Yesterday, The South African government announced that it is establishing a task team for the purpose of tackling the escalating incidents of homophobic attacks, which was highlighted by last month’s brutal murder of a 24-year-old lesbian, Noxolo Nogwaza.
The justice and constitutional ministry’s decision to address hate crimes against LBGTI people came in response to a campaign which called on the government to take action against those who carry out “corrective rape”.
Since late last year a campaign led by Change.org, an online activist platform for social change, has managed to collect 170,000 signatures of people supporting their call for action against the brutal practice that has emerged in South Africa.
Government spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the decision to set up a task team was taken during a meeting at parliament of senior officials and activists on Tuesday, and they had decided deliberations would begin on July 15th.
“The team will be charged with developing a legislative intervention plan, a public awareness strategy, and LGBTI-sensitive shelters,” he said.
The task team will include representatives from the judiciary, the police and social development, and six representatives from the broader homosexual community.
Amending the Sexual Offences Act in order to include the victim’s sexual orientation as an aggravating factor was an option which was discussed at the high-powered meeting. This would result in harsher sentences for attacks motivated by sexual orientation, as well as preventative measures such as allowing equality courts to address issues such as harassment or hate speech.
On Monday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that the attack against Noxolo Nogwaza was reminiscent of the rape and murder of another activist, Eudy Simelane in April 2008 – both were murdered in the township Kwa-Thema, both were openly lesbian in the community, both were tortured and sexually assaulted before being killed, and both bodies were dumped in public places.
Homophobia is widespread in Africa, but South Africa’s constitution is unique in that it expressly outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, despite the progressive constitution, queer people remain vulnerable. The HRW noted that “Incidents of violence against black lesbian women, and “corrective rape” in particular, continue to be reported with growing frequency,”