Thokozile Gumede’s face filled with sorrow and pain as she explained how her granddaughter, Sisanda Gumede, was killed. What made it worse for the 79-year-old was that the alleged perpetrator is not only a close relative and cousin of the 28-year-old, but he later gloated about removing the “curse” from the family by stabbing Sisanda near her home in Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal on the evening of 25 September. She was rushed to hospital but died from her injuries.
Sisanda had reportedly tried to intervene when the suspect was abusing a young boy. He allegedly said he cannot be told anything by “a lesbian”, drew his knife and stabbed Sisanda in the neck before fleeing the scene on foot. A team of detectives traced him to Umkhomazi, more than 50km from the scene of the stabbing, and arrested him.
The murder is another reminder of the rampant hate crimes perpetuated against members of the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, which have become commonplace with little done by the authorities to stop them. Sisanda’s murder came shortly after the killing of Anele Bhengu, 28, who was stabbed on 13 June in KwaMakhutha, about 21km from where Sisanda was killed.
Other recent LGBTQIA+ killings include Lonwabo Jack, a 22-year-old who was found on his birthday in June with multiple stab wounds in his chest and body in Cape Town’s Nyanga township. Nathaniel Mbele was found with stab wounds to the chest in Boipatong, Gauteng, on 2 April.
There are also the deaths of Andile “Lulu” Ntuthela, 40, who was butchered, burned and buried in a shallow grave in KwaNobuhle near Kariega in April; Sphamandla Khoza, 34, whose throat was slit and his body thrown in the veld in Ntuzuma township north of Durban in April; and Nonhlanhla Kunene, 37, whose half-naked body was found near a school in Edendale outside Pietermaritzburg in March. Liyabona Mabishi, 16, was stabbed for accidentally bumping into a man. Her family found her lying in a pool of blood in the eNkanini shack settlement near Khayelitsha in Cape Town.
Devastated by loss
Thokozile said she is heartbroken because she had to raise Sisanda and her two siblings single-handedly after their mother died in the 1990s. “We, as a family, had accepted Sisanda the way she was,” she said. “We knew that there was nothing we could do to change her. We had expected everyone else in the community to accept her the way she was. But from time to time I used to get taunted by people calling me uMaGumede ozala isitabane (the MaGumede who gave birth to a lesbian).
“I took these taunts on the chin, but didn’t know that one day she would be stabbed and killed for who she is. That she was killed by my close family member cuts very deep in the heart. She was killed by someone who was supposed to protect her.”
Thokozile said her granddaughter kept her informed about queer issues. “She even borrowed money to go to the funeral of the girl who was killed in KwaMakhutha [Bhengu] and she often went to the trial because she felt that her killing was not right and her killers needed to be punished. Now my granddaughter is also gone, killed brutally. What has this world come to?”
Sisanda ended her schooling at grade 11 because she had been taunted for “liking other girls”, said Thokozile. “Teachers called me to the school and said Sisanda is in love with the girls and the school cannot condone that. They said she must stop coming to school because she is causing trouble.”
Another person devastated by the killing is Sibusiso Gumede, Sisanda’s older brother. He had to tell his family, including his grandmother, about the incident. “The people who were rushing her to hospital phoned me and told me that she had died on their way to Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital. I have never felt such a feeling. I felt cold. When I was brought home to tell my family about this, I couldn’t contain myself. I just wept and wept,” he said.
He and his sister had a close relationship. “Whenever she wanted something, she would come to me and tell me that I am her only hope. In hard times I also found comfort in telling her about my problems and she would console me,” he said, tears running down his cheeks.
The suspect, a 24-year-old man, has appeared in the Umbumbulu magistrate’s court twice. Residents said he has a history of violence and that this was not the first incident in which he had stabbed someone from the area. But they also said they believe killing Sisanda was a hate crime.
Nonhlanhla Khoza, KwaZulu-Natal’s member of the executive committe for social development, said she is “deeply ashamed that in our nation we still have people facing discrimination based on their sexual orientation. This is a gross violation of basic human rights and we should unite to end such crimes.”
She urged residents to work with the government, the police and other stakeholders to make a stand against the killing of LGBTQIA+ people in KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces. “It must sink in the minds of all those involved in such crimes that no one has a right to take a life and abuse someone else because of their sexuality. Our government has made giant strides towards safeguarding LGBTQIA+ rights. However, incidents similar to this one water down all efforts that have been made,” said Khoza.
“We have committed ourselves to fighting for justice and we want our society to work together to end these crimes. We warn communities to work together to end hate crimes, homophobia and other forms of unfair discrimination against LGBTQIA+ communities.”
Tammy Williams, an LGBTQIA+ activist and manager of the Pride of Durban club, a queer-friendly establishment, said they are concerned about their safety. “So many of our members have been killed here in Durban and surrounding areas that we are saying enough is enough. It has come to a time when we have to take these matters seriously. We are busy arranging some meetings of LGBTQIA+ members in order to devise plans and other measures to prevent these attacks against innocent people. It is clear that the authorities are not taking these killings seriously.”