Activists are appalled after a teenager who knifed Western Cape transgender woman Phoebe Titus to death in broad daylight was set free.
Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, confirmed to Mambaonline that the killer, who cannot be named because he is a minor, pleaded guilty to culpable homicide on 3 July.
He was sentenced to five years imprisonment on the charge, which was wholly suspended, with conditions that he must not commit the same offence within five years.
This means the youth was able to walk out of court with effectively no punishment or rehabilitation.
Titus, a hairdresser, was killed while buying ice lollies in an informal shop in the town of Wolseley on 27 December, 2015. It’s believed that she accidentally stepped on the toes of the then 15-year-old boy at the store.
He responded by shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs at her, including “vuil moffie” (dirty faggot). When Titus expressed her anger at the verbal abuse, a man in his twenties near the shop is reported to have handed a knife to the boy, who then allegedly plunged it into Titus’ neck.
Bleeding profusely, she staggered away, collapsed and died about 500 metres down the road in a pool of blood.
Triangle Project, which monitored the trial, expressed its concern that the killer was not only convicted of manslaughter instead of murder but also received such a light sentence.
Transgender people face disproportionate levels of discrimination and abuse
Sharon Cox, Health & Support Services Manager at Triangle, said that while the organisation was awaiting a transcript of the trial, “from the facts we know of the matter, we think it is wholly inappropriate and sends a very dangerous message to others in the same community”.
She told Mambaonline she had “grave concerns” that a young man who stabbed someone to death “effectively received no punishment, no diversion and no path for development and reflection”.
Cox argued that the fact that the killer is a minor should only influence the type of punishment and redress he should face “and not that no punishment or reconciliation is required”.
Triangle also understands that the police did not investigate the man who allegedly handed the killer the knife, and believes that the murder investigation as a whole “was extremely poor”.
“It is both frustrating and raises feelings of anger when SAPS officials do not investigate a crime thoroughly as the courts can only deal with what is placed before them,” said Cox.
“We have had difficulty with this case from the outset with a feeling from authorities that Phoebe’s killer was a ‘good kid who had not previously been in trouble’ and that Phoebe was in some way responsible for her own death.”
Triangle, alongside the Love Not Hate campaign, will decide what action to take once it receives the trial transcripts. “As the facts currently stand we will continue working through our Provincial Task Team [on LGBTI hate crimes] and explore other avenues to examine this outcome,” said Cox.
According to a 2016 Love Not Hate report, 34% of transgender South Africans surveyed were subjected to verbal insults in the previous two years, while 13% had been physically attacked.