The murder of a South African lesbian activist who was stoned and stabbed to death is part of an “epidemic” of hate crimes against gays, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee, a gay rights group, was stoned to death in Kwa Thema township outside Johannesburg on April 24, police said.
Human Rights Watch said evidence indicated Nogwaza was targeted because she was a lesbian, saying the murder “appears to be the latest in an epidemic of brutal homophobic attacks”.
“Nogwaza’s death is the latest in a long series of sadistic crimes against lesbians, gay men, and transgender people in South Africa,” Dipika Nath, a researcher for the rights group, said in a statement.
But police spokesman Tshisikhawe Ndou said investigators do not currently consider the murder a hate crime.
“We do not have evidence to conclude that the crime was committed against her based on the fact of her sexual orientation. It is just purely murder and rape that we are investigating at this stage,” he told AFP.
Human Rights Watch said Nogwaza was stabbed repeatedly with glass shards and left in an alley, her face and head disfigured by stoning. A beer bottle, a large rock and used condoms were found on and near her body, it said.
Police have not made any arrests for the murder.
Violence against lesbians is a pervasive problem in South Africa, whose progressive laws on gay rights coexist uneasily with a strong undercurrent of homophobia.
Activists say lesbian women are often victims of “corrective rape” — forced sex with a man to “cure” their sexuality.
A 2008 study found that 86 percent of black lesbians in South Africa’s Western Cape province live in fear of sexual assault, in a country that sees an estimated 500,000 rapes a year.
Nogwaza’s body was found in the same township where Eudy Simelane, a former midfielder for the national women’s football side, was gang-raped and murdered in 2008.
Human Rights Watch said Nogwaza’s murder was “eerily reminiscent” of 29-year-old Simelane’s, for which two men were convicted in 2009.
“Both were ‘out’ as lesbians in the community, both were tortured and sexually assaulted before being killed, and the bodies of both were dumped in public places,” it said.
Studies by the government-funded Medical Research Council in 2009 and 2010 found that one in four South African men admitted to committing rape, and one in three in north-central Gauteng province, where Nogwaza and Simelane were attacked.