Six years, 40 court dates

2012-02-04 10:29

It was six years ago this week that a mob of men attacked Zoliswa Nkonyana as she was walking home from a Khayelitsha tavern.

Nkonyana, a 19-year-old lesbian, was beaten and stoned to death – because, the Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court heard on Wednesday, she dared to live openly as a gay woman.

It has taken six long years and more than 40 court appearances to obtain some kind of justice for Zoliswa. Four men have been sentenced to serve an effective 14 years each in prison for killing Zoliswa.

Five others were acquitted earlier in the marathon trial and gender activists have suggested that more men were involved in the attack on the night of 4 February 2006.

Other lesbians in Khayelitsha are living in fear of reprisals from angry residents who supported her killers from the court’s public gallery for six long years.

Magistrate Radia Wathen delighted gender activists and Khayelitsha’s frightened lesbian community when she described Zoliswa’s brutal murder as being “driven by hatred; intolerance of her difference”.

But strong words from the bench will not be enough to keep gay men and lesbians in South Africa safe.

A justice department-constituted task team set up to investigate whether the country needs specific hate crimes legislation is a positive step in the right direction.

It, too, will not be enough to translate the Constitution’s vision for a country that celebrates and supports difference into a daily reality.

What is needed is real political and personal will to protect minorities who are harassed, abused, raped and murdered.

Leaders – those in positions of political power and those who lead communities from the pulpit and the streets – must make it clear to ordinary South Africans that there is no place for this sort of brutality and othering in our young democracy.

Some justice has finally been done for Zoliswa Nkonyana.

We owe it to her frightened friends, who have buried five of their comrades, and who have all been raped or attacked because of their sexuality, to make sure she didn’t die in vain.

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