The coffin of Lerato Moloi in the middle of Naledi Hall where her funeral service took place on Saturday after her death on Mother’s Day. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips
Johannesburg - Around September last year, Lerato Moloi was walking in Naledi, Soweto, at night when an unknown man attacked her. She survived and lived to tell her sad tale.

Eight months later, on Sunday, her life was cut short in similar circumstances - in the same township. She was found dead by passers-by in an open field. Tambai, as she was affectionately known, was assaulted, and possibly raped, according to her brother Thabo.

“There were possibilities that her attackers wanted to rape her but she was saved by passers-by on that scene,” Thabo told The Sunday Independent on Thursday, about the previous attack on his sister.

Thabo also believes the attacks were a homophobic hate crime.

“She was a lesbian and everyone knew. Her attacker was fighting her because she was a lesbian.”

A poster at Lerato Moloi's funeral at Naledi Hall in Soweto. The community, not only members of LGBTI groups, are outraged at the rising number of attacks on women. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips

On Saturday, thousands of people converged at the Naledi Community Hall to bid her farewell.

After the first attack, Thabo said Moloi opened a case at Naledi Police Station. “They didn’t follow up.”

After the attack, the police issued a statement saying three suspects were to appear in court on Thursday. None appeared.

An officer at the Protea Magistrate’s Court told journalists that the docket had not arrived but would be available on Friday. Again, no suspects appeared.

When contacted for comment, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority Phindi Louw said a murder docket was not placed on the roll as there was no link to the arrested suspects.

“This means the docket did not meet the minimum requirements for a matter to be placed on the roll.

“The NPA instructed the investigating officer to conduct certain investigations. Once concluded, the docket must be brought back to the NPA for a decision.”

Kubatana Kwedu, an organisation that offers skills and business support to young people, said: “This has affected every woman, we can’t even walk on the street because we are scared.” Said Kgomotso Mlambo, a member of the organisation:

“Lesbians are always under attack, emotionally and physically. Some choose to keep it in their hearts. We were attacked for our sexuality but in their hearts they attack us because we are women.”

Virginia Magwaza, a member of the Other Foundation, an organisation that supports the LGBTI community in 13 African countries, said: “What has happened here has triggered fear.

“Last week, were were burying an LGBTI person from Kroonstad, and today we are burying Lerato in Naledi, so the question lingering is ‘who’s next?’

“We are constantly checking ourselves as LGBTI people. Do we show that we are lesbian, or transgender, or intersex, because we are not sure if they’d kill us.”

Magwaza said it was worrying that the violence against the LGBTI community was continuing despite South Africa having progressive legislation. “There is no connection between the legislation and what the people think and their attitude towards LGBTI people.”

She urged religious leaders to speak out against the attacks targeted on the LGBTI community.

“We need the religious leaders to denounce this. The churches are quiet. We need our parents to come and say, ‘we love our lesbian children and gay children. Hands off our children’.

“There’s no political party that’s going to come in and do this for us, we have to do it ourselves.

“As a community we need to stand up and say enough is enough and we say that with meaning and we say that with action.”

She criticised Police Minister Fikile Mbalula for his statements on Twitter, following the murder of Soweto resident, Karabo Mokoena.

“The fact that minister Mblaula said, ‘How you do you kill a beautiful yellow bone’, what does that mean? So those who are not yellow bones are meant to be killed?

“So we need to create programmes and begin to have a language that changes how we think, that creates awareness of the constitution. It talks about equality.”

Moloi’s friend Sineliwe Mahlangu said the murder had not only affected the LGBTI community.

“It’s affecting all of us, not only as lesbians but as women. Some of us were even scared of coming here because we feel unsafe.

“It can happen to anyone, to any family. No one deserves to go through this. People need to accept people for who they are. I think we need to engage with people on what is happening and what we go through. We need the whole community.”

Mojalefa Moanakoena, chairperson of the Progressive Professionals Forum in Johannesburg, read a letter he wrote o President Jacob Zuma, calling on him to “urgently establish a inter-ministerial task team to crack this scourge”.

“This will prove to the nation that you care about us. We don’t need more talks and politicking and policies. We need punishment within a short time-frame. Decisive punitive action must be taken as a clear signal that criminality will not be tolerated in our country.

“Criminals cannot be treated with kid gloves.

“They are taking advantage of our beautiful and sometimes too liberal laws.”

The Sunday Independent