A South African man who claims that he was acting in self-defence when brutally murdering another man who made sexual advances on him has received 18 years in prison – the minimum sentence.

Twenty four year old Frank Mahlakoana, a former law student, has been found guilty in the Pretoria High Court of cutting off 54 year old William Henry Thomas’ genitals and then bludgeoning him to death with a dumbbell as he tried to crawl away.

In passing sentence, the judge rejected Mahlakoana’s claims that he was acting in self-defence after Thomas apparently made sexual advances on him and threatened him with a knife.

Judge Tholi Vilakazi said that the fact that he went on to finish off Thomas with the dumbbell when the man was already incapacitated from having his genitals “recklessly and deliberately” removed, suggested that this was not in self-defence.

The judge further said that he concluded that Mahlakoana’s belief that homosexuality was a sin played a role in the cutting off of Thomas’s genitals.

While Mahlakoana was held up as an exemplarity figure with a four year old daughter, and a first time offender, the judge said that he would nevertheless prescribe the minimum sentence. The court had previously found that he murder was not pre-mediated.

However, Dawie Nel from Tshwane-based LGBT services organisation, OUT, reacted with shock at the sentence. He said that while he did not have all the details of the case, on the face of it, the outcome was “disgusting”.

“I can’t see why the courts would accept the sexual advances excuse. It’s just simply homophobia,” said Nel, questioning whether this played a role in Mahlakoana only receiving 18 years for the murder, despite the brutality of the crime. “It just doesn’t seem appropriate,” he said.

The “gay panic defence” is used in cases in which a defendant claims that he or she acted in a state of violent temporary insanity because of sexual advances from a gay person.

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