News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday June 19th 2019

Nkonyana’s killers finally sentenced

Activists from the 07-07-07 campaign, who have consitently demonstrated for justice during the six years of the trial against Zoliswa Nkonyana's murderers, lit candles in memory of her during the early days of the trial. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso/WCN

Activists from the 07-07-07 campaign, who have consitently demonstrated for justice during the six years of the trial against Zoliswa Nkonyana's murderers, lit candles in memory of her during the early days of the trial. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso/WCN

Almost exactly six years after 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana was stoned, kicked and beaten to death for being a lesbian, her four convicted killers finally received an 18-year sentence at the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court.

Nkonyana, 19 at the time, was assaulted outside a tavern in Khayelitsha E-Section after an altercation at the toilets where she was told she should be using the women’s toilet after she had entered the men’s.

Shortly after the altercation, which involved disparaging comments about her sexual orientation, she was attacked by a group of young men outside the tavern. She was beaten with bricks, stones and golf-sticks and left to die on the street in a pool of her own blood.

Nine men were subsequently arrested and the case was dogged by at least 43 postponements since the trial got underway in 2008. Five of the accused were acquitted during the trial due to lack of evidence.

The long wait for justice which frustrated Nkonyana’s family and has been condemned by gender rights organizations, finally ended on Wednesday February 1 when Magistrate Raadiyah Wathen handed down an 18-year sentence, with four years suspended, to Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba, putting the four behind bars for an effective 14 years.

In handing down her judgment, Wathen said she had to take into consideration the fact that the four convicts were juveniles when they committed the crime that they acted in a group and might have been influenced by peer-pressure.

She said the minimum sentence of 25 years for murder prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Act did not apply in this case due to the age of the men at the time of the offence.

“Sentencing involving youthful offenders is difficult to address… there are other aspects that need to be taken into account,” she told the court.

Aspects such as the seriousness of the crime, the impact of the crime on the victims, personal circumstances of the convict, the interests of justice and the community, and the number of years the convicted men stayed in prison awaiting trial.

“Sentence ought to be harsh enough to be a deterrent for the occurrence of such crime and be gentle enough to encourage rehabilitation not only to the accused but the community,” said Wathen.

However, she said the convicted men had shown “no mercy” and “no remorse” for killing Nkonyana with no other motive than their own “hatred and intolerance”.

“The deceased practiced the right of living as a lesbian, which was her choice, but the accused did not agree to her choice.

“A wholly suspended sentence is not an option and direct imprisonment is the only option.”

Wathen acknowledged the case has been subject to several delays, but attributed the delays to defense representatives.

Although the families of the sentenced men have welcomed the presiding officer’s decision, Nkonyana’s family said her killers should’ve been sentenced to a longer period in jail.

Nkonyana’s mother Monica Mandini was too distraught to speak to the media but Nkonyana’s stepfather Gladwell Mandini said he was “not at all happy” with Wathen’s decision but the family would “have to live with it”.

“We cannot bring her back and the sentence they got is very low. But we are happy the case has come to an end. Now we can live in peace and Zoliswa’s chapter would be finally closed,” said Mandini.

He said it had not been easy having to return to court over the years just to hear of a further postponement but “we were strong and had always hoped for a quick end to this case”.

He thanked the police for their hard work and gender rights organisations for the solidarity they demonstrated.

Most gender activists from groups such as Free Gender, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and the Triangle Project, who had demonstrated outside the courts at most of the killers’ appearances, welcomed the sentencing and the end of the case, but said the sentence should have been harsher.

Free Gender organizer Funeka Soldaat said while some activists were happy with the outcome, she was not completely satisfied.

Soldaat said although she understood the issues Wathen had to consider in her sentencing, she would have preffered to have seen the killers sentenced to life imprisonment.

Soldaat said Free Gender members in Khayelitsha and surrounding areas were harassed and taunted over their sexual orientation and she hoped the outcome of Nkonyana’s case would send a message to people that hate speech was not tolerated.

TAC co-ordinator Lumkile Sizila said: “we are happy that the case has come to an end but we are dissatisfied that the case took so long.”

More than 100 gender activists demonstrated once again during sentencing yesterday. Activists sand, danced and cheered outside the court while carrying placards reading “life time in jail for Zoliswa killers,” and “killers to rot in jail”. — Sandiso Phaliso

 

Tags: Gender activists, hate crime, Lesbian killers, Raadiyah Wathen, Treatment Action Campaign, Zoliswa Nkonyana

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