Zwelethu Mtethwa, 57, is arguably South Africa´s wealthiest artist – turned murderer. He is a man of global fame who flaunts his desire to secure a “gluten free diet” in prison. At the same time he shows little remorse for kicking a young sex worker until her liver and ribs ruptured to death.
Zwelethu Mtethwa, is one of the most distinguished contemporary artists to emerge in post-independence South Africa. His work adorns spaces in high end exhibition galleries from Johannesburg to New York, fetching him fortunes of mansions, a Porsche and cash.
From now on, he will likely begin life in some of South Africa´s toughest prisons.
While Mr. Mthethwa´s artwork is a stuff of genius, his crime is appalling and shines a disturbing spotlight on South Africa´s elite male celebrities’ impunity to brutalize women – and get away with it.
His apparent disdain for his crime infuriated women rights campaigners when South Africa´s National Art Gallery continued to display his artwork in its 2017 exhibitions at a time Mr. Mthethwa was undergoing court trial for murder.
Mr. Zwelethu Mthethwa was convicted in the Western Cape High Court on 16 March of the murder of one Nokhupila Kumalo in 2013 in Woodstock, Cape Town.
The facts of the crime are that: on the day in question; the deceased, a sex worker, was kicked, stomped, and ravished to death. Narrating the crime, the presiding judge, Patricia Goliath, revealed that forensic evidence showed M.s Nokuphila Kumalo´s liver was “virtually torn in half” and some of her ribs were fractured.
What has rightly angered women rights activists across South Africa is the killer artist´s attempt to flaunt his posh lifestyle in full glare of the court. And perhaps dodge jail.
His attorney, William Booth (advocate) said if the artist (Mr. Mtethwa) would be jailed for a lengthy period, “A few million Rands (cash) would be at risk.”
“Valuable paintings needed to be sold or stored; arrangements needed to be made for two properties and a rented studio,” pleaded the killer artist´s lawyer.
Activists felt grossly insulted when the convicted artist asked that “his gluten intolerance needed to be considered and an eating plan needed to be arranged with (a) prison.”
“Murderers need not plead for special gluten-free meals in prison. Criminals belong to jail not posh apartments,” says Nosipho Vidima the Human Rights Lobbyist at the Sex Workers Education Trust (SWEAT), the most prominent non-profit movement fighting to have commercial sex work decriminalized in South Africa.
Prosecutors too were taken aback by the wealthy killer artist’s bizarre demands. “A dangerous precedent will be set (in South Africa) if Mr. Mthethwa was released on bail for “the sake of [his] convenience,” said the chief prosecutor of the crime, Christenus van der Vijver.
According to Africa Check database, South Africa has some of the world´s highest rates of sexual violence against women, though the number of rapes committed against women in the country cannot be accurately recorded. Commercial sex workers, toiling under the extra burden of stigma, are easy victims.
Violence reports against them usually make little progress in courts. As Ishtar Lakhani, the Human Rights Defence Manager for the Sex Workers Education says, “Sex worker murder cases in South Africa dust away unsolved in police files, because South Africa’s laws do not recognize [that] sex work is labour just like teaching, nursing or bricklaying.”
SWEAT, the most vocal pressure group that ran a national vigil, pressing for conviction in Mr. Mthethwa´s crime, is also leading a campaign to have South Africa´s government establish a database that will digitalize all records of murdered sex workers.
(Picture credits: In photo killer artist Zwelethu Mthethwa is seen in court chatting to his lawyer. Photo by Groundup)
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