Four gay men have been murdered in South Africa in less than a month.
By OLIVER HAUG | April 21, 2021
Lonwabo Jack, a 22-year-old gay man, was murdered in Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday, according to police. Jack, who was out with his friends celebrating his birthday, was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in Nyanga, a town in the Western Cape, a township home to nearly 58,000 people.
His father, Mzwabantu, remembered Jack as a “nice kid” who was “always surrounded by his friends and liked fun and good times.”
“He was a quiet kid and would not say some of the things he would experience because he felt like he could handle them just like any other man,” he told the South African news website Independent Online. “However, when he told us that he was raped we knew as his parents that we had to take a stand.”
“It’s heartbreaking to give birth to a child and also bury them,” Mzwabantu added.
A suspect in Lonwabo’s murder was reportedly detained following a police investigation. A representative for the South African Police Service did not identify a suspect but claimed in comments to the website Eyewitness News that a 17-year-old individual “was apprehended early this morning.”
“He is expected to appear in the Athlone Magistrates Court once he has been charged with murder,” said media liaison officer Noloyiso Rwexana.
The escalation of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ South Africans has prompted concern and outcry from local LGBTQ+ community members and organizations. According to the U.K. LGBTQ+ publication PinkNews, Jack is believed to be the fourth LGBTQ+ person murdered in the country in less than a month.
LGBTQ+ advocates led a Friday protest at the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. Protesters demanded that the country’s government take action to address the surge of anti-LGBTQ+ violence and to specifically call for justice in the case of Andile “Lulu” Ntuthela, a 40-year-old gay man who was recently murdered in the Eastern Cape. As PinkNews reported, Ntuthela’s body was discovered in a shallow grave 11 days after he was killed. The suspect, who is 28 years old, has not been named in media reports.
The group also delivered a memorandum to parliament, in which they called for increased government action in the face of these hate crimes, as well as for harsher punishments for offenders and for the development of long-term solutions.
“We are calling for justice for Lulu and and for other queers who have suffered at the hands of this country in the most brutal ways,” said Kamva Gwana, a representative of the group Justice for Lulu, in comments cited by South Africa’s News 24. “We want hate crimes to be dealt with. We believe the police service is queerphobic and we are done begging the public and the government for change.”
Local organizers are calling for another peaceful march in honor of Lonwabo on Thursday. “The community in Nyanga is going to ensure justice is served for its own,” tweeted activist Tutu Zongo on Monday. “I can feel it.”
In addition to Ntuthela and Jack, two other gay men have been found murdered in the country in the past month: Nathaniel Mbele, who was found stabbed to death in a park near the city of Vanderbijlpark, and Sphamandla Khoza, who was found stabbed and beaten in Durban.
Local LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of South Africa (GLASA) and Iranti, are urging parliament to pass a nationwide hate crimes law in the wake of these killings. Known as the Prevention and Combating Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill of 2018, it would add enhanced penalties for bias crimes on the basis of characteristics like “gender or gender identity,” “HIV status,” and “sex,” the latter of which includes intersex or sexual orientation.
The bill was first drafted in 2016 and while it received parliament approval in 2018, it has yet to be finalized and enacted due to stalling by critics who say that it would impede freedom of speech.
While a 2020 report from the Human Dignity Trust noted that data collection on anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes in South Africa is sparse, the legislation could go a long way toward expanding resources for vulnerable groups. The U.K. nonprofit found a high prevalence of identity-based violence, noting that 49% of Black LGBTQ+ people in South Africa “are likely to know someone who has been murdered” for being queer or transgender.
While advocates hope governmental authorities will intervene, others are less optimistic. Gwana claimed South Africa lacks the “institutional interventions… to prevent these crimes,” calling for “representation and awareness toward our realities and needs as a community” to fully understand the scope of the issue.
“Black queer identities live on the margins of respect in this country and are reduced to caricatures of entertainment in any visibility and representation given to us,” he told Independent Online.
“Our community’s plight is a bloody stain spreading across our constitutional democracy and our leadership,” added Iranti in a statement. “We’ve seen a seemingly endless stream of conferences, workshops, task teams and statements but truthfully there has been little action. … We are tired of lip service. We are tired of promises. We are tired of excuses.”
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