Zoliswa Nkonyana Murder Trial Set To Conclude After Five Years

JOINT STATEMENT: Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Free Gender, Triangle Project and Sonke Gender Justice.

On 4 February 2006, Zoliswa Nkonyana was brutally murdered in Khayeltisha, Cape Town. A group of young men stabbed, clubbed, kicked and beat her to death. Zoliswa was 19 years old and lived openly as a lesbian. For this, she lost her life.  She died only metres from her home.

The court case – which has been ongoing for more than five years – against nine of the men who stand accused of murdering her is finally scheduled to be concluded.  We have been informed by the Magistrate that the verdict will be delivered when the trial reconvenes from 7 – 9 September 2011 at the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court.

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Free Gender, Triangle Project and Sonke Gender Justice will mobilise outside the court today, until such time as a verdict is delivered and sentencing is handed down.  We call on partner organisations and the Media to join us in ensuring that justice prevails.

The manner in which Nkonyana’s case has progressed illustrates severe failures in our criminal justice system, particualy in poor under developed areas such as Khayelitsha where crime is at its worst, and where the Court and Police services are heavily under-resourced.  Some of these include:

  • In the five and a half years since the case began, there have been upwards of 40 postponements. A case of this nature should never take this long in a functional, healthy justice system.
  • The main state witness was attacked on the day of the murder and was threatened during the trial. She left the province fearing for her life, and was not given the necessary protection and support.
  • Initial investigations were slow and poorly carried out.
  • In 2008 the State was found to have committed gross negligence for failing to ensure that witnesses were present in court.
  • There has been poor case management as defence attorneys routinely missed court dates without any repercussions.
  • In 2010, four of the accused managed to escape from their holding cells, causing great panic and fear. They were later recaptured but a police sergeant was arrested for aiding them in their escape and defeating the ends of justice.

For one case to be affected by so many failures is unacceptable but not unusual.  It illustrates much of what is wrong with the our Criminal Justice System. All of these problems occurred, in spite of constant public pressure, media coverage and repeated calls from a number of civil society organisations for it to be prioritised.  Our organisations have attended every court date; spoken to prosecutors to keep track of the case to apply pressure where possible; helped to provide information about the progress to Zoliswa’s family; facilitated media coverage and met with the previous MEC for Community Safety, Albert Fritz to specifically bring this case to his attention.

Many other victims of crimes and their families will never receive the same level of support.  It has become clear that in many cases, justice is a privlidge dispensed only to those who can afford to pay for it. For the marginalised and the poor there is little substantive assistance to be found from the State. Without prohibitively expensive legal representation, many victims and their families, have little hope of having their cases dealt with in a timeous and professional manner.

This case also shines a spotlight on the intolerance, intimidation and dangerous environment that lesbian and gay people living in informal settlements are facing, including related issues such as corrective rape.  It has also illustrated how our Police are failing to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Nkonyana was denied of her constitutaional rights to, amongst others – equality, human dignity, life,  freedom and security of the person. Her family has been denied of their constitutional right to just administrative action, and as a result have suffered years of prolonged trauma. When the case is next heard, it will be in its 66th month. There is little joy to be taken from its impending end. It is hoped, however, that this case can serve as a catalyst for positive change. Already, the example of Nkonyana’s case is being used to call for hate crimes legislation to be passed, which will give greater power to victims and their families. It is critical, too, that Government looks at ways of improving access to justice and preventing crimes from occuring, through identifying and addressing shortcomings in the criminal justice process and safety provisions in these communties.


For more information contact:

Angy Peter  (Social Justice Coalition) – 0783714147

Lumkile Sizila  (Treatment Action Campaign) – 0765015636

Funeka Soldaat  (Free Gender) – 0820680440

Marlow Valentine  (Triangle Project) – 0214483812

Sikhangela Mabhulu  (Sonke Gender Justice) – 0839506512


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