South Africa Lesbian Killers| Zoliswa Gets Justice at Last

Lesbian Murderers Receive 18 years and Magistrate sets hate crimes acknowledgment precedent

by Melanie Nathan, February 01, 2012.

First Cape Town Task Force Meeting on Corrective Rape

A cheer rang out and the crowd sang and danced outside the Khayelitsha Courthouse, Cape Town, South Africa, the scene of over thirty postponements in a murder trial that shocked the world, taking five years to meter out basic Justice. The four men convicted of Zoliswa Nkonyana’s killing in October last year, were no longer joking in the dock, a scene I had personally witnessed back in March 2011 when I spent a day at the Township trial.

The four South African men have been sentenced to 18 years in jail for stabbing and stoning to death the 19-year-old lesbian, who the court found, killed Ms. Nkonyana because she was living openly as a lesbian.

Although the South African constitution protects people on the grounds of sexual orientation  and gender identity, there is no hate crimes legislation, per se, and  homophobia is widespread.

The sentence was applauded by local activists because usually in such cases only 14-15 years are metered out.  The fact that the magistrate concluded that Ms. Nkonyana was killed for being a lesbian could make a huge impact on the current Task Force against Hate crimes which was established in Cape Town last year, pursuant to my visit to parliament with Ndumie Funda and Luleke Sizwe, where we presented the Ministry of Justice with a petition and reforms against so called corrective rape.

This is the first time a court has said the sentence was influenced by the fact that the victim was killed because she was a lesbian. For years activists have been calling on the state to be tougher on people who kill or attack people because of their sexual orientation. Finally this case sets the  precedent!

More than 30 lesbians (known) have been killed in the past 10 years because of their sexuality and the so-called practice of “corrective rape” also appears to be on the increase, according to gay activists.

The accused Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba – who were convicted in October – were each given 18 years, and back in March seemed to think their trial was a joke, as they laughed back and forth with members of the public sitting in the gallery.

Large crowds of lesbian protestors from Luleki Sizwe and Freegender Groups showed up to every trial date, dancing in the courtyard and screaming slogans for justice.

Melanie In the bus with Lesbian Activists on the Way to Zoliswa's Trial March 2011

Five other accused were acquitted  in a stoning and murder said to have been commited by more than twelve men. The family of Ms Nkonyana indicated that they welcomed the sentence, but still remain fearful of reprisal by family of the accused which far outweighed their presence in the Court over the past years.

“They did not accept responsibility for what they did and we are happy that when we asked for a lengthy jail term, the magistrate agreed to that,” stepfather Mr Mandini told South Africa’s Sowetan newspaper.

Ms Nkonyana was stoned and stabbed nine times in February 2006, close to her home in Khayelitsha.

The magistrate said it was clear the motive for the killing was hatred and homophobia – and Wednesday’s sentence was meant to send out a signal that violence based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, the South African Press Association reports.

Lesbians are often subjected to “corrective rape” by men who think this will “cure” them of their same-sex attraction. Three years ago, a man was sentenced to life in prison and another to 32 years for the gang rape, robbery and murder of Eudy Simelane, a lesbian activist who had been on the national football team.  Other victims of corrective rape still await justice in a system that has yet to work favorably for victims.

Melanie Nathan-  [email protected]
See earlier article on the case at

The five year long trial of the men found guilty of murdering lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana continues its  untenable delays: 12/28/2011-

After over 40 delays, and five years of mayhem, including escapes and recaptures,  in a trial reflecting  incompetency by police and justice system,  finally it seems that the sentencing of Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba is set for 30 January 2012 by the Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court.


Only Four of Nine Found Guilty for Murdering Nineteen Year Old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana: By Melanie Nathan.October 9th, 2011

It took two weeks for the news to filter to media, that nineteen year old Zoliswa Nkonyana had been stoned, beaten and kicked to death by a large group of men, in Khayelitsha Township, outside of Cape Town, South Africa. It took another five years to bring four of the nine accused men to justice.  There may have been as many as twelve or more involved. Yet the question remains has there been proper justice for Zoliswa and what about all the other victims of horrendous anti-gay brutality?

Amidst the outcry for justice by gay activists, the Zoliswa trial became a curious circus of escapes, recaptures, postponements and acquittals, until Friday when finally four of the men were found guilty of murdering the young woman, by Magistrate Raadiyah Wathen in the Khayelitsha Regional Court.

Zoliswa was an out lesbian in a country that ironically, while leading the world in LGBTI equality, has one of the highest records of violence against gays and lesbians.

In March of this year I returned to the land of my birth, where I had once been a lawyer, as keynote speaker for Cape Town Pride and to accompany Ndumie Funda of Luleki Sizwe,  to present reforms to the to the Minister of Justice with regard to so called “corrective rape” against lesbians.

While there I accompanied photographer Zanele Muholi and a group of fifteen lesbian activists from organization called Freegender to attend the trial of the nine remaining men accused of murdering Zoliswa in Khayelitsha . I wanted to see what it felt like to be a lesbian in the township attending such a trial and let go of the ‘bells and whistles’ that could have graced my attendance as a member of foreign press.  I could not have imagined just how dangerous it would be and was astounded by the courage of my hosts, themselves victims of horrendous brutality, who had shown up for each and every one of the 31 plus postponed hearings, over the previous five years.

We were glared at by onlookers; vicious insults were hurled at us as we walked the dusty street of the township from the bus to the courthouse and back.  A crowd of LGBTI activists, bravely adorning anti-rape T-Shirts, had grown outside the courtroom. They danced in a large circle and in warlike fashion, peacefully pointed in unison at the Court, chanting their impromptu admonishment at the system, for its tardy attempt at justice.

The mother of Zoliswa sat alone in the court, outnumbered by hoards of family and supporters of the accused. It concerned me that she seemed to have no one to comfort her through this thirtieth time in the court. Although stoic, she was clearly afraid to embrace the lesbian friends of her beloved murdered child. I was told they longed to envelop her, but were repelled by the surrounding stares and feared for the mother’s own safety. This mother was in so much pain, only exacerbated by society’s cruel judgment of her daughter’s sexuality.

I came to understand the complexity of the situation – of trying all those accused, some whom shared counsel, and others who had changed counsel many times.  I spoke to the lead prosecutor who shared the frustration of witnesses lost to fear with the system’s failure to provide adequate witness protection.

I noted the eagerness on the face of the twenty uniformed police who lined the walls of the courtroom, armed with AK-47’s, at the ready after an embarrassing escape during a previous hearing.

The dock was in front of the press bench, where I sat. There were no bars to protect the spectators and the dock loomed dangerously close to our wooden benches.  It sent a chill down my spine when I realized that there was very little space and no security between me and the accused. My instinct was compounded when the nine men entered and stood tightly next to each other, chained at the feet, with free hands. The dock was small and they huddled together. One had a cell phone in his hands. It bewildered me; what if one tried to grab me or someone else; would all AK-47’s fire at once – while we sat in the middle?

I looked at the accused, all between 19 to 24 years of age, who smiled at relatives and friends; these were the men who may well have committed the most unimaginable inhumane torture and murder of our sister lesbian. My fear turned to a surge of incomprehensible anger, unlike anything I had experienced before, and became overwhelmingly entrenched in the justice sought for Zoliswa.

We waited in the court, like that, for two hours, noticing some antics between the defense attorneys and prosecutors, before the mother was ushered out of the court by the Prosecutor. The defense attorneys had come up with yet another reason to continue the case.  However this time the Magistrate rebuked the defense counsel in the harshest of terms and announced that she would sanction heavily if this were not to be the final continuance; and so it was.  Now six months later, there is finally a concluded trial and a verdict.

Magistrate Whaten said the testimony of two witnesses led to the conclusion that Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba took part in the stoning and stabbing of Nkonyana in 2006; but that “the presence of the other three accused, Mfundo Kulani, Themba Dlephu and Sabelo Yekiso, at the murder was not enough to find them guilty of murder.”    (Noting two had been previously set free.)

The difficulty remains whether or not all including those who stood by and watched the horrendous murder should have also been found guilty, maybe of a lesser crime? Will they be re-charged under some other statute?

Notably, pursuant to our March meeting with the office of the Minister of Justice in South Africa, an historic hate crimes task force, including a partnership of government and advocacy organizations, has now been formed. This will seek to establish the reforms which we presented to the Minister in March and hopefully the justice system will be equipped to deal appropriately with lesbians who have been the victims of “corrective rape” as well as other victims of anti-gay violence.

The case of Zoliswa is but one of many such cases to highlight the need for reform to the South African Justice System and to reconcile the brilliance of the South African Bill of Rights with the treatment of its LGBT community. Full Article

Top Picture: Taken by Zanele Muholi for Melanie Nathan
Bus Ride to Court for Zoliswa trial in Khayelitsha
Bottom Pictures: Outside Court by Melanie Nathan.

Melanie Nathan


 I personally attended the trial when I was in Cape Town back in March. My experience can be found in an earlier post at

Khayelitsha Court House, taken by Melanie Nathan©

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3 Comments on “South Africa Lesbian Killers| Zoliswa Gets Justice at Last”

  1. Tracy February 1, 2012 at 9:20 PM #

    “Lesbians are often subjected to “corrective rape” by men who think this will “cure” them of their homosexuality.”

    I highly doubt this. I think men rape these women & use this EXCUSE~~ thus giving them freedom to rape any woman, any time they wish, simply by claiming they believed the woman was gay…sick bastards, every one of them.

    I just hope that the members of this court don’t wind up murdered by these whackos…

  2. Alya M February 2, 2012 at 5:21 AM #

    how horrible this case. Hope the justice will be fair!

  3. LOrion February 2, 2012 at 9:13 AM #

    Sharing! Also sent message to Noah M of Huffpo to contact you. Hope he does.

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