South Africa team to tackle gay and lesbian hate crimes

Activists at trial of killers of gay rights activist Eudy Simelane (2009) Gay rights activist Eudy Simelane was raped and killed in KwaThema three years ago

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South Africa is to set up a team to tackle hate crimes against gay people, the justice ministry says.

The decision comes after 170,000 activists from around the world demanded action to help lesbians targeted for "corrective rape".

The authorities have been accused of not doing enough following the recent killing and rape of lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza.

Police say they do not consider sexual orientation when investigating murder.

"To us, murder is murder, whether somebody is Zulu, English, male or female - we don't see colour, we don't see gender," police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi told the BBC on Tuesday, after rights groups urged the police to do more to find those responsible Ms Nogwaza's death.

She was stoned, stabbed and gang-raped in the KwaThema township east of Johannesburg over the Easter weekend.

Unlike in many African countries, homosexual acts are legal in South Africa and discrimination based on sexual orientation is banned, but activists say gay and lesbian people are often attacked in townships.

They say "corrective rape" - when a lesbian is raped to either punish her, or "correct" her behaviour - is becoming increasingly common.

'We need protection'

Ndumie Funda, founder of the gay rights organisation Luleki Sizwe which works in 10 black townships and rural areas near Cape Town, welcomed the government's announcement.

She said it was important to get "corrective rape" classified as a hate crime.

"The South African constitution is one of the highly respected and acknowledged constitutions and it says we are all equal; we're therefore reminding our government to say that this was being promised and we voted for you so we need protection," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Luleki Sizwe started an online petition at Change.org to get the government to take action.

"In less than six months, a tiny group of township activists has 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," Change.org representative Benjamin Joffe-Walt is quoted by the Sapa news agency as saying.

Justice ministry spokesman Tlali Tlali said the the task team would begin its work in July and include six representatives from the judiciary, police and department of social development and six representatives from the gay community.

"The team will be charged with developing a legislative intervention plan, a public awareness strategy, and LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex]-sensitive shelters," he said.

In 2008, female footballer and gay rights activist Eudy Simelane was also killed in KwaThema, some 80km (50 miles) east of Johannesburg.

Two people were given long prison terms for her murder and rape, although prosecutors denied that her sexuality had been a motive.

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