Lesbians in South Africa May Face Trend of Homophobic Violence

South Africa has witnessed a disturbing rise in homicides that may have be due to sexism and homophobia

Despite its passage of a same-sex marriage law last year and a commitment to equality enshrined in the 1996 national constitution, South Africa has witnessed a disturbing recent trend of murders that may be attributed to sexism and homophobia directed specifically toward lesbians.

According to Human Rights Watch, on July 8, the bodies of Sizakele Sigasa, 34, an open lesbian and HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights activist, and Salome Masooa, 24, were found in a field in Meadowlands, Soweto. Both women had been shot. In an unrelated case, on July 22, the body of Thokozane Qwabe, 23, was found naked with multiple head wounds in a field in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. Local observers suspect rape in both cases.

Police have refused to speculate on whether the victims’ sexual orientation was a motive for the murders. Four people have been detained, but not arrested, in connection with the murders of Sigasa and Masooa, and a suspect reportedly has been arrested and charged in Qwabe’s death.

South Africa has no law against hate crimes, and authorities ranging from President Thabo Mbeki to local officials have seemed reluctant to categorize the brutal murders of lesbians as exceptionally horrid in any way.

Last year, a mob in plain sight clubbed, stabbed and stoned to death Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19-year-old lesbian from Khayelitsha township near Cape Town. She had been walking home with a lesbian friend when a schoolgirl accused them of being “tomboys” who “wanted to be raped,” moments before a group of young men attacked them.