Sex worker murder trial postponed before it even starts

2015-06-01 14:24
Protesters from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce outside the Western Cape High Court. (Ashleigh Furlong, GroundUp)

Protesters from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce outside the Western Cape High Court. (Ashleigh Furlong, GroundUp)

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Cape Town - The murder trial of renowned artist Zwelethu Mthethwa was postponed in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, before it even began, reported GroundUp.

Mthethwa is accused of murdering Nokuphila Kumalo, 23, who was a sex worker in Woodstock, on April 13, 2013.

Possible evidence in the trial includes footage of the murder that was apparently captured on CCTV, a tracking device in Mthethwa’s Porsche, as well as an eyewitness.

The postponement on Monday was due to the technical nature of the evidence and the defence’s difficulties in accessing the information that they need. Mthethwa’ s case has taken over two years to make it to trial due to the trial first being moved from the regional court to the high court, and then postponed due to there not being a judge available to hear it.

Monday’s trial was not much better, with confusion reigning due to a postponement for a different case that needed to be heard first. Following this, Mthethwa’s case was also postponed to the following afternoon as the defence’s lawyer, William Booth, was attending a funeral on Tuesday morning.

Kumalo’s mother, Eva said that she had already given Mthethwa over to God. Eva and Mthethwa were waiting not 4m from one another in the corridor outside the courtroom in the Western Cape High Court, but Eva mostly ignored him. “He’s smiling today,” she commented as Mthethwa laughed.

Eva recalled how the detective came to her and showed her photos asking if the woman in them was her daughter. She identified Nokuphila by the diamond birthmark on her thigh. Initially Eva was worried that she would not have enough money to bury her daughter but her family helped her out.

Lost three jobs

“It [the trial] has been very long. I’ve lost three jobs already because of going to court,” Eva said. She said she was grateful to the people at the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) who have consistently supported her. “The Sweat people make me brave,” said Eva.

Activists from Sweat have made their presence known at Mthethwa’s previous court appearances and today was no different. They held signs reading slogans such as, “Justice 4 Nokuphila” and “My work should not cost me my life”.

When Mthethwa left court, members of Sweat surged around him, followed down the street by a horde of activists and photographers vying for pictures or comments from him.

Violence against sex workers is a longstanding problem and is difficult to address as sex work is criminalised in South Africa. According to Sweat, sex workers report violence from both clients and the police but there is limited ability for recourse as sex workers often fear the police, especially if it is the police who are the accused.

Sally Shackelton, executive director of Sweat, believes if they receive enough reports of sex workers experiencing violence from the police, as an organisation they should be able to frame it as a “systemic problem” and address it as such.

Cases ignored

Stacey-Leigh Manoek, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) believes that if it were not a well renowned artist who was accused of killing Kumalo, the trial would not have been as prominent. “We know that sex workers are murdered quite often and their cases never reach this far, and never really with this much publicity,” said Manoek.

Attitudes towards women are also to blame for police violence towards sex workers, said Shackelton. “The narrative is that sex workers are bad women and bad women deserve to be punished. And that the police are almost gender police,” she said.

Mthethwa has had an illustrious career both in South Africa and abroad with his work being showcased in New York and Madrid. Everard Read, the gallery that represents Mthethwa in Cape Town and Johannesburg, has stated on their website they express their condolences to Kumalo’s family and see Mthethwa as innocent until he is proven guilty.

Read more on:    cape town  |  crime

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