Hate crimes

What is a hate crime? 

A hate crime is a criminal act committed against people, property or organisations that is motivated in whole or in part by prejudice because of the group to which the victim belongs or identifies.  Perpetrators seek to demean and dehumanise victims – considered different based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, health status, nationality, social origin, religious convictions, culture, language and/or other characteristic. 

While hate-based victimisation may be in the form of an isolated incident, such victimisation most often occurs in the context of sustained harassment including daily, on-going acts of taunting, constant bullying or conflicts between people known to each other within specific settings such as schools or a community.  These crime often aim to impact not just the victim, but to ‘send a message’ to others like the victim. 

Why do LGBTIQ people experience high levels of violence? 

Even though LGBTIQ people are legally protected by the South African Constitution and various other pieces of legislation, many people in South Africa harbour hatred based on other peoples’ sexual orientation or gender identity. 

This hatred permeates the everyday lives of people who identify as LGBTIQ. The following statistics were reported by members of the LGBTIQ community in a 2016 report: 

  • 41% know someone who has been murdered because they were or were suspected to be LGBTIQ 
  • 1 in 5 were threatened with violence because of their LGBTIQ status in the past 2 years 
  • 56% experienced discrimination in schools 
  • 39% had been verbally assaulted in the past 24 months because of their identity 

These statistics indicate the strong prejudice that many people have against LGBTIQ South Africans.  

In discussing hate crimes against LGBTIQ people, it is important to recognise that this is not a homogenous group and the struggles experienced very between gender identity, sexual orientation, and among individuals. LGBTIQ people may also be foreign nationals, sex workers, belong to a religious minority, be disabled or otherwise belong to an additional vulnerable group. 

What types of violence is committed against LGBTIQ people? 

It is common for the above forms of prejudice to escalate to verbal abuse, assault, and even rape, torture and murder. Lesbian and transgender women and gender non-conforming people are also particularly vulnerable to being sexually assaulted as punishment for their sexual orientation or gender identity, in a crime often referred to as ‘targeted’ or ‘corrective’ rape. 

Murder of Noxolo Xakeka, Strand

Twenty-three-year-old Noxolo Xakeka, mother to a six-year-old son, was stabbed three times and beaten to death with a wooden plank on New Year’s Eve of 2018. Her murderer reportedly grew agitated because of her identity, saying that she needed to “take a penis” and “stop this [lesbian] business.” At the time of her murder, there were at least 12 open cases of rape and murder against LGBTIQ people in Western Cape alone. 

South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in the world. These attacks are often ultra-violent, involving gang rapes, torture, the mutilation of bodies and murder. ‘Butch’ lesbians in particular, or women who dare to live openly in same-sex relationships are targeted because they challenge monolithic notions of masculinity and heterosexuality, or do not conform to gender stereotypes stemming from patriarchal male domination embedded in the dominant culture. 

Murder of David Olyne, Ceres

David Olyne was a young man who loved to dance, to make his friends laugh, who was saving some money at his job. And then he sexually assaulted, brutally tortured and murdered because he was gay. Poor investigation by the South African Police Services (SAPS) meant that it took 20 months and 35 court appearances for the trial of his murderer to be concluded. Moreover, while there was never any doubt that more than one was involved, it was only at the conclusion of the trial that Judge Desai made a ruling that the case be left open for further investigation. This admission was only due to the constant monitoring, input and community mobilisation from Triangle Project regarding the injustice that was unfolding. 

How we help 

Support for LGBTIQ victims of hate crimes

Triangle Project offers holistic beginning-to-end support for survivors of hate crimes, from time of first reporting to the conclusion of trials, a process that can take several years for individual cases.  In cases of crimes committed against LGBTIQ persons, it is important that the survivor or the family and support system of the deceased are supported. In cases where the victim is deceased and has no family, it is important that the organisation and mobilised partners are present. Without this, the victim is subsumed by the State, and does not have a voice or representation in court.  

It is also important that persons who will have to give testimony in court are taken through a process of understanding the criminal justice system and feel prepared for the process, particularly as this can be significantly retraumatising. It has also become clear, over many years of undertaking this work, that support provides those who have been violated with the capacity to continue with the cases. It is easy to eventually give up on one’s case because it is never a speedy process and cases can, and do, drag out over months and even years.  

Where possible, a relationship should be established between those monitoring court processes with the state prosecutor and the investigating officer in the case. This allows the organisation to give information to the relevant parties involved in prosecutions an overview of why such crimes take place. It also enables the person monitoring the case to be able to see where gaps exist and where emphasis needs to be placed. Often this involves mobilising communities and encouraging persons to come forward. In cases where there is resistance on the part of the judicial system and the South African Police Services (SAPS) monitoring is important, as poor investigations do not have the required outcomes that are just. If a case has been opened, it is important for the organisation to have all the details of the case.  

Media visibility around cases is also most helpful, such as this article in the Mail & Guardian, A lone gay man says ‘enough’ to hate rapes in Cape wheatlands. This is another means of sensitising communities to the realities of hate crimes and for the courts to see that the matter is being taken seriously. It has been the experience of Triangle Project that SAPS at regional level do track media articles and statements made therein by the organisation. This has led in one case to SAPS making contact with the organisation and documenting the dissatisfaction.  

Theatre for Social Change

In 2015, Triangle Project undertook two Theatre for Social Change (TSC) projects, These are the ties that bind us, with its community safe spaces in Elandsbay and Ceres, both rural communities in the Western Cape.   

The projects sought to facilitate creative community dialogues between LGBTIQ persons and local communities in these key rural communities identified as hotspots for homophobia. The idea of strengthening local voices while creating and sustaining paths of resistance to address systemic disempowerment of marginalized communities through multi-media platforms such as story-telling, photo-voice narratives, community newspapers and radio-stations is not new. It is rooted in the idea that community ownership of local problems or challenges is the most authentic approach to ensure the mobilization of local resources to address local needs, strengthening equality and facilitate access to justice for vulnerable groups in local communities. 

In both areas the participants were actively involved in the creating on the scripts, the costumes, set designs, choreography and the music.  Both productions were a mixture of spoken word, song, dance and comedy.  What was vital was that both productions spoke to the challenges facing that specific LGBTIQ community.  The scripts were written to speak to the audience so local landmarks, venues, clubs, etc,  were used in the dialogue which made it relevant for the audience.  The audience in both plays were actively engaged in the telling of the stories as opposed to being passive listeners.  

The fact that we mixed the spoken word, along with music and dance and humour really made it a great success.  It kept people engaged and was able to move from fun to serious and so make people really think about the message.  It is also important because the people performing are people from the area and people (audience) take more note of things when it is real life LGBTIQ people telling their own stories. 

Watch a short video about the project on our Facebook page

Hate Crimes law reform 

Triangle Project currently chairs the Hate Crime Working Group, a multi-sectoral network of civil society organizations set up to spearhead advocacy and reform initiatives pertaining to hate crimes in South Africa and the region. 

The HCWG seeks to contribute towards sound national policy and legislative interventions to combat hate crimes by seeking to contribute towards the speedy enactment of comprehensive hate crimes laws; improve the policing of, and judicial responses to hate crimes, and assist in the development of effective mechanisms to monitor hate crimes incidents. 

National Task Team (NTT) on Gender and Sexual Orientation-Based Violence

Triangle Project serves as a civil society representative on the working group of the National Task Team (NTT) on Gender and Sexual Orientation-Based Violence.  In March 2011, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development mandated the establishment of a National Task Team (NTT) to develop a National Intervention Strategy that will address “corrective rape”. The purpose of the NTT is to develop a national intervention strategy to address gender and sexual orientation-based violence against LGBTI persons, especially in the criminal justice system.