Cape Town — Human rights activists have welcomed the sentencing of four men who were found guilty of stabbing and stoning a 19-year-old lesbian to death in 2006.
Khayelitsha Regional Court magistrate Raadiyah Wathen sentenced Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi, and Mbulelo Damba to 18 years each, with four years suspended for five years.
People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty said the sentence sent a loud message against homophobia across Africa.
"The court in Khayelitsha has sent a strong message by finding that the men who killed Ms Nkonyana did so because she was living openly as a lesbian and that this warranted the harshest penalty," it said.
"We hope that this message is heard loud and clear across the rest of the continent, where homophobic discrimination is widespread and where homosexuality is a crime."
The group said it was also working to advocate for the rights of gay and lesbian refugees who had been forced to flee their home countries and were seeking refuge in South Africa.
"Although in many parts of South African society homophobia is still prevalent, today we are proud that South Africa's legal system has upheld our Constitution and has set an example to the rest of Africa to follow."
crowd outside the court cheered, sang, raised their fists and danced when news came that the men had been sentenced.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Eric Ntabazalila said the sentence sent a message that hate crimes would not be tolerated.
"We are happy that the court agreed with us that these gentlemen did not show any remorse and had a slim chance of being rehabilitated," he said.
Nkonyana's stepfather Gladwell Mandini, 45, said the long court case, which was postponed numerous times, had been an ordeal for the family.
"It wasn't easy all these times the case was postponed. As the family we have accepted this, but the loss we will not forget."
Jayne Arnoff, a director of the gay and lesbian organisation Triangle Project, said it was satisfied with the sentencing.
"The magistrate said Zoliswa had a right to live openly as a lesbian because that was her own choice," she said.
"She sent out a strong message that we are a diverse society and that we must respect each other's diversity." The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) also welcomed the sentencing.
"This will serve as a lesson to those that purport homophobic attitude towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersexed people that such cannot be tolerated in our country," the group said.