On April 20, award-winning lesbian photographer Zanele Muholi was the victim of a burglary at her Cape Town, South Africa home. The thieves did not bother taking the expensive electonics in Muholi’s Vredehoek flat, but managed to find and steal 20 of her external hard drives, which contained five years’ worth of archived photos. Muholi’s irreplaceable loss is devastating, but a more pressing issue is at stake: the life of each African lesbian who was cataloged in her work.
This past Saturday, just 12.6 miles northwest of Vredehoek in the Cape Town township of Nyanga, a 22-year-old lesbian, Phumeza Nkolonzi, was murdered by a gunman who kicked down her door and shot her at point-blank range in front of her mother and six-year-old niece. After three shots, the unidentified attacker fled with Nkolonzi’s cell phone, taking nothing else from the home. Nkolonzi and her family had been watching television when the door was kicked down.
There is no evidence at this time that Nkolonzi’s portrait was inside Muholi’s stolen hard drive, but the close proximity of the crimes, as well as the theft of private contact information (hard drives containing images of lesbian women and a cell phone containing possible lesbian contacts) may indicate a connection. Even Nkolonzi’s murder was random hate crime, other African lesbians are at risk if the contents of Muholi’s hard drives are used as a hit list. Muholi, herself, has expressed fear for her life. The “Los Angeles Times” reported this week that the 39-year-old photographer is coping with the loss of her work as if she were in mourning, and that she is often afraid to be in her own home.
Less than 13 miles away, the family of Nkolonzi is in mourning, as well. In an interview with “The Independent Online,” Nkolonzi’s brother, Solly stated that after the gun man fired the first shot, Nkolonizi asked him what she had done. The gun man did not answer, and fired another two shots.