I had the opportunity to meet with the CEO and legal department of the South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC) on 4 December 2008. Advocate Thipanyane, the CEO of the SAHRC, spoke about the pending hate crimes bill and I posed some questions about the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (act 4 of 2000). Advocate Thipanyane seemed an esteemed defender of human rights and it provided for some hope to get “inside information” on proposed legislation.
Now recently it seems the US Congress has agreed to approve the so-called Matthew Shepard Bill. This bill will would expand federal hate crimes laws to include protections and redress for victims of crimes based on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability. This bill would also provide a mandate for the federal agencies to intervene and prosecute in states where inappropriate prosecution or no prosecution happens.
Matthew Shepard became the proverbial figurehead of the more than decade long struggle for the federal government to have hate crimes legislation which would protect the LGBTIQ community.
Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, for being gay, and whose murder in 1998 became a focal point for a call for hate crime legislation to be passed.
His mother Judy has since become a gay rights activist and is to speak at this weekend's [10 and 11 October 2009] equality march on Washington.
We are all but immune from hate crime in South Africa. It is quite rife actually and utterly worrying and nauseating.
At the 2008 Joburg Pride there was a wall of remembrance for the four well-known victims of homophobic hate crimes. There are of course many others but we paid homage to those four slain women.
Sizakele Sigasa, Salome Masooa, Zoliswa Nkonyana and Eudy Simelane were pictured on the wall of remembrance and Pride participants wrote messages, draw pictures and made memorabilia to be kept by the Gay and Lesbian Archives (GALA) to preserve South African LGBT history. It was a sombre but essential experience and opened the eyes of many to the mainly hostile society.
ActionAid, a global humanitarian organisation, released the report Hate crimes: the rise of 'corrective' rape in South Africa on 12 March 2009.
The report is a poignant exploration of this South Africa problem and the victims. It features case studies of aforementioned women and many others thereby telling the stories that so urgently need to be heard. The report also elaborates on aetiology and the dismal failure of the South African justice system.
Jody Kollapen, chairperson of the SAHRC notes in the foreword:
Our new constitutional order is based on the powerful principle that recognises the inherent worth and dignity of each person – violence against women on the basis of their sexual orientation violates that principle and threatens the promising, exciting, but fragile human rights system we have put in place.
We all have a responsibility – institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission, the police and justice system, civil society and each individual – to stand in defence of both the constitution and the rights of all. Hate crimes of this nature require decisive action and those responsible must be held to account. The criminal justice system needs to develop more effective strategies in this regard.
The many individuals who have come forward to share their stories in this report have done so partly in the hope that their testimony will move a society to action. One of those actions would be to ensure that hate crimes are recognised within the criminal justice system.
We should use this report as the basis for public education and law reform and ultimately to ensure that we advance the promise of the constitution in recognising the equal worth and dignity of each person.
The conclusion transcends a mere summary and makes the following recommendations inter alia:
Uphold the South African constitution’s prohibition of discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, including by tackling the rising tide of violence against lesbian women.
Demonstrate its commitment to action in this area, by signing the UN’s declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity condemning violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Recognise hate crimes against lesbian and transgender women as a specific crime category supported by the necessary resources to investigate and bring these crimes to court.
Include sexual orientation as grounds for protection against hate speech in the proposed Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill.
The much delayed trial of the murderer and rapist of Eudy Simelane finally came to a lacklustre end on 22 September 2009 when the assailant was sentenced to 32 years imprisonment.
Mvubu, wearing a hooped brown and cream sweater, sat looking at the floor with hands behind his back for much of the hearing. Questioned by reporters, he muttered "I'm not sorry" as he was led from the dock to jeers from the public gallery. [...] Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, said: "This judgement is extremely important. It doesn't state that she was killed as a lesbian but because she was known.
Simelane's mother, Mally (65) said: "I'm happy. I'm released. My life will come right again."
South Africa has probably the most progressive constitution in the world and the relative closure as attained above should be the impetus and driving force behind the promulgation of a much needed hate crimes law.
The hate crimes bill is though disturbingly absent from all documents up for debate soon as hosted by the GCIS government service. The religious right is currently spreading fallacies that the hate crimes bill would make it a criminal offense for a reverend to read sections in the bible that “condemn” gay people. They conveniently forget that religious freedom is on par with all other freedoms and that they are using patent lies as propaganda. Until such a statute is not enacted we will be relentless and work without respite because these laws should protect those most vulnerable amongst us. How many more people have to be raped, tortured and killed before our dear government opens its eyes?
Maybe one day the tide will change, maybe the bigots will lose their meagre support and maybe we will remember our slain sisters and name the law the “Eudy Simelane Hate Crimes Bill”.