Godfrey Moloi and Thandi Mathanjana, the uncle and aunt of the late Lerato Moloi, from Naledi, who was killed and found dead next to Merafe station in Soweto. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips
Johannesburg - Godfrey Moloi was in a ward committee meeting when he got the call early on Sunday afternoon.

“There’s been a tragedy,” his sister said. He rushed to the scene, a stretch of long grass near the railway line on Lekuru Street in Naledi, Soweto. On the way, someone ran up to him on the street and showed him a photo that had been circulating on social media.

The stabbed, stoned, half-naked body of Lerato Moloi, his 27-year-old niece, had gone viral.

He doesn’t have the words to describe how he felt at that moment. “Finding out my child had died was already so shocking and horrible. Seeing that picture on social media made it so much worse,” he said.

Moloi, a lesbian, was one of the four women whose bodies were found in Soweto last weekend, their horrific murders shocking South Africans.

She died just after the funeral of another murdered lesbian woman, Nonkie Smous, who was burned. Just three days before Smous’s murder, a lesbian woman was stabbed, stoned and raped in Potchefstroom.

Zodwa Moloi and Thandi Mathanjana, aunts of Moloi, who was popular with her friends and family. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips

It appears that Moloi, too, was killed for her sexual orientation. Gauteng police have arrested two men in connection with Moloi’s rape and murder, who appeared in the Protea Magistrate’s Court this week.

They are investigating a case of corrective rape, or sexual assault, with the intention to “turn” a gay person, most commonly a lesbian, into a heterosexual.

Lerato, or Tambaai, as she was called, was raised by her aunt and uncle after both parents died. She was the only source of family income, bringing in monthly checks from Bic, the pen company, where she did freelance work. She would have started a part-time job on Monday.

Her family describe her as friendly, jolly and jovial. They will miss her jokes the most. Zodwa Moloi, who raised her niece, smiled as she recalled: “She loved to make up silly names for us and tease us she called me ‘my Dodo’.”

The family everyone in Naledi was friends with their niece - and loved her. “Nobody doesn’t know Tambaai,” Godfrey said. To him, her murder is an impossibility.

Thandi Mathanjana, Moloi’s aunt, thinks she knows why her niece was targeted. “They probably wanted to change Tambai to make her a proper women,” she said.

Moloi realised she was a lesbian when she was 13. She always preferred to play with other boys and kept her hair short. “Everyone knew, and everyone accepted,” said her uncle, Godfrey Moloi.

The family weren’t worried for her safety. There are many lesbians in Naledi, and nobody is bothered by it, they say. Several years ago, in the Naledi soccer league, a team of lesbians competed alongside the male soccer teams. Moloi asked the provincial government for money for his niece’s funeral. If they hadn’t said yes, he is not sure how they would have afforded the burial.

Luleki Sizwe, a non-profit organisation that works to end hate crimes against lesbians, estimates that nationally, more than 10 lesbians are raped every week to “correct” their sexual preferences.

Last year, the Other Foundation found that more than 450000 South Africans admitted to physically harming women who “dressed and behaved like men in public”.

One 2011 study found that at least 500 lesbians suffered corrective rape each year, and that 86% of black lesbians in the Western Cape lived in fear of assault.

That year, after more than 150000 people signed a petition to demand that the government take action against corrective rape, the Department of Justice established a national task team on hate crimes against LGBT people. Last year, the department introduced a draft hate crimes bill which is open for public comment.

Sanja Bornman, an attorney at the Gender Equality Programme, said the passage of the bill was key. “We don’t have a legal definition of hate crime in South Africa,” she said. “This victim’s case will be investigated as a murder, not a murder that is a hate crime. That’s why we want a hate crimes law.”

Nonhlanhla Skosana, a spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice, a non-profit organisation that fights gender-based violence in South Africa, said corrective rape reports seemed to be on the rise.

“We’ve actually noticed that in areas that are more open and accepting of lesbians, we see more reporting of corrective rape,” she said.

When Zodwa Moloi last saw her niece, she was off to hang out at a local tavern with friends.

Before she left, she made sure to tell her aunt: “As soon as I get my first paycheck, I’m buying you the best Mother’s Day present.”

Saturday Star