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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

S. African Lesbian Activist Raped, Murdered

By Kilian Melloy -

The brutal violence aimed at GLBTs in South African continues with the rape and murder of a lesbian activist, a press release from a major human rights organization posted at All reported on May 2.

Noxolo Nogwaza, who lived in the township of Kwa-Thema, was murdered sometime between the evening of April 23, when she was seen at a bar in a neighboring township, and the morning of April 24, when her mutilated body was discovered in an alley near the bar. The All Africa posting reported that Nogwaza’s head had been "disfigured" by being smashed with a rock, and she had suffered stab wounds from broken glass. Moreover, it appeared that she had been raped, perhaps multiple times. Condoms littered the crime scene, along with a rock and a broken beer bottle, the article said.

The Human Rights Watch excoriated the murder and called for the South African government to launch a full investigation right away.

"Nogwaza’s death is the latest in a long series of sadistic crimes against lesbians, gay men, and transgender people in South Africa," the HRW’s Dipika Nath said in a press release. "The vicious nature of the assault is a potent reminder that these attacks are premeditated, planned, and often committed with impunity."

"Nogwaza was an active member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), which has organized LGBT pride marches for Kwa-Thema and nearby townships in Ekurhuleni district since 2009," the HRW release said.

"Members of EPOC are well known in the community for being lesbian, gay, and transgender, and some have faced harassment and attacks as a result of their visibility," the release continued. "EPOC activists report that physical and sexual attacks often go unreported. There is rampant verbal abuse and threats against people on the grounds of their gender expression and sexual orientation in Kwa-Thema, Duduza, Vosloorus, Tsakane, and other townships in Ekurhuleni."

The press release noted that Nogwaza had gone to a bar in the township of Tsakane. She was at the bar with a female friend when a man began hitting on the friend. Nogwaza and the man exchanged words, and Nogwaza’s friend left. Nopgwaza was found dead at about 9:00 the next morning. Nobody had called the police during the lethal attack, although residents said that they had heard screaming the night before.

An April prayer vigil for Nogwaza may have drawn one or more of the assailants in the killing, the release said. Young men at the gathering were heard to utter anti-gay epithets, the release reported.

"Police and other South African officials fail to acknowledge that members of the LGBT community are raped, beaten, and killed simply because of how they look or identify, and they are attacked by men who then walk freely, boasting of their exploits," Nath stated. "If the police and other state officials do not act swiftly, it will only be a matter of time before they have to account for their failure to the family and friends of the next lesbian who is beaten and killed in Kwa-Thema."

Eudy Simelane
Eudy Simelane 
The release noted similarities between Nogwaza’s killing and the murder of openly lesbian soccer star Eudy Simelane, who was apparently subjected to so-called "corrective rape" and then murdered in Kwa-Thema in 2008. Media sources have indicated that up to 150 women per day are subject to "corrective rape" in South Africa.

The assaults stem from a belief that lesbians can be "cured" through forced sex with men. But "corrective rape" also has a punitive element, and women who act too manly, or even look masculine, might be targeted.

At the 2009 trial for Simelane’s killing, judges refused to entertain the notion that the soccer star’s murder might have been an anti-gay hate crime. But equality activists and rights workers had little doubt about the motives behind the attack.

Two men were convicted in Simelane’s killing, noted the BBC News in a May 3 article on Nogwaza’s murder.

South Africa is the only nation in the world where the rights of GLBT citizens are protected under constitutional guarantees. South Africa is also one of a handful of countries around the world, and the only African nation, to extend marriage parity to gay and lesbian families. Elsewhere in Africa, gays are criminalized and persecuted. In Uganda, where homosexuality is already against the law, a longstanding bill proposing that gays be put to death for repeated sexual encounters reflects an acute level of social intolerance.

Such social acrimony remains in place even in South Africa, despite the legal parity of sexual minorities.

"Lesbians, transgender men and women, and gay men in Kwa-Thema and other townships are acutely aware of the chasm between their constitutionally guaranteed rights and their everyday experience of violence," Nath observed. "It is literally a matter of life and death for the LGBT community that state officials bring the perpetrators of this and other crimes against this community to justice."

"There are currently at least five ongoing cases of sexual and physical assault against lesbians in different magistrate-level courts in the country, in which the survivors were targeted because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression," the HRW release noted.

"Like sexual assaults of women in general, rapes and other violence against lesbians and gender non-conforming people have reached epidemic proportions in South Africa," Nath said in the release. "If the South African government is committed to protecting the rights of all people equally, leaders must address the specific motives targeting the LGBT community in these crimes."

In the wake of Nogwaza’s murder, South African LGBT advocacy groups have called on the government to denounce "corrective rape" and hate crimes, reported LezGetReal on May 2.

Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

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