Four South African men have been sentenced to 18 years in prison for the murder of 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana in 2006, with the court finding that the men stabbed and stoned the young woman to death because she was open about being a lesbian.
This ruling has been hailed as extremely significant in a nation where there are constiuttional protections for gay people but homophobia remains widespread.
The BBC’s Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says the sentence handed out in the Nkonyana case is highly significant – both because of its length and the fact that the magistrate concluded that Ms Nkonyana was killed for being a lesbian.
For years activists have been calling on the state to be tougher on people who kill or attack people because of their sexual orientation – and they want the state to recognise hate crimes against lesbians, she says.
The magistrate said it was clear the motive for the killing was hatred and homophobia – and Wednesday’s sentence was meant to send out a signal that violence based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, the South African Press Association reports.
The men in question, Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba, were each given 18 years. However, five other people were acquitted.
Local LGBT rights groups have praised the strong nature of the ruling.
The Triangle Project, a Cape Town gay rights organisation, said that the verdict’s language had set a legal precedent for sentencing in future hate crimes.
“It was truly a significant victory for us in terms of setting some kind of precedent for future cases that involve an element of hate or discrimination or bias in respect of sexual orientation,” Jayne Arnott, the group’s director, told AFP.
“The magistrate in the sentencing recognised that Zoliswa had a right to live openly as she chose, as a lesbian in the community, and that there was a clear indication of intolerance and hatred towards her on these grounds.
Human Rights Watch has been particularly concerned with a number of attacks in the past five years that they believe to have been “corrective rape” assaults, that is to say where a woman is sexually violated in order to try and “cure” her or punish her for being a lesbian.
Among the most recent cases is that of Noxolo Nogwaza, 24, who is believed to have been the victim of a brutal hate crime murder just hours after leaving her girlfriend in a township near Johannesburg on April 23 of last year, and that of a 13 year old girl who claims she was raped because she identifies as a lesbian.