Article By Kellyn Botha

On 1 July 2017, Pitso Tshelang was brutally murdered in the small town of Swartruggens. As a transgender woman, Tshelang’s is the latest in a slew of hate crimes against queer womxn in the North West Province in 2017.

Living with her elderly mother in a shack in Borolelo township, Tshelang was the sole breadwinner of the family, and was not only accepted, but beloved by her community. The family’s neighbour and local pastor, Ditshele Moreki, said, “We learnt that she was different from all the other kids at a very young age. She would cook with all the other women at funeral, weddings and other community ceremonies. She was a drum master at the Sangoma places. She sang her lungs out in our church all night long at vigils. We at United Holy Spirit Church accepted her the way she was. This community really lost a loving soul.”

The ordeal began on the evening of 30 June when the 24-year-old joined her boyfriend, Naledi Molokwane and cousin, Ketlhotse Mphehlo, for a night out. After a few drinks in town, the three decided to head home, but stopped off at another tavern for one last drink. While there, Tshelang went outside while her boyfriend played a game of pool, before Mphehlo alerted him to someone outside who was fighting with his girlfriend. Witnesses claim that an acquaintance of the trio, Tebogo Montshiwa, had been slapping Tshelang outside the tavern while repeatedly insulting her about her gender and sexuality. It is alleged that Montshiwa had been harassing Tshelang earlier the same day while in town.

When Molokwane came to the defence of his girlfriend, the argument got heated, and Montshiwa allegedly threatened to murder Tshelang. Suddenly Montshiwa attacked Tshelang with a broken beer bottle, stabbing her three times in her neck and once in the back.

Shaken but apparently fine, the trio left the scene, planning to get Tshelang back home. But when the bleeding grew worse and the young woman grew weaker, Molokwane realised she would die unless she got to a hospital. They turned back to town, carrying the weakening body of Pitso Tshelang. They tried desperately to hitchhike to the hospital. All the passers-by refused. They didn’t want someone who was bleeding that much in their cars, claim Tshelang’s companions.

Well into the early hours of July, Pitso Tshelang asked the others to put her down. The ordeal had exhausted her. Leaving her to rest with Mphehla, her boyfriend raced to the hospital on his own, and managed to return with a wheelchair to push his helpless girlfriend the rest of the way. But it was too late. By the time the trio got to the hospital, Pitso Tshelang had passed away. Minutes before they arrived.

Tebogo Montshiwa fled the bar where the attack happened, but was later apprehended by the local police. On 11 July Montshiwa stood before the Swartruggens Magistrate who denied the accused bail and set the trial date to 23 August. But even the full force of the law cannot make whole a distraught family, and heartbroken lover.

“Pitso and I were in love for six full years. I was a gang member, a criminal, a drug user, always in prison for a lot of criminal acts. All this changed when I met Pitso. Pitso changed my life,” says Naledi Molokwane.

“I was never ashamed of telling people that she is my girlfriend. We got all kinds of criticism and a lot of negativity, but that never affected us. I loved her and still do. That animal ruined my life. He took away the only thing that meant the world to me. Tebogo deserves to rot in jail.”