Murdered lesbian's stepdad: She was born that way

2012-02-01 22:40
Cape Town - As overjoyed activists sang and danced, Zoliswa Nkonyana’s stepfather quietly addressed a pack of journalists, thrusting their cameras, cellphones and voice recorders into his face, eagerly awaiting his emotional quotes.

“I think for anyone who listens and understands, this should be a lesson,” Gcinumzi Mandindi said, with eyes downcast, of the sentence given to his stepdaughter’s murderers.

“She didn’t like women’s clothes. She was the way she was.

“That’s how she grew up. She was born that way,” Mandindi said of his 19-year-old lesbian stepdaughter.

Zoliswa’s killers were sentenced to 18 years behind bars. Four years of their sentences were suspended for five years.

After six long years of postponements and charges being dropped against some of the other suspects, Mandindi said: “We feel better, we’ll be free and maybe we’ll be able to forget.”

Twenty men were originally thought to have beaten Zoliswa to death near her home in Khayelitsha.

Hate crimes

The case has become symbolic of the hate crimes suffered by many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, mostly in townships, around the country.

The Triangle Project’s Jayne Arnott told News24 that four more hate crime cases are still set to come before Western Cape courts alone.

Many of these crimes were so-called “corrective rape” in which a lesbian is raped by usually by a gang of men to “cure” her of her sexuality.

The case also brought to light how the police and judiciary had failed LGBTI people in their fight against hate crimes.

The case against Zoliswa’s killers was one of the longest-running in the country’s history and was postponed about 50 times.

But Arnott said that the case was a “huge step forward [for the judiciary] in terms of recognition of levels of violence against LGBTI people and noting it as an aggravating factor in sentencing”.

“It will set a precedent,” Arnott said.

A message for Africa

Sapa reported that People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty said the sentence sent a loud message against homophobia across Africa.

"The court in Khayelitsha has sent a strong message by finding that the men who killed Ms Nkonyana did so because she was living openly as a lesbian and that this warranted the harshest penalty," it said.

"We hope that this message is heard loud and clear across the rest of the continent, where homophobic discrimination is widespread and where homosexuality is a crime."

The group said it was also working to advocate for the rights of gay and lesbian refugees who had been forced to flee their home countries and were seeking refuge in South Africa.

"Although in many parts of South African society homophobia is still prevalent, today we are proud that South Africa’s legal system has upheld our Constitution and has set an example to the rest of Africa to follow."

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the sentence sent a message that hate crimes would not be tolerated.

But for Zoliswa’s family, it comes down to the simple and tragic reality that they’ve lost a loved one.

“I’m still crying. I will never see her again. You understand that? I will never see Zoliswa again. But everything is alright now. I’m happy, happy, happy [with the sentence],” said Arthur Nkonyana, Zoliswa’s uncle. 

- Follow Lauren on Twitter
Read more on:    zoliswa nkonyana  |  cape town  |  gay rights

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