speech and violated Lindokuhle’s right to dignity and equality, let alone the rights of other gay men and lesbians?

Inaction and allowing a culture of discrimination can lead to violence and death. 

Ongoing hate speech, whether in person, among people or on social media, that is directed at vulnerable groups can lead to violence and death. 

Perpetrators of hate speech, if not confronted, could develop a sense of impunity. Why would a perpetrator feel any sense of concern, knowing full well that people are too fearful of confronting his hate speech or that they may share his sentiments? 

When hate speech evolves into hate crimes, such as murder, the perpetrator may even believe that he is acting on behalf of a group of people, that he is able to do what others only dream of, but lack the courage to execute. 

In this instance our communal silence goes beyond consent; it could be interpreted as an endorsement of hatred and violence. 

As a constitutional democracy, where we need to accept people as equals and treat them with the dignity they are entitled to, no matter their gender, sexual orientation or any other category that may render them vulnerable, we cannot allow hate speech and negative sentiments toward such persons to fester. 

It is incumbent on us all to protect everyone’s rights and failing to do so leaves people exposed. 

Perpetrators of hate-filled violence should know that they are outnumbered, that their homophobia is abhorrent and that everyone would protect the victim’s rights. This could only occur in a society that fully respects everyone’s equality, dignity and freedoms in line with Chapter Two of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. 

What is required is that all South Africans adopt, live and breathe the rights we have in the Constitution, and that the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, informs our religious expressions, cultural life and in turn our personal — at times — hidden attitudes. 

We can only achieve this if we respect and familiarise ourselves with the human rights we have formalised since 1996 and, in turn, understand that all of these rights extend to others as well. Other people who may be very different to ourselves. 

The words of Lindokuhle’s aunt best describe what very simply was required from not only uMlazi, but the rest of South Africa: “To us, Lindokuhle was our child, we loved him for who he was. He was a very loving person and loved music. He enjoyed being around friends and family. We are deeply hurt as a family and his death leaves a big hole that won’t be filled.

“We are pleading with the communities to learn to accept other people, and respect how they want to live their lives.” 

Gushwell Brooks is the communications co-ordinator for the South African Human Rights Commission