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May 04, 2011

South Africa Establishes Team to Respond to Homophobic Crimes

by Delia Robertson

The South African government has established a task team in partnership with non-governmental organizations to combat homophobia and homophobic crimes. The move comes after the latest brutal murder of a lesbian activist.

Last month Noxolo Nogwana, a lesbian activist was stoned, gang-raped and stabbed with broken glass, the latest in a series of lesbian murders in recent years. Her death, in Kwa-Thema township east of Johannesburg, sparked local and international outrage, which may have been the catalyst behind the decision this week to establish a task team to combat homophobia in South Africa.

The task team, set to hold its first meeting in July, will include six representatives of the judiciary, the police and the social development department, and six representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] community.

The decision also follows a campaign on change.org which generated 170,000 petitions to the government calling for action against homophobic crimes that include including murder and so-called corrective rape, in which lesbians are raped as a punishment or attempt to change their sexual orientation.

The campaign was launched by Ndumie Fundi, the founder of Lulekisizwe, an organization that assists women targeted because they are lesbian. Fundi tells VOA that she is pleased the government is finally paying attention to the matter.

"Hence we are saying it took us a long time to be listened [to], and we are also not complaining, but we are saying, because we are persistent, and we persevere and having some patience, hence we are here today and saying that yes we are actually happy the fact that they agreed to sit with us on the table and address these issues," said Fundi.

But some people have questioned the timing of the announcement. South Africa will hold local government elections later this month and the dominant African National Congress has been the subject of months of criticism and protests for its failure to deliver basic services like clean water, and to respond to the concerns of communities.

Fundi said she would not go so far as to say this week’s announcement is an election ploy, but she warns that if the government fails to introduce concrete measures to combat homophobic crimes by the end of the year, she and fellow activists will not remain quiet.

"If then they are not doing that, we are going to be retaliating, and the retaliation will be determined by what our people, what the people actually want to happen," she said. "I cannot say anything at the present moment, but I am definitely sure it will be a retaliation. We have been controlling ourselves for a long time."

Fundi also noted that the government will have to work hard to change attitudes among traditional and religious leaders, some of whom are among the most vocal against gay and lesbian people.