A new, mysterious and brutal murder of a well-known gay man in Gauteng has come to light, with friends and family demanding that action be taken to ensure that justice is done.
The killing is similar to a spate of unsolved murders of gay men in the past two years in the region.
On 17 December 2011, 39-year-old activist and television presenter Jason Wessenaar entertained friends at his home in Pretoria West. At around 3 a.m. the next morning, after Wessenaar’s friends had left, neighbours heard him cry out for help.
Wessenaar was found dead in his home, having been stabbed seven times in the neck.
As in the previous six unsolved murders of gay men that took place in private homes in the province, little or nothing appears to have been stolen.
The murder is being investigated by the Pretoria West police station but thus far no suspects have been identified and the murder or murderers remain at large.
Wessenaar, who was openly HIV-positive, was an HIV and gay rights activist. In 2004 and 2005 he presented the SABC 1 television show Siyayinqoba – Beat It, which highlighted stories of people living with HIV and related issues.
He was described by the Global Network of People Living with Aids (GNP+) as a “positive role model for many” and known for “his easy manner and great knowledge”.
Speaking at a memorial for Wessenaar held on 23 December, Mark Heywood, the Deputy Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and Director of SECTION27, said that Wessenaar was a man who “loved life and being alive, his beauty was matched by his personal warmth and integrity”.
He added that “what made Jason unusual was that he was able to combine this joy of living with a conscience and a commitment for equality and to fighting for other people’s dignity. He was able to combine his love of life with a passion for social justice and other people’s rights. That is what made him unusual”.
Wessenaar’s friend and colleague Yvette Raphael has organised a campaign called Justice For Jason with the aim of bringing Wessenaar’s killer or killers to book.
“Yes, my friend had his life taken, but can it please not be in vain. Can we make sure that this does not happen again…”
“For me, as a friend, I want justice. He was very passionate about that. He was the voice of the voiceless and fought for the rights of the marginalised, especially those marginalised for their sexuality and HIV status,” Raphael told Mambaonline.
“Yes, my friend had his life taken, but can it please not be in vain. Can we make sure that his murder does not go unrecorded and that this does not happen again,” she pleaded.
Although it’s unclear if there is any link, Wessenaar’s murder comes after The Star newspaper last year uncovered six murders of gay men in Gauteng.
The murder spree began with Manolis Veloudos, who was killed in April 2010. He was followed in 2011 by Jim Cathels, Oscar O’Hara (33), Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo (36), a 47-year-old un-named landlord and Barney van Heerden (39) in September.
These murders had a number of similarities: the men were all bound; they were killed in private homes; there was no sign of forced entry; and, in most cases, little or nothing was stolen.
To date, the police have insisted that a serial killer is not responsible for the murders and have rejected calls for a single, specialised task team to be appointed to investigate the killings.
According to a source connected to the cases, little or no progress has been made in the investigations. The source suggested to Mambaonline that the police may well be indifferent and unmotivated to solve the murders because of the men’s sexual orientation.
Despite calls for action, the much-vaunted LGBT Hate Crime Task Team, established last year by the Minister of Justice, as well as the National Prosecutor’s Office have been silent on the matter.
In September, in a report issued by civil society groups outlining the progress of the Hate Crimes Task Team, activists expressed concern about the “political will” of the government to tackle violence against LGBTI people.
The document also noted that the government had refused to assist under-funded LGBTI organisation on the Task Team with resources such as transport for them to attend meetings in other parts of the country.
The Justice For Jason campaign has urged those outraged by Wessenaar’s murder to sign a petition and to e-mail and write letters to the Minister of Police Nkosinathi Mthethwa and Gauteng Commissioner of Police Mzwandile Petros calling for his killer or killers to be brought to justice.
The petition and the officials’ contact details can requested from Raphael at email@example.com.