Four men were tried for the murder and rape of Eudy Simelane at the Delmas Circuit Court last week. LGBTI activist and supporters from other social movements in South Africa were also there to give witness to the trial. One of the accused pleaded guilty to murder but not rape and was sentenced to 32 years. The other defendents will appear on the 29th July 2009. Obviously this is disappointing but more so was the statement by the judge in sentencing Thato Petrus Mpithi,
“no significance” in Mpithi’s crime, he failed to recognise that lesbians do face rape and murder in South Africa.
Continue reading the full report on the trial below.
February 11 to 13 saw the first days into the trial of murdered lesbian soccer player, Eudy Simelane, at the Delmas Circuit Court. Four men, aged between 18 and 24 were to appear before Judge Moses Mavundla on the charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and rape
On February 10, a bus load of activists left Kwa-Thema (Gauteng) to ‘camp’ in Delmas (Mpumalanga) for the duration of the trial. Another bus left the next morning [and the two days after] in the early hours of the morning from the same township to participant in the court proceedings.
They were joined by activists from different social movements, notably LGBTI Joint Working Group members, the Treatment Action Campaign, the National Association of People living with AIDS, and the African National Congress from Delmas, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Germiston, Witbank and over a dozen from other provinces in the country. International solidarity was received from activists, joining the crowd attending court in calling for an end to hate and justice for Eudy.
Before a packed court room, where the majority accompanied the Simelane family, was also family and friends of the co-accused and one Tsepo Pitje who was acquitted in October 2008 in the same matter concerning the murder of Simelane. Inside court loud singing of activists from outside demanding justice could be heard, leading the Judge to make reference to the difficulties in hearing the proceedings.
Three of the co-accused — Khumbulane Magagula, Johannes Mahlangu and Themba Mvubu pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Accused number 4, Thato Petrus Mpithi pleaded guilty to murder and robbery, not guilty to rape, but guilty to being an accomplice to rape. The trial was separated. The first three will appear before a different judge on 29 July 2009.
Accused number 4 was convicted and Judge Mavundla stated that for his sentencing a balancing act on the offence (crime) had to be considered also in light of previous conviction of assault and robbery, his age, level of education and drunken state of mind. In his testimony, Mpithi said that he saw Simelane for the first time on the day of the crime. In his sentencing Judge Mavundla declared that Simelane’s sexual orientation had “no significance” to her killing.
Mpithi was sentenced to 18 years for murder, 15 yrs for robbery and 9 yrs for being an accomplice to rape. The first 10 yrs of the 15yrs of robbery will run concurrently with the 18yrs of murder. This means he is sentenced to 32 yrs less the time already spent in jail from April 28.
As activists and the Simelane family left the courtroom on the last day of Mpithi’s trial, too many mixed reactions were expressed. The 32 year sentence seems acceptable given legal precedents’ in our country. The fact that Judge Mavundla found “no significance” in Mpithi’s crime, he failed to recognise that lesbians do face rape and murder in South Africa. Activists hope that this aspect will be more prominent in the case against the other three accused as Eudy Simelane was known to one or more of them.
Most alarming were the reports from the activists and others who attended court on the threats received from the co-accused friends. Over a dozen lesbians especially from Kwa-Thema reported that young men were heard threatening things like “no matter what transpires in court, we are going to eliminate lesbians and gays” — in vulgar Zulu words. Not only lesbians and gays, but general supporters of the Simelane family and human rights defenders are now in fear that they will be targeted.
This signals a sense of impunity, despite the sentencing expected to send a strong message to perpetrators and continues to raise fears among open LGBTI people in a Constitutional dispensation that guarantees rights to freedom, dignity and bodily integrity.
From today to the trial date in July, and beyond, many initiatives will be engaged in strategies on the actual case proceedings against the three co-accused, keep communities mobilised and vigilant, and enhance efforts to out route this scourge of violence and crime in society.
The international solidarity has been significant and we hope that this will continue as we celebrate a minor victory whilst faced with huge challenges.