Xolani Koyana

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TWO NGOs have pulled out of the Justice Department-led task team that was established 14 months ago to tackle hate crimes against homosexuals.

Both cited delays and lack of progress as the reasons for their withdrawal. NGO Free Gender was the first to walk away, saying that while hate crimes were on the increase, the task team had yet to act.

The Women’s Legal Centre followed, saying there hadn’t been much progress.

Last month alone, eight people were killed nationally, allegedly owing to their sexual orientation, a lesbian and gay lobby group claims.

An official from the department confirmed that the terms of reference for the task team had not yet been signed and the initial tasks identified had had to be reassigned twice.

The team, comprising government department officials and about seven gender-based NGOs, was tasked with reviewing the policy and legislation on hate crimes and finding preventive methods.

Asked by the Cape Times to respond, the department admitted that there had been setbacks, but blamed a lack of unity between the organisations and also a lack of trust in the government.

The task team was set up after Luleki Sizwe, an NGO advocating against “corrective rape”, petitioned the government to set up a team to investigate a spate of attacks on gays, lesbians and the transgender community. In May last year, the government announced the formation of a task team, but it was only constituted four months later.

Free Gender founder Funeka Soldaat said they had pulled out owing to the lengthy delays.

“The issue in Khayelitsha was so urgent that we felt that we could not wait for legislation that was going to take years while the attacks continue and people are dying,” she said, adding that they had since formed a relationship with the police in the area to ensure their safety.

Earlier, at a memorial service for Phumeza Nkolonzi, a 21-year-old lesbian who was shot dead in June, Soldaat said lesbians in some Cape Town townships were living in fear of attacks by people who rejected their sexual orientation.

Several of Nkolonzi’s friends were reluctant to attend her memorial service as they were too afraid to enter Nyanga without an escort.

Sanja Bornman, of the Women’s Legal Centre, said they had initially been part of the national task team but now gave technical advice when asked to. “It has not really gotten off the ground in the way in which we had hoped,” Bornman said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Phumla Sekhonyane said that NGOs’ lack of trust in government departments had hindered progress for four months.

“There was an expectation that the department would pay them for their participation in the task team or fund their projects.”

The funds for travelling and accommodation have since been provided by the Foundation for Human Rights.

She said so far the team had commissioned a research study on cases involving hate crimes in courts across the country to assess how they were managed and what the reasons were behind delays in those cases.

The study, conducted at two high courts and eight lower courts in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, North-West Province, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, would be finalised next month.

One of those cases was that of Khayelitsha lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana, which was postponed more than 40 times over five years.

Meanwhile, several other NGOs are still hopeful that the task team will find its feet.

“I will be e-mailing the Department of Justice to ask it about the progress because it has been silent. People are putting pressure on me, wanting to know what is happening with the task team,” said Luleki Sizwe founder Ndumi Funda.

The Tri-Angle Project’s director, Jayne Arnott, who is also a member of the task team, said there had been a number of delays and that there was no formal leadership.

“We, as civil society, have made a concerted effort to ensure civil society representation and contribute where we can to the work of the task team.

“At the last meeting, there was recognition that additional capacity was needed from the side of the government,” Arnott said.