Brutal death highlights plight of black gays
Township man stabbed multiple times for his sexuality
● Call centre agent Sphamandla Khoza paid the ultimate price for being a proud gay man in a community where not everybody embraced his identity.
Days before he was stabbed multiple times and thrown into a ditch near his home in Ntuzuma, Durban, in what is being deemed a homophobic hate crime, the 34year-old told his grandmother he’d received threats because of his sexual orientation.
Partially blind Phumelele Khoza pleaded with her grandson not to venture out at night. “He told me he was a grown man and nothing would happen, but something did happen,” a heartbroken Khoza said.
On Easter Sunday, family and friends gathered outside the Khoza home to bid farewell to him following his death a week earlier.
In what is believed to be a show of triumph by his killer, Khoza’s shoes were left in the vicinity of his home.
Thando Mgenge, 25, handed himself to police a day after Khoza’s body was found by a school lift club driver who followed a blood trail to a ditch next to a primary school.
Mgenge appeared briefly in the Ntuzuma magistrate’s court on Thursday and was remanded in custody. Outside court, Khoza’s relatives, including his father, Emmanuel Nkosinathi, gathered.
“My heart is sore. As a family we just want justice to be done,” he said.
Khoza’s death came in the same week the Durban high court sentenced Mvuyisi Noguda to 25 years for stabbing Umlazi LGBTQI activist and musician Lindo Cele last year.
These cases have brought to the fore the fear of LGBTQI people living in townships of being attacked or killed because of their sexuality.
Khoza’s sister, Pamela, said while most of the community knew he was gay, “obviously not everyone liked it. He was threatened by certain people because they did not like gays and told him that his throat would be slit.”
She pleaded for tolerance.
“If you don’t like gay people, stay away from them. Why must they hide themselves? They want to live in truth. They are being accepted in their homes, who are you to tell them how to live their lives?”
Ndumiso Ngidi, a relative and academic, believes Khoza’s only crime was that he lived openly as a gay man.
“Spha died because someone hated his sexuality so much that they decided to end his life. This is a common narrative in SA, a country with a progressive constitution and
a bill of rights,” he said.
Ngidi said attacks on and bullying of members of the LGBTQI community were common in townships. “Misinformation, misunderstanding and religious beliefs influence this behaviour. I think in the suburbs there are more layers of protection.”
A research paper Ngidi co-authored entitled “Exploring queerphobic geographies in Southern Africa” examined the experiences of queer men and transwomen in spaces that they have identified as queerphobic and violent in SA and Namibia.
Professor Zethu Matebeni, National Research Foundation chair in sexualities, genders and queer studies at the University of Fort Hare, said the LGBTQI community has been living “in fear and anger for a very long time now”.
“Hate crimes are not new in SA. Black lesbians have been particularly targeted and
brutally murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender presentation.
“Many crimes against lesbian, gay and trans people have taken place in townships. Many townships are characterised by violence, in the form of gangs or petty crimes and other forms.”
But Matebeni said prejudice, marginalisation, discrimination and violations were not limited to townships. “That Sphamandla lived in the township and was out as a gay man should not make his life less significant than that of someone living elsewhere.
“The kind of violence we see when a person’s body is mutilated till its death coexists with the everyday minor forms of verbal abuse, battering, bullying and torture — it should not surprise us then that a person has been murdered for being lesbian, gay, transgender or intersex when we have called that person subhuman, unAfrican or ungodly.”