/ 8 July 2021

Hate killings of black lesbians in South Africa: 2008 to 2018

Honouring the dead: A memorial to gay rights activist and Banyana star Eudy Simelane. Two men were convicted and jailed for her murder. (Mduduzi Ndzingi/Gallo Images/Drum)

Part two of this extract, the first part of which the Mail & Guardian published last week, lists the names of black lesbians who were murdered between 2007 and 2018, allegedly because of their sexual orientation. 


In April, 16-year-old lesbian Madoe Mafubedu was raped and stabbed to death in Soweto. [There is very limited information about this case, and there are no reports that anyone was arrested for this murder.]

In June, Simangele Nhlapho, a member of an HIV-support group co-ordinated by the Positive Women’s Network (an HIV community programme) was raped and murdered. Her two-year-old child was also murdered during the attack, and it was reported that both of the infant’s legs had been broken during the beating. (It is not clear from news reports that Simangele was a lesbian, but her death was very obviously linked to her work in HIV, which had links to lesbian victims the next month.) [There are no news reports indicating that anyone was arrested for these murders.]

On 7 July, 34-year-old Sizakele Sigasa, a lesbian and gay rights activist and an outreach co-ordinator at the Positive Women’s Network, was raped, tortured and murdered together with her friend, 23-year-old Salome Masooa. The women’s bodies were found lying next to each other just a few metres from the car they had been travelling in. Sizakele had three bullet wounds in her head and three near her collarbone. Salome had a single gunshot wound to the head. Their killers had used Sizakele’s underwear and her shoelaces to tie her hands and her ankles. [Four suspects were originally arrested for these murders, but there was no evidence connecting them to the crimes and they were set free. As of 2017, nobody has been convicted for either of these murders.]

On 22 July, the naked body of 23-year-old lesbian ‘Sdo’ Thokozani Qwabe was found in a field near a community hall in Ezakheni, Ladysmith. She had been raped and possibly stoned to death. Two men were arrested and charged with her killing, but were acquitted.


On the night of 27 April — Freedom Day — 31-year-old former Banyana Banyana national soccer player, soccer coach and lesbian activist Eudy Simelane was attacked by a group of men after leaving a local pub in KwaThema. She was robbed, gang-raped and stabbed 25 times before being left naked to die in a ditch. Five men were arrested in connection with her murder, but only two were convicted. Themba Mvubu received a life sentence plus 35 years and Thato Mphithi was sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment.

A month later, on 26 May, 25-year-old lesbian Khanyiswa (Lhoyie) Hani was found murdered in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. She had been stabbed, her throat had been cut, and her teeth knocked out. [No suspects were arrested.]

On 20 June, 21-year-old lesbian Sibongile Mphelo was raped and murdered, her body discovered in a patch of open veld in Strand in Cape Town. Sibongile had been mutilated during the attack. Her vagina and part of her calf had been cut off. Condoms were discovered next to her body. [No suspects have ever been arrested.]


On 19 June, 37-year-old soccer player Girlie “S’Gelane” Nkosi was stabbed in a nightclub in KwaThema (Girlie had played with the late Eudy Simelane in one of the local clubs). She died of her injuries a few days later. Girlie, who had been attacked a number of times before her death, was an outspoken gay and lesbian rights activist, and had been a part of the 070707 Campaign (named after the date of the murders of Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa). [Girlie’s killers were never found.]

Author’s note: In August 2009, then Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana walked out of an exhibition of work by Zanele Muholi that featured black lesbian couples. Xingwana reportedly described Muholi’s photographs as “immoral, offensive and going against nation-building”.


In September 2010, 21-year-old lesbian Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka went missing from her home in Nyanga. A year later her body was discovered in a wheelie-bin outside the house of her neighbour, Vuyisile Madikane. The neighbour was subsequently charged with her murder.

In November 2010, another 21-year-old, newspaper seller Ncumisa Mzamelo was murdered and her body left in a disused toilet in Bhambayi, KwaZulu-Natal. Ncumiza had been set alight and the body was so badly burned it had to be identified through dental records.


On 28 March, the body of 20-year-old lesbian Nokuthula Radebe was found in an abandoned building in Thokoza. Her pants had been pulled down and her face covered with a plastic bag. She had been strangled with her shoelaces.

A few weeks later, on 24 April, the body of 24-year-old mother of two, Noxolo Nogwaza, was found in a stream in KwaThema. Noxolo was an activist and a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee. Human Rights Watch reported that her face had been disfigured by stoning, and she had been stabbed multiple times with broken glass. Used condoms were found on and near her body.

Two days after she went missing, on 4 May, the body of 23-year-old Nqobile Khumalo was discovered in a shallow grave in Kwa-Mashu. The following year, a man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her rape and murder. Some news reports alleged that the killer was Nqobile’s former boyfriend, who murdered her for having a relationship with a woman.


On 23 June, a gunman wearing a balaclava burst into a home in Mau Mau, Nyanga, Cape Town, and shot 21-year-old lesbian Phumeza Nkolonzi three times in front of her mother and her niece. [No suspect has ever been arrested for her murder.]

On 30 June, 28-year-old school clerk Sanna Supa was shot three times while opening the gate to her driveway at her house in Braamfischerville, Soweto. [No arrests have been made for her killing.] 

The same day, 30 June, the body of 29-year-old Hendrietta (Andritha) Thapelo Morifi was discovered on the bed of her home in Polo Park, Mokopane. Andritha’s throat had been slit from ear to ear, and she had been stabbed with a braai fork. Blood-soaked underwear was also found at the scene and it was believed Andritha had been raped. Andritha, who was openly lesbian, was survived by her two-year-old daughter, who was with a relative at the time of the attack. Two men were arrested but were later released, reportedly because of lack of evidence.

In August, 25-year-old lesbian Mandisa Mbambo was raped, beaten and stabbed at her home in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal. Four men were arrested for the crime, but there is no information in the press as to whether any of the suspects were convicted.

On 23 September, the body of lesbian Desiree Ntombana Mafu (also known as  Ntombana Desire ‘Deezay’ Mafu) was discovered in the Roodepoort Cemetery near Dobsonville, Soweto. 

On 9 November, 19-year-old Sihle Sikoji was stabbed in the chest with a spear by five male gang members in Samora Machel, Nyanga, in Cape Town. Sikoji was a member of Luleki Sizwe, an organisation that supported lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. [No arrests have been made in connection with her murder.]


On 21 April, the body of 36-year-old lesbian Patricia Mashigo was discovered in Daveyton. She appeared to have been beaten with a brick or stoned to death. Patricia was a saleswoman, and mother of two children. [No arrests were ever made for her killing.]

On 30 June, the body of 26-year-old lesbian Duduzile Zozo was discovered just ten metres from her home in Thokoza. A toilet brush had been violently shoved into her vagina, and it was reported that she had died as a result of the organ damage this had caused. One of Duduzile’s neighbours, Lekgoa Motleleng, was later convicted of her murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.


In August, 24-year-old lesbian Disebo Gift Makau, a college student, was found dead in Tshing location in Ventersdorp. She had been raped and strangled with wire and a shoelace, and a hosepipe had been forced into her mouth. Gift’s childhood friend Stoffel Botlhokwane was found guilty of her rape and murder and was sentenced to two life sentences, plus an additional 15 years for theft.


On 16 December, the body of 21-year-old Pascalina Motshidisi Melamu was discovered in an open field in Evaton. Her eyes, breasts and vagina had been cut out and her body set alight. Four suspects were arrested, but there are no further news reports indicating if they were charged. 


On 19 March, the night of her 19th birthday, student Lucia Naido was stabbed to death a few metres from her home in Katlehong. Her mother heard her daughter’s screams and ran out to help her, but Lucia died on the way to hospital. [No arrests have been reported.]

In May, 47-year-old police clerk Nosisa Sonjani was found murdered at her home on the SAPS Faure base in Kleinvlei. She had been stabbed, and strangled with the electric cord from a toaster. Nosisa’s employee, Lwando Dubha, was later arrested, after fleeing to the Eastern Cape. Dubha was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years for murder and 15 years for robbery.

In December, 22-year-old lesbian and LGBT activist Noluvo Swelindavo was abducted from her home in Driftsands, Khayelitsha, by a group of men. Her body was found the next day near the N2 highway, with a gunshot wound. Noluvo’s girlfriend, who had hidden in a gap between the bed and the wall when the attack happened, was able to identify one of the assailants as a neighbour, Sigcine Mdani, who had previously attacked Noluvo because of her sexual orientation. Mdani was later found guilty of abduction and murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison.


On 4 April, a badly burned body was discovered in the township of Maokeng near Kroonstad. A month later, DNA tests confirmed that the victim was 28-year-old Nonki Smous, a welder who had lived openly as a lesbian for many years. [Three men who were arrested in connection with the murder and robbery were subsequently released.]

In May, 27-year-old Lerato ‘Tambai’ Moloi was raped and murdered in Naledi, Soweto. Her half-naked body was found in an open space by community members who were cutting grass near the railway line. Lerato had been stabbed, and there were rocks near her head. Photographs of Lerato’s corpse were widely shared on social media. The following year, Petroos Tsotang Mokhgethi, Lerato’s friend and ‘drinking buddy’, was convicted of her rape and murder. He received two life sentences, one for each charge.

Also in May, friends 28-year-old Bongeka Phungula and 24-year-old Popi Qwabe, who had recently moved to Soweto from KwaZulu-Natal, went missing. Their bodies were found days later in separate locations in Tladi and Naledi. Both women had been raped before being killed. A suspect was arrested, but the NPA said there was not enough evidence to link him to the case and so the case was not placed on the court’s roll.  

In December, lesbian couple Joey van Niekerk and Anisha van Niekerk* were tortured, gang raped and murdered. It later emerged that the murders were allegedly part of a plot by a tenant who wanted to take over the couple’s land where they lived in Mooinooi. The man believed to be the mastermind behind the plot, Koos Strydom, committed suicide while the case against him was under way.

* Joey and Anisha were both white women, but they have been included on this list because they were specifically targeted and tortured on the basis of their sexuality, and the fact that they were a married female couple rather than a heterosexual couple.


On New Year’s Day, 23-year-old Noxolo Xakeka was harassed, assaulted and then stabbed three times because of her sexual orientation. She died in hospital later that day, leaving behind a six-year-old child. Her killer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Gone too soon: Duduzile Zozo was buried in Kromvlei Cemetery in Ekurhuleni on 13 July 2013. One of Zozo’s neighbours was later convicted of her murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. (Clarissa Sosin)

Transgender victims

In addition to the lesbians who were murdered, above, each year there are also a number of hate killings of transgender women, including gay men who occasionally dressed as or presented as women. (The many victims listed below each identified differently; I have tried to refer to them according to their chosen gender and identity, based on available press reports. It is, of course, not possible to ask them how they wish to be identified.) As with lesbian killings, it is almost certain that these deaths, too, are underreported in the media, although this may change as transgender individuals become more visible – although even that, of course, sadly remains a risky act in itself.


In June 2008, 25-year-old Daisy Dube was shot and killed in Yeoville, Johannesburg while out with four friends who identified as drag queens.


In June 2012, Miss Gay Kuruman pageant winner Thapelo Makutle, who identified as both gay and transgender, was attacked in his room and his throat was slit. Later news reports indicated that Thapelo’s testicles had been cut off and his penis stuffed into his mouth. Although the crime was evidently committed by more than one perpetrator, only one, Sizwe Tajini, was arrested and convicted. He was sentenced to a 14-year prison term.

Also in June 2012, trans woman sex worker Sasha Lee Gordon was stabbed in the heart and left to die on a pavement in Wynberg, Cape Town.

In July 2012, 28-year-old transgender woman Vuyisa ‘Norizana’ Dayisi was murdered in her home in Duncan Village. She had suffered a blow to the forehead, and her pants were pulled down to expose her genitals.


In December 2015, 30-year-old trans woman Phoebe Titus was murdered by a 15-year-old boy while she was buying ice lollies in her hometown of Wolseley. The attack took place after the teenager had started verbally abusing Phoebe, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs. After Phoebe responded by gesturing towards the youth with a plastic crate, he took a knife and stabbed her in the neck. [The perpetrator was arrested but was later released on bail.]


In January 2018, 24-year-old Kagiso Ishmael Maema was murdered in Seraleng, Rustenburg. Her half-naked body was found next to a stream, and it was suspected she had been strangled and had wounds that may have been caused by an axe.

In February 2018, the body of 30-year-old hairdresser ‘Rose’ Papi Mogoera Elias Malebatso was discovered in Welkom. Rose was allegedly murdered when the man she was having a drink with discovered that she was a transgender woman.

In September 2018, 31-year-old Motlhatlhedi ‘Gustav’ Modise was stabbed to death in Ventersdorp; her handbag and wallet and other belongings were left lying next to her body.

This story was produced by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism. Sign up for the newsletter.