Hate crimes motivated by xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and other forms of intolerance continue to hinder South Africa’s struggle for social justice, according to a new study.
Bearing the biggest brunt of these crimes are African foreign nationals, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, who are ostracised or attacked because of their nationality or sexuality.
The study, which was released this week by the Hate Crimes Working Group and is the first of its kind in the country, details the extent, nature and impact of hate crimes in South Africa.
For 10 years, the department of justice has promised to enact a law to protect vulnerable groups such as the LGBTI community, but no legislation has been passed.
For five years, the research team, led by Professor Juan Nel, sifted through 945 cases of hate crime, hate speech, and unfair intentional discrimination of vulnerable and marginalised groups in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
The report stated: “Less than 42% of victims were born in South Africa; 28% originated from an east African country and 18% from a central African country. Three percent of cases involved victims from southern African [excluding South Africa] countries and 15 involved victims from west African countries. Asian non-nationals were also targeted in 8% of the cases.”
Many victims who were targeted because of their nationality related that they were victimised when the perpetrator heard them speaking their home languages on the phone or among themselves. Even when they did speak a South African language fluently, their accent was still a telling factor.
The research identified cases through case files, face-to-face interviews with victims, third-party recollections, media reports and witness accounts.
The ages of the victims ranged from birth to 81, and 22 of them were infants or children younger than 18. At least 35% of cases involved lesbian and gay victims, while 8% involved transgender victims, where transgender women were particularly affected.
Researcher Yolanda Mitchell said: “Hate crimes are message crimes; they serve to send a message not only to the victim, but to the community as well that their kind will be obliterated. The message behind the attack of Lerato Moloi – the black lesbian who was raped, beaten and stoned to death last year – was that you will be obliterated.”
She added that perpetrators of hate crimes were often known to the victims or were part of the community in which the crime was committed.
“Of the cases we looked into, two in three cases were not reported to the police and only 62 cases were seen through to the verdict, where 16 convictions had a hate motive,” Mitchell said.
Victims often didn’t report the crimes because they didn’t trust the police and were afraid they would be arrested, or would be told that the SA Police Service only served South African citizens.
Nel said: “The purpose of this report is to provide evidence based on the occurrence, nature and impact of hate crimes. This information is now at the disposal of policymakers.
“Hate crimes have an especially traumatic effect on victims and there is very little access to justice for them. We all have a role to play in giving a meaningful response to the crimes.”