Zoliswa Nkonyana

Activists have welcomed a court decision to allow an investigation into policing in Khayelitsha, the site of the brutal murder of 19-year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana, to continue.

On Monday, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the decision to establish the O’Regan Commission of Inquiry to probe police inefficiency in Khayelitsha was “rational” and “legal”.

The ruling related to an application by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa for an urgent interdict to stop the commission, which was appointed by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in August last year.

This establishment of the commission followed years of sustained campaigning by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and partner organisations, including the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education, Ndifuna Ukwazi and Triangle Project.

The groups pointed out that despite steady decreases in murders nationally and provincially over the past years, Khayelitsha has experienced a 27% increase in the number of murders since 2008/09.

While some measure of justice was eventually granted to Nkonyana’s family, the case, which saw more than 40 postponements over five years, was cited as an example of systematic problems in policing in the area.

Nkonyana was beaten, stoned and stabbed to death by a group of around 20 men in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape on 4 February 2006 – just meters from her home – for being a lesbian.

The half-a-decade-long trial of the nine men arrested for the murder was characterised by police bungling and delays. In September 2010, four of the accused escaped from the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court (they were later recaptured).

Five of the nine men who were charged with Nkonyana’s murder were subsequently acquitted due to lack of evidence, which activists have blamed on shoddy police work and the effect of five years’ worth of delays on witnesses.

In January 2012, the Khayelitsha Regional Court finally sentenced Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba to 18 years in prison, four of which were suspended for five years, for the murder.

The SJC’s Zackie Achmat said the court’s decision backing the legality of the O’Regan Commission of Inquiry was a victory for all South Africans.

“The people of Khayelitsha and South Africa have been vindicated,” Achmat told the Cape Argus. “The issue with the police is a systematic issue, it does not just relate to one or two rotten apples.”

The police minister’s legal team, who argued that the commission would unlawfully interfere with the independence of the SAPS, are studying the court ruling to decide if they will appeal the decision.

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