Activists protest against government inaction on LGBT
hate crimes in Johannesburg in July

In the wake of ongoing attacks against LGBTI people, experts have asserted the importance of enacting hate crime laws in South Africa.

A number of leaders in the field spoke at a conference on crime hosted by the Institute for Security Studies in Sandton on Thursday, reported SAPA.

Speakers dealt with hate crimes in sessions that addressed the need for hate crime legislation, the failure of the government in addressing homophobic hate crimes and a perspective from the South African Human Rights Commission on the issue.

Unlike in some countries, under South African law, hate crimes – those perpetrated against people due to their identity (or perceived identity) or because they are part of a particular group – are not recognised as unique crimes in themselves.

Juan Nel, director of the Centre for Applied Psychology at Unisa and representing the Hate Crimes Working Group, said that hate crimes do not affect just individuals.

“We believe it extends beyond the individual, it also affects the community. It is also about the psychological impact that it has: the fear, the anger that it might create, and sometimes it has [a] ripple effect,” he said.

He emphasised that without the law recognising the special nature of crimes based on bias or hate these crimes are difficult to tackle.

“Unless they become a recognised crime category, they can’t be recorded at police station level. Without it being recorded as such, it is very difficult to get a sense of what the prevalence would be. Once we have it as a recorded category… you can get a sense as to how often it happens, to whom it happens and where it happens,” he said.

Kerry Williams, partner at law firm Webber Wentzel, agreed, stating: “It would be helpful to have hate crime legislation because it would focus the police minds when investigating, prosecutors when prosecuting, judges when passing sentences. And the legislature could give some guidance in how to handle these crimes.”

The Hate Crimes Working Group has identified 150 hate crimes against LGBTI people across South Africa since 2005, revealed Nel.

This group is unrelated to the embarrassing government-driven Gender and Sexual Orientation based Violence Task Team which has proven to be failure; having to-date produced no significant results since it was established over a year ago.

Activists have accused this task team of being a public relations exercise and noted that it has produced “no real interventions and or deliverables”.

The government is, however, in the process of drafting and refining legislation that will be introduced into Parliament at some point with the aim of enacting hate crime laws.

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