Transgender Pageant Winner Murdered in South Africa

Gay activists in South Africa say the gruesome murder of a transgender pageant winner known as "ThaBling" has created a "fear crisis" in the local gay community.

Thapelo Makhutle, 24, was found dead in his apartment last week in the town of Kuruman. His body was severely mutilated, according to a friend and director of the LEGBO Northern Cape gay rights advocacy group where Makhutle volunteered.

"We and his family are just devastated," said LEGBO Director Shaine Griqua. "This has a very negative impact on the gay community here. Many live in fear and are afraid for their security. Now it is worse. We are trying to counsel them through this fear crisis."

Griqua said another friend saw two men arguing with Makhutle about his sexuality the night he was killed. He said the attackers broke down the door to Makhutle's room in order to kill him, nearly severed his head, and cut off his genitals. Northern Cape police told the South African Press Association they are still looking for suspects.

Makhutle was recently crowned Miss Gay Kuruman and participated in the Kimberley Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Festival.

"He was a friend you could always count on to cheer you up and help you get through any difficult time," said Griqua. "He was openly gay. He was proud of who he was and believed that freedom in South Africa was attainable."

South Africa is the only country in Africa with constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, yet gays and lesbians in rural areas and black townships are frequently victims of discrimination and violence.

LEGBO members are calling on police to do a thorough investigation of Makhutle's death, which they believe is a hate crime. They are organizing a march to call for justice in the case before a memorial service on Friday afternoon.