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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
Lesbian activist murdered in South Africa
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Lesbian activist murdered in South Africa

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old Lesbian, was found dead in an alley in Kwa-Thema township, about 50 miles east of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Easter Sunday morning, April 24.

Witnesses said her face was so badly beaten she was unrecognizable. Her body had been stabbed many times with broken glass shards, and there was evidence she had been raped.

A beer bottle, a large rock, and used condoms were found on and near her body.

Nogwaza was an out Lesbian and a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), the main LGBT organization in Kwa-Thema.

EPOC, along with the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) said that the attack on Nogwaza appeared to be a so-called 'corrective rape,' an increasingly common crime in which men rape Lesbians to 'turn them straight' or 'cure' them of their sexual orientation.

Other members of EPOC have also reported harassment and attacks.

Victor Mukasa, coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Project at CAL, said, 'I am so disturbed by this horrific action. It is the responsibility of the South African government to protect all its citizens. Hate crimes against LGBT people in this country are on the rise, and the government should come out openly against these actions.

'Protection of individuals who are vulnerable because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is something provided for in the Constitution of South Africa and should be put in practice. As a regional advocacy organization, CAL will work with EPOC and others to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.'

Nogwaza's death came three years after that of another activist, international women's soccer star Eudy Simelane, also in Kwa-Thema.

Both victims were out as Lesbians in their community, both were apparently tortured and sexually assaulted before being killed, and the bodies of both were dumped in public places.

In 2010, a Gay man in the same township was attacked by eight men, who reportedly tried to rape him.

Local LGBT activists told The Guardian newspaper that 31 Lesbians have been murdered because of their sexuality in the past decade and more than 10 Lesbians a week are raped or gang raped in Cape Town alone.

Ntsupe, chairperson of EPOC, said, 'It is very clear that these rapists are on a mission. We will not rest until justice prevails. Eudy's case was not recognized as a hate crime against a Lesbian and the same is not done in the cases of many other people who have been raped and/or murdered on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in South Africa.

'EPOC is determined to get to the bottom of the Noxolo case and push for justice. It was definitely a hate crime.'

The US-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch agreed, and noted that similar crimes continue unchecked in South Africa's townships.

Dipika Nath, a researcher in the group's LGBT rights program, said that 'Nogwaza's death is the latest in a long series of sadistic crimes against Lesbians, Gay men, and Transgender people in South Africa. The vicious nature of the assault is a potent reminder that these attacks are premeditated, planned, and often committed with impunity.'

'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 added. '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.'

BBC News reported that more than 2,000 people attended Nogwaza's funeral.

One group sang that they would use razor blades to castrate the suspects if the police did not arrest them, The New Age newspaper reported. Some carried posters that read: 'Love me or hate me, I will continue to be a Lesbian,' and 'Raping me won't change me.'

Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by South Africa's constitution, and same-sex marriages are legal there.

In March the South African government agreed to set up a national working group to investigate 'corrective rape' in response to an online petition sponsored by Change.org with 170,000 signatures from 163 countries.

'The South African government and the justice system is failing these victims of corrective rape by letting the perpetrators out on ridiculously low bail, and taking literally years to bring the court cases to a conclusion,' the petition said. 'In the meantime the victims have to live with seeing their rapists every day, being taunted and threatened by them, as are those who help the victims.'

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