Activists are outraged at the shocking 33rd delay of the trial of the men accused of brutally murdering 19 year old Xoliswa Nkonyana over five years ago.
Nkonyana lived openly as a lesbian and it is believed that she was murdered on 6 February 2006 because of her sexual orientation. After she refused to use the men’s toilet at a tavern in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, a group of men pursued her and stabbed her to death.
Nine men – eight of them teenagers at the time – were charged with her murder and the attempted murder of her friend and a passerby.
The trial has been delayed 33 times in the five years since the murder occurred and five ”trials within trials” have taken place during this period.
On Wedenesday, Magistrate Raadiyah Wathen delayed the trial yet again so that another “trial within a trial” could take place, this time regarding the handwriting analysis of the confession of one of the accused.
The Treatment Action Campaign and the Sonke Gender Justice groups expressed their anger at the “inexcusable delay”.
“This latest delay is evidence of a clear pattern of failures on the part of the police, the prosecutors, and the courts,” said the groups.
They cited a number of fiascos that have bedevilled the trial:
On 5 February 2008, gross negligence was pronounced by the court on the State for failing to ensure the presence of witnesses in court.
On Wednesday 15 September 2010, the day before the State was supposed to close its case, four of the accused escaped from the holding cell in the Khayelitsha Regional Magistrate’s Court. A police sergeant, Fundile Salela, was subsequently arrested for defeating the ends of justice, aiding prisoners in escaping from lawful custody and corruption.
The main state witness was attacked on the day of Nkonyana’s murder and later threatened by the accused during the trial, causing her to flee the province.
According to the groups, she has not been afforded the necessary protection and support by the prosecuting authority or the courts. They claim that the unacceptably long trial has disrupted her life and continues to impact negatively on her and her family.
Activists slammed state prosecutor, Alfred Isaacs, and Magistrate Wathen for acceding to the defence attorneys’ request for the latest postponement.
“These delays go beyond simple incompetence. They are part of a larger pattern of the state’s negligence in prosecuting crimes against women,” said the groups. “We call on prosecutors and magistrates to take a strong stance against gender-based violence that has left many of our comrades dead, with no justice for their death in sight. We believe Magistrate Raadiyah Wathen has the power to demand that the case proceed.
“No one knows how many more delays will occur before this trial concludes. Representatives from the National Prosecuting Authority have said that they are prioritising this case, but it does not seem to be helping. One can only wonder, if this is what a priority case looks like, what happens to the thousands of other gender-based violence cases that are not prioritised by the State?”
The trial has been scheduled to resume on the 11th of April.
In related news, on Monday, a group of activists will meet with the Ministry of Justice in Parliament about the issue of ‘corrective’ rape, the increasingly common hate crime in which men rape lesbian women to ‘turn’ them straight or ‘cure’ them of their sexual orientation.
The groups are calling on the ministry to set up a commission to research, develop and implement needed reforms surrounding ‘corrective’ rape and the issues of sexual violence, anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes.
Members of the LGBT community are urged to take part in a rally to support their efforts outside Parliament at 120 Plein Street from 10 to 11am on Monday 14 March.