Mon, 27 Sep 2021

  • The Equality Court has awarded a transgender woman R600 000 in damages.
  • Karabo Ndlovu was made to undress in a public toilet so that members of the International Pentecost Holiness Church could examine her genitals.
  • The church was ordered to pay her legal costs, and its most senior member was ordered to apologise to her in person.

A transgender woman who was subjected to a humiliating genital test by members of her church to check whether she was "a real woman" has been awarded R600 000 in damages by the Equality Court.

Karabo Ndlovu lodged a complaint against the International Pentecost Holiness Church, claiming its elders had forced her to undress in a public toilet and conducted a physical examination because the priest did not believe she was female.

Ga-Rankuwa Equality Court Magistrate Ryan van Rooyen also ordered the church to pay Ndlovu's legal costs and the most senior person in the church hierarchy to personally tender an unconditional apology "in writing and verbal" before the end of October.

Ndlovu, in her complaint, said she joined the Tweefontein G congregation in 2013, a year after she underwent gender reassignment surgery.

After she became engaged, she was summoned to the church's Zuurbekom branch in 2015, where the elders told her they wanted to check her sex.

READ | Transgender woman in Cameroon describes 'hell' of five months in prison

After this incident, her fiance broke off their relationship.

The church did not file any opposing papers in court and the matter was adjourned on two occasions because no one appeared on its behalf.

Finally, in December 2020, Magistrate Van Rooyen ruled that "merit and inequality in the form of gross discrimination is proven on the papers".

This week, the magistrate ruled on the damages amount. He said the church obviously had no intention of countering the allegations.

He said Ndlovu had been forced to undress against her will and had been inspected, also against her will.

The magistrate said:

This was in a church setting where people should feel safe and cared for and, dare I say, loved. There was no willingness from the respondent (the church) to engage on the matter after the incident, which no doubt added insult to injury.

The magistrate lamented the lack of "substantial evidence" before him in dealing with the matter of the amount of the damages claimed by Ndlovu, initially R5 million and then, in heads of argument filed later, just less than R2 million.

In previous cases dealing with rape, sexual assault, emotional shock, trauma and mental anguish, he said, only once had the award exceeded R1 million.

In the matter before him, there was a "paucity" of detail about the incident, and how many people had done exactly what.

"But there is no doubt that when something terrible like this is done to a person against their will, there has to be a form of pain and suffering," Van Rooyen said.

For this, he awarded Ndlovu R200 000.

Furthermore, the church's attitude to the case amounted to contumelia (a deliberately offensive act) and for this Ndlovu should receive another R200 000.

Under the heading "injury to personality" and the wrong caused to Ndlovu, the court ordered that the church pay her R200 000, making the total award R600 000.

Source: News24

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