Fear breeds bravery as LGBT+ S.Africans resist ‘war on queerness’

Three months ago, Chippa Mohanoe’s fiancée was stabbed in the neck and killed in front of their neighbours in South Africa’s Sebokeng township. Every day since, Mohanoe had to push past his fear of a repeat punishment for being transgender, hoping a high profile will stifle the homophobia that he says killed his fiancée and at least seven other LGBT+ South Africans in recent months. Fear is making him brave. “I am still here and I don’t want to hide, I will make sure the justice system upholds her memory,” Mohanoe said outside court after the man accused of her murder was denied bail. Mohanoe, who is 30, said his fiancée, Bonang Gaelae, was stabbed because people thought she was a lesbian. Now friends and LGBT+ allies are massing in public: a vital show of defiance against the spate of hate crime. Despite living in the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage – back in 2006 – and under a constitution that guards against discrimination based on sexual orientation, LGBT+ people say they fear for their lives every single day. All the recent murders – at least eight known to LGBT+ groups since mid-February – happened in townships, where activists say there is less policing and dense housing that makes it harder to hide away. Yet activists refuse to lie low. Spurred by the killings, they are gathering online, massing at courts, police stations and victims’ homes to offer the support they say their government has failed to give. Most hate crimes cases go undetected, according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, because witnesses are reluctant to come forward. “This is a crisis, and it is worse than we thought, it is a war on queerness,” said Kamva Gwana, 23, an organiser from the online LGBT+ movement Queer Lives Matter. “We demand the rights given by our constitution,” Gwana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.