‘I thought being raped was the norm’

A woman raped throughout childhood learns that her daughter was raped as a five-year-old. The police delay investigating the case. What hope do the mother and her child have for justice?

“I did not know I was being raped. I thought being raped was the norm or … some form of showing respect for the elders … I grew up in times [when] you were forced to be obedient to elders, otherwise you [would] face severe beatings and be accused of disrespect.”

Two family members raped Nomagugu*, 43, repeatedly from when she was 7 until she was 15.

“I never told anyone when I was raped for the first time, including my family. You’re the first person I’ve ever told in this world,” she says.

Nomagugu, who lives in southern Johannesburg and is a mother of five, grew up in Mvulazi in Hlabisa, northern KwaZulu-Natal. She says a distant family relative was the first person who raped her. He raped her two or three times a week while looking after livestock in the grazing area, until she was 10.

In 1986, at age 11, she moved to her grandmother’s house about 300m away, and the abuse from that man stopped. The house was a one-room rondavel divided into a bedroom, kitchen, dining room and sitting room in which the extended family lived.

No reprieve for survivors

Lisa Vetten, a research fellow at the Wits City Institute, has written extensively about rape. In a paper published in 1997, she writes: “South Africa’s response to sexual violence is far from consistent. The rape survivor may be labelled either as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ victim with serious implications for how women are treated by the police, [the] courts and medical [professionals].”

In her work, Vetten includes statistics from the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders. The institute calculated that only 1 in 20 incidents of rape is reported to the police, which translates to 1 incident of rape every 83 seconds in South Africa.

Two decades later, very little has changed. According to Africa Check, an independent fact-checking organisation, 50 108 sexual offences were recorded by the police in 2017/18, up from 49 660 in 2016/17. An average of 110 incidents of rape are recorded by the police each day.

“What people are not getting is that this is a complex phenomenon … There is no single magic bullet solution to solve this. We need to develop complex solutions for complex issues,” Vetten told New Frame.

The Optimus Study on Child Abuse, Violence and Neglect in South Africa, conducted between September 2013 and February 2015 by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and the University of Cape Town’s Gender, Health and Justice research unit and psychology department, looked into the incidence of sexual abuse among children. Of its sample group of almost 10 000 children, it discovered that about one in three children had been sexually abused at some point in their lives.

At the National Gender Summit against GBV and femicide which took place on 1 November, justice minister  Michael Masutha revealed that 41% of the 124 000 cases of rape in the last three years were against children.

Raped, pregnant and then suicidal

Nomagugu’s cousin raped her repeatedly from when she was 12 until she was 15. He was in his mid-20s. The rape resulted in Nomagugu having a baby daughter, who was born in March 1991. “Falling pregnant helped me. It made him … stop raping me,” she said.

“When we went to the clinic to check, they told me I was pregnant,” Nomagugu said. “My mother asked, ‘Who impregnated you?’”

Nomagugu’s mother got hold of Mdlwembe* [the accused]. “I said to him, ‘Why did you do what you did to my child?’ He replied: ‘I am sorry.’ We then informed the uncles about this issue. They advised that Mdlwembe should buy a goat to cleanse Nomagugu because what he did would anger the ancestors,” said Nomagugu’s mother. “[But] just before he had to cleanse her, he died.”

‘A torture . . . I couldn’t withstand’

“Why is God still keeping me?” Nomagugu asked. She has tried to take her life three times. Her most recent suicide attempt was in November 2015, when she found out that her youngest daughter, who was five years old, had been raped at a boarding school in Mpumalanga.

“I decided to kill myself because when my last-born experiences what I had been experiencing, [it] was [a] torture … I couldn’t withstand,” she said, crying.

When she reported the incident to the police in 2015, they opened a case but refused to give a case number. “The police never gave us an update, Nomagugu said.  New Frame has since found the case number and handed it over to her.

A medical report from the boarding school clinic, which New Frame has seen, dated 14 May 2015 – four months before Nomagugu would discover that her child was raped – states that teachers complained that the child was underperforming and was “[showing] signs of abuse … She uses black crayons to scratch [her books].”

Nomagugu wants to know why the school kept this secret for months and never told her or reported it to the police. Her daughter, now eight years old, lives in KwaZulu-Natal. She left the school after the incident.

The Mpumalanga education department has not responded questions sent by New Frame via email on 18 September 2018.

“Since New Frame brought the case to our attention, it is the reason … we’ve decided to start the investigation afresh. I was with an investigator who’s waiting for a statement from the mother of the child. I gave the case to a senior member so that … all the corners of this case will be investigated properly and with integrity,” said Colonel Mbongwa, the new station commander of Piet Retief police station.

*Not their real names

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