Pretoria - The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development has set up a national task team to tackle hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) South Africans.
The move follows a call by 170 000 activists around the world, who demanded corrective action on 'corrective' rape, which is an increasingly common hate crime in which men rape lesbian women to 'turn' them straight or 'cure' them of their sexual orientation.
The justice ministry made the announcement on Tuesday during a meeting in Parliament of senior officials from the ministry, non-profit organisations, SAPS and Social Development, with grassroots activists, who used the social action platform, Change.org, to recruit a record-breaking 170 000 supporters from people in 163 countries.
The decision also follows the recent murder of Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian, who died after being stoned, stabbed with broken glass and gang raped in Kwa-Thema, outside Johannesburg.
The department's chief of staff, who led the meeting, Tlali Tlali, explained that the task team, which will formally begin its deliberations on 15 July 2011, will include six government representatives from the judiciary, SAPS and Social Development and six representatives of the LGBTI community with grassroots support.
"The team will be charged with developing a legislative intervention plan, a public awareness strategy, and LGBTI sensitive shelters," said Tlali.
Intervention options discussed at the meeting included:
* Amending the sexual offences act so as to include sexual orientation as an aggravating factor, which would lead to heavier sentences
* As a preventative measure, allowing the use of magistrates courts as equality courts to address any harassment, discrimination or hate speech
* Consultations on the minimum sentences for hate crimes, inclusive of rape on the basis of sexual orientation
* Emphasising the need for sensitivity around LGBTI cases in the service charter for victims of crime
* Sensitivity training in the SAPS, Justice Department, NPO and Social Development structures
Founder of Luleki Sizwe, an organisation that advocates for the rights of township lesbians, Ndumie Funda, commended government's response, noting that it shows they are willing to work with the gay community.
"But we continue to fight for LGBTI rights until the last drops of blood are spilled," said Funda.
Change.org representative, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, described the campaign's accomplishments as remarkable.
"In less than six months, a tiny group of township activists have mobilised more than 170 000 people from 163 countries and gotten the highest levels of government to address their basic demand that the sadistic crime of 'corrective' rape be taken seriously.
"It has been an honor to support this campaign and we look forward to following the progress of the new task team over the coming year," said Joffe-Walt.