Combating Violence against LGBTI people in South Africa

Violent attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in South Africa were in the spotlight again this past week as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, flanked by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron, launched ‘Free and Equal’ a new global public education campaign to promote respect for the rights of LGBTI people. At the same time, a spread in the New York Times on Sunday highlighted brutal attacks on lesbian women (known as “corrective rape”) and the difficulties survivors and family members have faced in accessing justice and holding perpetrators accountable.

South Africa offers the best legal protection and recognition for gay rights on the continent, yet activists have documented a series of hate crimes against LGBTI people in recent years including the brutal rape and murder of lesbian Duduzile Zozo in June. Other attacks include:

  • In April 2013, lesbian activist Patricia Mashego was beaten to death in Daveyton; her community alleged the incident was a hate crime.
  • In June 2012, 23-year-old Thapelo Makhutle’s body was found badly mutilated in Kuruman in the Northern Cape. He was likely killed due to his sexual orientation.
  • In June 2012, 36-year-old Neil Daniels was stabbed and set alight in Milnerton, Cape Town.
  • In September 2011, the body of Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka was found in a dustbin in Nyanga, Cape Town, in what is suspected to be a homophobic murder.
  • In April 2011, lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza was brutally beaten, raped, and murdered in KwaThema.
  • In April 2008, the body of former soccer star and lesbian activist Eudy Simelane was found near KwaThema. She had been gang-raped and stabbed multiple times.

Last month, the South African government announced new steps to combat violence against LGBTI people. A National Task Team comprised of representatives of government, civil society, and the South African Human Rights Commission has developed a program of action that includes training for government officials on the service needs of LGBTI people, a public communications plan to raise awareness about discrimination against LGBTI people, and measures to monitor pending and unresolved criminal cases involving LGBTI victims.

LGBTI people are not the only targets of hate crime in South Africa. Frequent xenophobic attacks continue to take place, and violence based on race and religion has also been documented. In response, the South African government has pledged to introduce legislation to address hate crimes, making it the first on the continent to do so, and is expected to create training programs for police, prosecutors, and magistrates. Civil society, in the form of the multisectoral Hate Crimes Working Group coalition, has also developed capacity to monitor and record hate crimes along with the responses survivors receive when reporting hate crimes to police or when seeking medical assistance.

As South Africa takes positive steps to address violence against LGBTI people, there is much the United States can do to support these efforts. Given U.S. experiences in developing hate crimes legislation, monitoring and tracking hate crime trends, and providing training for prosecutors and police, the United States should arrange exchange programs of experts, place personnel with hate crimes expertise in the Embassy in Pretoria, and support the training of police, prosecutors and magistrates. The United States should also support civil society programs that assist survivors of hate crimes and improve the documentation and reporting of hate crimes.


Published on August 2, 2013


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