Killers of Zoliswa Nkonyana finally sentenced - SJC

Four men convicted of brutal 2006 murder receive 18 year sentences


Justice delayed is justice denied. There is no phrase more apt to describe the case of Zoliswa Nkonyana who was brutally murdered only metres from home in Khayelitsha in February 2006. A group of about twenty young men stabbed, clubbed, kicked and beat her to death for living openly as a lesbian.

Today marks the end of her murder trial which has taken almost six years to conclude. It has been characterised by consistent failures of the police and the criminal justice system to dispense justice timeously and has caused untold agony for Nkonyana's family and friends.

Of the nine men ultimately charged for her murder, five were found not guilty in September 2011 - having spent many years in jail waiting for their trial to conclude. Today, the Court sentenced each of the remaining four to eighteen years in jail. Because they have already spent time in jail while their trial progressed, four of these years have been suspended, meaning that theirs is an effective fourteen year sentence. With good behaviour and attempts to rehabilitate, there is a possibility that they could be released in seven years.

Hopefully Nkonyana's family can find some closure, as protracted and painful as the last six years have been. The family has welcomed the sentence handed down by the Khayelitsha Magistrate's Court.

After almost six years of unnecessary hardship, today is a day to celebrate as justice has eventually been served. However, when investigating the history of Nkonyana's case, one is left with little faith in the police and criminal justice system serving the community of Khayelitsha to protect and dispense justice.

Initial investigations were slow and poorly carried out. Nkonyana's case was postponed approximately fifty times. Often this was for unacceptable reasons. In 2008 the State was found to have committed gross negligence for failing to ensure that witnesses were present in court. In 2010, four of the accused managed to escape from their holding cells.

They were later recaptured but a police sergeant was arrested for aiding them in their escape and defeating the ends of justice. The main state witness was threatened during the trial and decided to leave the province fearing for her life. She was not given the necessary protection and support that she should have been.

Over the past six years, a number of Khayelitsha-based civil society organisations including the Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Free Gender, Triangle Project and Sonke Gender Justice have attended Nkonyana's court dates, monitored progress, spoken to prosecutors and tried to assist her family in finding justice. It is unlikely that this case would have concluded without the constant support and pressure from these organisations. We have held countless protests outside the Khayelitsha Magistrate's Court and raised awareness in the media regarding this case.

Having monitored a number of criminal cases in Khayelitsha over the last few years, our organisations maintain that such issues as experienced in Nkonyana's case are not isolated, but represent a much greater problem.

Given this, in November 2011 a number of Khayelitsha-based civil society organisations lodged an official complaint with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, requesting that she appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the systemic and continued failures of the Khayelitsha police and criminal justice system. This failure is both in terms of protection and dispensing of justice once a crime has been committed.

Today we remember Zoliswa and thousands of other people who have been needlessly murdered - many of whom have then had justice denied. We wish Nkonyana's family well and hope they will be able to move forward from this trauma. However, we cannot forget the larger context. Unless changes are made and the police and criminal justice system improve, families will continue to suffer as the cases of their loved ones drag painfully through the system.

Statement issued by Joel Bregman and Angy Peter, Social Justice Coalition, February 1 2012

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