I've been wanting to write something about Charlene Makaza for a while, because I think her unhappy and short life should be marked. I've been putting off writing about her, simply because the topic is such a sad one. It makes me look at my own healthy, happy children and think, 'There but for the grace of God...'.
Charlene Makaza was the adopted daughter of George Gwaze, who was acquitted in May of sexually violating and murdering the HIV positive 10-year-old child. Charlene was Gwaze's niece and an orphan, adopted by Gwaze and his wife after her parents died of AIDS. Their family emigrated to New Zealand to escape Zimbabwe under Mugabe. The Police alleged that one night, while Charlene's sister slept nearby in the same room, Gwaze had submitted the little girl to an 'horrific' sexual assault and suffocated her.
The jury were not swayed by the prosecution's arguments, and the actions of the Police were criticised on a number of grounds (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4558377a20455.html). Within days of Charlene's death, the Police had told media that Charlene had been a healthy girl whose death was not the result of natural causes, and that her family had washed her bedding following a sexual assault. Police also informed media that they'd been briefed on the sexual beliefs of Africans, including the myth that sex with virgins cures AIDS. The incitement to racial animosity against 'those people' was pretty clear.
However, what the Police claimed were the effects of sexual assault and strangulation were, according to experts, the effects of AIDS on a gravely ill child. The Police were criticised for failing to obtain appropriate advice from a paediatric AIDS specialist. The prosecution's 'smoking gun' - a trace of semen found on Charlene's underpants - was most likely the result of an innocent transfer in the wash, according to another expert. On discovering how seriously ill the little girl was, the Gwazes had not rushed to wash away the evidence of any sexual assault, as was implied by the Police, but had in fact taken Charlene immediately to the doctor. George, whom the Police painted as a monster, held the little girl's hand and comforted her as she died.
What made me saddest about this case is that, somehow, in all of this, the utter tragedy of this little girl's death was lost. Charlene Makaza died a squalid and cruel death because she was poor, because she was the wrong colour and because she came from the wrong part of the world - because she was one of 'those people'.