LGBT and human rights organisations have expressed outrage at the brutal apparent hate crime killing of Sizakele Sigasa (34) and Salome Masooa (23) in a township in Johannesburg.

The women’s bodies were discovered by a jogger in a field in Meadowlands, Soweto, on Sunday. According to various reports, the couple, who were romantically involved, had been tortured before they were murdered.

The couple had attended a queer celebration in Orlando West on Saturday. They left the party after midnight to take home another friend, but failed to return to the party as expected.

While the motive behind the murders has not been officially established, friends who gathered at the families’ homes on Sunday said that they believe that the killings were hate crimes driven by ‘lesbophobia’.

“This does not look like it was a random killing or hijacking, because their bodies were found not far from the Mazda car they were travelling in, and only a few small possessions, including cell phones were missing,” one friend said.

Sigasa’s mother, who was asked to identify her daughter’s body, confirmed that she had three bullet wounds in her neck, and that Masooa had a gunshot wound to the back of her head.

Though still fully clothed, the jeans of one of the women was unbuttoned and a pair of panties was found tucked inside her pockets which has led police to suspect that the two were assaulted and raped before they were murdered.

Sigasa’s mother believes that her daughter put up a struggle as her dreadlocks were pulled out and she had bruises on her forehead.

Overcome by grief at losing her daughter, whom she described as her “only hope,” Sigasa’s mother said that her daughter had recently started an internship at Daimler Chrysler and was involved in community organisations including the Soweto HIV/AIDS Counsellors Association and Positive Women Network.

The murders come just weeks after the South African Police Service released statistics that show that the country continues to be overwhelmed by high levels of violent crime.

“As a community what we need to do now is to mobilise ourselves, get involved and advocate an end to violence against all women. We must take it upon ourselves not to remain quiet in our grief in South Africa,” said a gay activist who chose to remain anonymous.

In an angry statement, the Joint Working Group (JWG) said that, “Gays and lesbians are human beings who deserve equal rights and treatment – not to be ridiculed or called names, beaten, tortured, raped or killed. These gross human rights violations are not just inhuman and barbaric – they must not be tolerated.”

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has also condemned the murders. It, together with the Positive Women’s Network and JWG, has called on the police to act swiftly and to bring the people who murdered Sigasa and Masooa to justice.

“Violence against lesbians and gays is ‘unSouth African’. People who inflict harm upon and kill lesbians and gays do not belong in South Africa. Leaders and communities that do not oppose violence against gays, lesbians, women, children, rape survivors and HIV positive people do not belong here,” said the JWG.

A memorial service will take place on Thursday in Soweto at Ipelegeng Community Hall at 13h00. Funerals are scheduled for Saturday, July 14 at 12h00 at the Meadowlands Community Centre.

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