6 May 2011
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has set up a national task team to tackle hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) South Africans.
The move follows a call from 170 000 activists around the world for the government to take action on “corrective rape”, an increasingly common crime in South African townships in which men rape lesbian women purportedly because they believe this will “cure” them of their sexual orientation.
The department made the announcement in Cape Town on Tuesday during a meeting in Parliament between senior government officials, non-profit organisations and the SA Police Service with grassroots activists who used the social action platform Change.org to recruit a record-breaking 170 000 supporters from 163 countries.
The decision also follows the recent murder of Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian who died after being stoned, stabbed with broken glass and gang-raped in Kwa-Thema outside Johannesburg.
The department’s chief of staff, Tlali Tlali, explained that the task team, which will begin its deliberations in July, will include six representatives from the judiciary, the SAPS and the Department of Social Development, and six representatives of the LGBTI community.
“The team will be charged with developing a legislative intervention plan, a public awareness strategy, and LGBTI sensitive shelters,” Tlali said.
Intervention options discussed at the meeting included:
- Amending the Sexual Offences Act to include sexual orientation as an aggravating factor, which would lead to heavier sentences.
- As a preventative measure, allowing the use of magistrates courts as equality courts to address any harassment, discrimination or hate speech.
- Consultations on minimum sentences for hate crimes, inclusive of rape, on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Emphasising the need for sensitivity around LGBTI cases in the service charter for victims of crime.
- Sensitivity training in the SAPS, Justice Department, NPO and Social Development structures.
Ndumie Funda, the founder of Luleki Sizwe, an organisation that advocates for the rights of township lesbians, commended the government’s response, saying it showed that they were willing to work with the gay community.
“But we continue to fight for LGBTI rights until the last drops of blood are spilled,” said Funda.
Change.org representative Benjamin Joffe-Walt described the campaign’s accomplishments as remarkable.
“In less than six months, a tiny group of township activists have mobilised more than 170 000 people from 163 countries and gotten the highest levels of government to address their basic demand that the sadistic crime of ‘corrective’ rape be taken seriously,” Joffe-Walt said.
“It has been an honor to support this campaign, and we look forward to following the progress of the new task team over the coming year.”