Eudy Simelane

Activists have expressed their anger that only one of the three men on trial for the murder of Eudy Simelane has been convicted.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said that it was “disappointed” with the verdict by the Delmas Circuit Court in the murder, robbery and rape of lesbian soccer player Eudy Simelane.

While Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng sentenced 24 year old Themba Mvubu to life imprisonment, the two other men accused of the crime were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Local activists are dismayed that these men were not charged, at minimum, with failing to take measures to save Similane’s life.

The body of 31-year old Simelane, a soccer player on South Africa’s national women’s team, was found in a field in KwaThema township outside Johannesburg in April 2008. She had been gang-raped and died from multiple stab wounds.

“I was appalled at the level of homophobia in the courtroom,” said Monica Mbaru, IGLHRC’s Africa Program Coordinator who attended a hearing in the case in July. At one point, Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng objected to the use of the word “lesbian” in court, she noted.

IGLHRC said that it believed that homophobia may have prevented the judge from fully acknowledging the role that disdain for the victim’s sexual orientation and gender expression played as motives for the crime.

Similane is one of many victims in a series of rapes and murders targeting black lesbians in that country. Other black lesbian victims include Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Moosa, murdered execution style on July 7, 2007 in Soweto, and Zoliswa Nkonyane who was stoned to death in February 2006 in Cape Town.

“Despite yesterday’s conviction, there is immense tragedy in this moment,” said IGLHRC Executive Director Cary Johnson. “The killer showed no remorse, the police are indifferent, the courts provide no redress for lesbian victims. How can South Africa end epidemic levels of violence without effectively prosecuting crimes against its LGBT citizens?”

“As I watched the rapist confess, pain and anger filled my soul.” said Victor Mukasa, IGLHRC’s Program Associate for Africa.

According to Mbaru, “The partial conviction sends a message that people can continue to rape and murder lesbians with impunity. This is the antithesis of building a culture of good governance in South Africa.”

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