Two years on, no justice for hate crime in South Africa

Memorial for Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old mother of two who was raped and violently stabbed to death in April 2011. © Amnesty International

The ground is dusty and strewn with litter. Trucks trundle up and down the small track to the delivery gate of a busy hardware store in KwaThema, a town near Johannesburg in South Africa.

Just a few metres away is the drainage ditch where Noxolo Nogwaza’s body was discovered two years ago today.

Noxolo, a 24-year-old mother of two, was raped, beaten and stabbed in April 2011.

Her “crime” was being a lesbian.

Sadly, hate crimes targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are not uncommon in South Africa.

Between May and September 2012, at least seven LGBTI people were murdered in different provinces across the country.

Today a crowd has gathered to remember Noxolo – to honour her memory and those of three other young LGBTI people who have died in hate crimes in KwaThema in recent years.

They sing, they pray, they mourn.

Many carry placards reading “Stop attacks on lesbian women” and “Respect the right to sexual orientation”. Brightly-coloured balloons flutter in the slight breeze, with messages of solidarity from Amnesty International members across the world written on them.

Speaker after speaker stands up to honour Noxolo, to urge tolerance and to encourage people present to stand strong and demand the respect and rights they are owed.

“I am a proudly South African lesbian and this is where I belong,” a young woman proclaims to cheers and clapping. Amid the sombre tone, those present – mostly young LGBTI people –speak out proudly and defiantly.

Noxolo’s grandmother and aunt sit quietly, listening. Their sorrow is palpable. After two years, there has been no progress in the investigation into the young woman’s death.

Last week an informal inquest was held in a local magistrate’s court. The magistrate agreed that someone was responsible for Noxolo’s death and the case was referred back for further investigation. And so it continues. One young woman tells us that “the police are failing us. That is why we have to continue to be here.”

This commemoration event has been organised by the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee (EPOC), the community-based organisation that Noxolo was a member of. Since her death, they have fought tirelessly for justice for Noxolo. In her address, Ntsupe Mohapi, the director of EPOC, appealed to the community of KwaThema for help with the case. Noxolo’s screams were heard deep in the night – someone must have seen something, must know something.

As proceedings come to a close, a candle is lit to honour those who have lost their lives through hatred and prejudice – killed because of who they are. Those who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS are also remembered.

On the other side of the world, Amnesty International members in France and the United States held their own vigils. Messages of solidarity have poured in from the those two countries, as well as from Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain and Austria. People stand together across continents to declare that hatred and violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity is not acceptable.

Amnesty International has sent numerous letters to the authorities in South Africa since May 2012, urging them to ensure that Noxolo’s murder is adequately investigated and that hate crime legislation is implemented.

The crowd disperses.

The balloons tied to bushes are the only reminder that a mother, granddaughter, friend, soccer player and activist died here.