South Africa: Lesbian's Killers Sentenced in Landmark Hate Crime Case

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on February 01 2012 12:50 PM

Four South African men were sentenced to 18 years in prison for the murder of a lesbian woman in Cape Town.

Nineteen-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana, who lived openly as a lesbian, was stoned and stabbed to death outside of an informal bar in the Khayelitsha Township in 2006.

The four attackers -- Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba -- who were minors at the time of the crime, were convicted of the murder in October.

“Life is about choice, magistrate Raadiyah Wathen said after the sentencing on Wednesday.

Zoliswa Nkonyana didn’t have the freedom to live out her choice. Violence will not go unpunished.”

Sexual violence and hate crimes are shockingly prevalent in post-apartheid South Africa. The country has one of the highest rates of child sexual abuse and baby rape in the world, due to the commonly held belief that having sex with a virgin will cure a man of HIV/AIDS. Additionally, a high percentage of schoolchildren don't believe that non-consensual sex counts as a form of violence.

Lesbians are also the target of violence -- both sexual and non-sexual. Corrective rape is also rampant in the country, and men believe that raping a lesbian will convert her into a heterosexual.

Every day I am told that they are going to kill me, that they are going to rape me and after they rape me I'll become a girl, Zakhe Sowello from Soweto, Johannesburg, told The Guardian in 2009. When you are raped you have a lot of evidence on your body. But when we try and report these crimes nothing happens, and then you see the boys who raped you walking free on the street.

The most famous case of corrective rape was the murder of Eudy Simelane. Simelane was a popular player on South African's national women's soccer team and one of the country's first openly gay LGBT rights activists. In April 2008, Simelane was gang-raped, beaten and finally stabbed 25 times. Her body was found in a creek outside of Johannesburg.

Two of the four men who attacked Simelane were convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to life in prison. The other two were acquitted.

Simelane's murder was the impetus for South African Human Rights Commission's campaign to make hate crimes and corrective rapes a distinct category in the nation's penal code.

The Nkonyana verdict marked an important moment in the quest for equal rights and was a landmark case because a magistrate acknowledged that hatred and homophobia were motives for the murder. Activists sang and danced outside the court house, and let out a loud cheer when the men were given their sentence.

It is the first case in South Africa where sexual orientation and identity was named and recognized as an aggravating factor in a murder trial, Marlow Newman-Valentine, Deputy Director of African LGBT rights group The Triangle Project, told MSNBC.

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