Following the brutal murder of Noluvo Swelindawo, a young lesbian woman, in Driftsands, near Khayelitsha a fortnight ago, LGBTI organisations and advocacy groups have called on lesbians and gays to be vigilant, particularly at night.
Ms Swelindawo, 22, is believed to have been assaulted at her home before she was abducted. Her body was discovered near the N2 highway with a bullet wound.
Free Gender and other advocacy groups held a heated debate at Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha on Thursday December 8, to denounce killings of gay and lesbian individuals.
The debate focused on finding better strategies to strengthen the fight against the stigma still faced by the LGBTI coomunity. There was an impassioned plea for the public to promote the spirit of diversity and acceptance.
Representatives of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD), Free Gender, SAPS and the Commission for Gender Equality, delivered their presentations before the discussion took place.
Speaker after speaker called on government to impose stiffer sentences on perpetrators of hate crimes.
Speaking at the event, Funeka Soldaat, co-ordinator of Free Gender, said as much as they host these dialogues with the fundamental aim of educating people, they had been accused of trying to “recruit” young people to become lesbians and gays and promoting homosexuality.
Ms Soldaat, who is openly homosexual, argued that weekends and nights were the most dangerous times for them, and that Khayelitsha was a dangerous place to live in openly as a member of LGBTI community.
She said that it was a sad reality that gays and lesbians could not enjoy themselves in taverns with their partners because they feared being assaulted.
She made a vow that they would continue to host such dialogues until there was not a single report of hate crimes against the LGBTI community.
Nondumiso Maphazi, a commissioner with the Commission for Gender Equality, admitted that the Western Cape had some of the highest incidents of rape and assault of LGBTI people.
She accused the Western Cape government of not prioritising gender-related hate crime, and said that in other provinces there were teams from the government which were assigned the task of dealing with gender-related cases.
But, she said, the provincial government viewed these as human rights issues which made it difficult for them to play their part in curbing these hate crimes.
“To be honest, I have personally engaged with the provincial government to change their strategy or find better ways to address them. However, our numerous meetings with them have been futile. In the other provinces, we have task teams which we have established, and we have made a vow that we will be part of the decision taken in this dialogue,” she said.
Munyai Nkhumbuleni, assistant director of the DOJCD, said they had hate crime legislation which was out for public comment and urged the public to examine and comment on it.
He said the department had implemented a national intervention strategy which had three pillars to combat violence against gays and lesbians.
Among other things, the strategy aimed to prevent the abuse and stigma still attached to the LGBTI community and to monitor the responsiveness of SAPS when a case was reported and how long it took them to make an arrest.
“We need the community to inform the police when these incidents occur. The reality of the matter is that if people do not inform us in time, the criminals are also working around the clock to find ways to cover up their actions. The reality is this is not an overnight battle,” he said.