South Africa: Thapelo Makutle, gay pageant winner, killed and 'beheaded' in apparent hate crime (UPDATES)

Thapelo Makutle, winner of a recent gay pageant in Kuruman, a city in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, was murdered and beheaded because he was gay, according to reports.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A young gay man from South Africa's remote Northern Cape province was brutally killed and nearly beheaded, activists said today, describing the murder as a "homophobic hate crime."

Thapelo Makutle, 24, recently won a Miss Gay pageant in the small town of Kuruman, and volunteered for a gay and lesbian rights group that worked in rural communities.

He was reportedly killed early Saturday following an argument over his sexuality with two unidentified men.

The men followed Makutle back to his rented room in Kuruman, broke down the door and attacked him, according to Shaine Griqua, director of the group LEGBO Northern Cape.

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Police have yet to confirm the motive of the attack, and haven't made any arrests in connection with the murder.

Makutle's body was "severely mutilated," LEGBO said in a statement. "His throat was so badly slit, and it was near decapitation."

"Unconfirmed reports from witnesses state that Thapelo’s genitalia was severed and inserted into his mouth," the statement said, adding: "There are no signs that this was an attempted burglary, rather [it] is evident that [he] was killed because of his sexual orientation."

Makutle, who went by the nicknames ThaBling and Queen Bling and self-identified as gay and transgender, was a "well-mannered and principled human being," Griqua told South African website MambaOnline

"It's so sad. I can't describe the pain that we are feeling right now," Griqua said. "We have lost a young, talented, gay man who was open about who he was. The last few days have been like a dark cloud."

Makutle's funeral will be held on Saturday in Kuruman.

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Griqua said hate crimes are increasingly common in the Northern Cape, and police are poorly trained to deal with incidents of violence against gays and lesbians. 

"These people [the police] are not reliable. They don’t even know what a hate crime is. If you ask them if it was related to his sexuality they will say ‘no’ because they don't understand the context," Griqua told MambaOnline.

Cosatu, South Africa's main trade union federation, called on the provincial government to organize an urgent summit on hate crimes.

In a statement, Cosatu's Northern Cape secretary Anele Gxoyiya condemned "this brutal attack on a young, brilliant and educated soul whose head was chopped off in a hate crime."

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Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said Makutle's murder is part of a spate of homophobic hate crimes in South Africa, and called on President Jacob Zuma to speak out about the issue.

"This violent and gruesome assault is yet another reminder that many of our country's people are still denied the basic rights and freedoms which our Constitution enshrines," she said.

While South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to extend equal rights to homosexuals, and the only nation in Africa to allow same-sex marriage, the reality of life in townships and rural areas for black gays and lesbians has been one of often brutal violence.

In a high-profile incident last year, Noxolo Nogwaza, a lesbian activist from KwaThema township near Johannesburg, was gang-raped and then stabbed and stoned to death, in what the New York-based group Human Rights Watch described as part of an "epidemic" of hate crimes against gays and lesbians in South Africa. 

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