A judge has suggested that the murder of former Banyana Banyana lesbian soccer player Eudy Simelane was not a hate crime.
According to reports by LGBT rights researcher Dipika Nath, posted on the Human Rights Watch website, the claim was made by Judge Mavundla in his sentencing of Thato Mphiti.
Mphiti (24) was one of four men who were charged with the activist’s murder. He pleaded guilty on Thursday while the other three pleaded not guilty and will be tried in a separate trial.
On Friday, the judge cited Mphiti’s “youthfulness,” lack of education and drinking on the night of the murder as mitigating factors in the sentence.
Having asked Mphiti if he had known that Simelane was lesbian and being told that he did not, Mavundla concluded: “In my view, [Simelane’s sexual orientation] is of no significance.”
It is not known if any of the other three accused were aware of her sexuality. Mphiti earlier claimed that Simelane was killed when she recognised one of her other attackers; who could well have been aware that she was a lesbian.
Mphiti said that the murder was a robbery attempt gone wrong. The judge sentenced him to 31 years in prison, but deducted the time already served from the sentence. Activists fear that he could be paroled within as little as ten years.
Thirty-one-year-old Simelane was assaulted, raped and murdered in the Tornado section of Kwa Thema in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the end of April 2008.
Her murder has often been cited by activists as an example of rampant hate-based crime against lesbians in South Africa.