Zoliswa Nkonyana

A group of civil society organisations have filed a formal legal complaint demanding Western Cape Premier Helen Zille institute a commission of inquiry into the Khayelitsha criminal justice system.

The ongoing trial in the Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court of the men accused of murdering 19-year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana has seen more than 40 postponements over five years.

Nkonyana was beaten, stoned and stabbed to death by a group of around 20 men in Khayelitsha in February 2006, just meters from her home, for being a lesbian.

The trial has been characterised by a litany of bureaucratic bungling and delays. In September last year four of the accused escaped from the court but were later recaptured.

Five of the nine men who were charged with Nkonyana’s murder were later acquitted due to lack of evidence, a fact that activists link to shoddy police work and the effect of five years of delays on witnesses and their ability to accurately remember events relating to the attack.

The four men left to stand trial were found guilty of the murder in October but their sentencing has also been repeatedly postponed and is now set to take place at the end of January 2012.

The complaint against the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Metro Police and their interface with the prosecuting authority was submitted by the Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Free Gender, Equal Education, Triangle Project and Ndifuna Ukwazi.

According to the civil society organisations, the problems seen in the Nkonyana trial are endemic in the Khayelitsha criminal justice system.

They said that there was a “systemic failure” of the Khayelitsha police, including the Cape Town Metro Police Department, “to prevent, combat and investigate crime, take statements, open cases and apprehend criminals”.

They also accused the police of being a “source of terror to people living in informal settlements rather than a force for good”.

The organisations demanded that Zille appoint a five person commission of inquiry, headed by a retired judge, to investigate and report on the issues raised by their complaint.

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