Human rights activists in South Africa are demanding that police and government authorities investigate a serial murderer (or murderers) who targets gay men.

According to The Star newspaper of South Africa, five homosexual men were found bound and strangled between December 2010 and September 2011 in and around the Johannesburg area.

One victim, 39-year-old Barney van Heerden, had acid poured on his body. Forensic specialist Dr. Mark Welman told The Star that the murderer likely sought to destroy DNA evidence.

In each case, there were no signs of forced entry, suggesting the victims knew their killer. Some of the victims reportedly used internet dating sites.

A spokesperson for the South African Police Service (SAPS) told local media that each murder is being looked at individually.

We have excluded robbery as a motive but, at this stage, there is no further information that may suggest that the incidents are the work of a serial killer,” Lt. Col. Lungile Dlamini said.
“Police are still following leads to identify suspects.”

The country’s Commission for Gender Commission (CGE) condemned the killings as well as official delays in finding the perpetrators.

“As enshrined in our Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and inter-sexed people (LGBTI) have the same rights just like everyone else,” the group said in a statement.

“The continual hatred and killings of LGBTI people is violation of founding provision of the South African Constitution which [is] equality and human dignity. Such horrendous deeds are not only meant to rob society and the families of good people who do not [deserve] to go through these gruesome acts but shows that some in our society are very intolerant and unable to appreciate the diverse society that we live in.”

Referring directly to the homophobia that is endemic in South African society, CGE further stated: “The continued use of culture in order to disguise for criminal intent against LGBTI people has to be strongly condemned. The Commission is also concerned about the long delays in cases relating to this issue. CGE views these acts as criminal acts and the perpetrators deserve to face the full might of the law, [and] henceforth serve long sentence in jail if proven to have committed these atrocities.”

CGE spokesman Javu Baloyi told BBC: [These] cases take too long, even if there is compelling evidence of hate crimes. We [in South Africa] have got one of the best constitutions. Yet, people have got deep-rooted hatred for gays and lesbians.”

South Africa’s constitution specifically prohibits discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians; and is the only African nation to have legalized gay marriage.