Gang raped by eight men who used a plastic bag as a makeshift condom, Phindi Nkrumah’s plea to President Cyril Ramaphosa for reconstructive surgery remains unsettled.
In November last year, she hiked up her dress in front of the president, revealing ghastly scars from three botched surgeries following her sexual assault in 2005.
Desperate for help, Nkrumah shocked delegates at the Gender-Based Violence Summit when she exposed the aftermath of the night she says robbed her of a better life. Ramaphosa was at the summit to listen to the testimonies of sexual violence survivors.
In May, Nkrumah made her way to the Union Buildings in Tshwane, hoping to gain access to better healthcare while advocating against the early release of convicted rapists.
The 39-year-old mother of one said her first surgery was meant to remove the plastic used as a condom, but the botched surgery led to two more surgeries that have caused long-term damage.
“I was hoping that the president would find a suitable hospital for me because the last time they operated on me [at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital], they just left me open and they said it was going to heal by itself. I went home with an open wound,” she said, touching her lower stomach area.
Having survived three surgeries, she is reluctant to undergo another one. “I can’t go back to Charlotte Maxeke because I can see that they can’t help me.”
Nkrumah’s ordeal led her to work with the One in Nine Campaign, which helps survivors of sexual violence. Feminist placards are mounted on her office walls, one of which reads: Resist patriarchy and sexism.
“Following the summit [attended by Ramaphosa], I did not go to work for two weeks because I was angry and disappointed,” said Nkrumah.
Nothing has been done to this day, she said. “I don’t know what to do. I want the country’s support. If we, the victims of rape, are not heard, what should happen?”
During the gender-based violence dialogue held in Tshwane in March, then Gauteng member of the executive council for community safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane expressed concern about the increase in sexual violence offences in the province.
“Gauteng has experienced some of the most horrendous incidents of sexual assault, rape and brutal killings in recent times,” said Nkosi-Malobane. The province recorded 10 116 sexual offence cases in 2018. “These incidents demonstrate the continuous challenges women face in their homes and at the hands of their loved ones,” she added.
On 11 September 2018, Police Minister Bheki Cele released crime statistics in Parliament for the year to 31 March 2018. Rape topped the list of sexual offences. The police recorded 40 035 cases of rape across South Africa, an average of 110 incidents of reported rape each day.
Lisa Vetten, a researcher who has been focusing on violence against women for more than 20 years, said South African statistics on rape are uninformative, especially when it comes to under-reporting. “They’re either over 20 years old, or saying very different things (which raise questions of method), or say such strange things that cannot possibly be accurate or believable, especially because their methodology is not credible either,” said Vetten.
In a 2014 policy brief titled Rape and Other Forms of Sexual Violence in South Africa, Vetten wrote that although the South African Police Service (SAPS) provides figures around sexual violence once a year, workplaces, as well as educational institutions, are under no obligation to report on their disciplinary proceedings. “As a result, some cases of sexual victimisation will be hidden. Very little research has been undertaken to explore the gaps,” wrote Vetten.
“There is also very little nationally representative data on all types of sexual offences, and in some instances, there is no information at all regarding the experience of particular categories of victims.”
Vetten added that police data under-reports the extent of sexual violence and fails to provide information about the context in which specific forms of rape take place.
She pointed out that there are different factors that affect the reporting of sexual violence. Some victims opt not to report a sexual offence because they fear the legal process, which can entail being subjected to rudeness and poor treatment by the police or being accused of lying, among other reasons.
A new study
Minja Milovanovic, a senior researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, presented a study titled Male Clients of Female Sex Workers in South Africa: Sexual Risk Behaviour and Violence at the ninth South African AIDS Conference in Durban in June. The study looks at the perpetrators and victims of violence to further understanding the factors that drive violence and how they relate to HIV.
Conducted under Wits University’s Perinatal HIV Research Unit, the study looked at 115 men ranging in age from 24 to 36 and living in Klerksdorp in North West province. Of these men, 85% said they had been violent towards women, either sex workers or their intimate partners.
“We know that violence has different facets, and we need to understand violence, not just the violence we’ve been told about by women. We needed to hear it from men who are perpetrating it, in order to help us develop appropriate prevention interventions that help men and women,” said Milovanovic.
The findings of the study aren’t a national representation and are not generalisable, she added, but Milovanovic hoped it would initiate a conversation around violence. “We need to look at these men, understand these men, and we need to work towards making sure that men can take responsibility for their actions. These men are telling us that they are perpetrating violence. Not just towards sex workers, but their intimate partners.”
Women against violence
“Our anger is very valid,” said Yolanda Dyantyi, co-executive director of The Archive: Amabali Wethu, a non-governmental organisation that documents people’s experiences of gender-based violence. “It is time people respond to change it, and end the suffering.”
Dyantyi was raped in 2015, during her first year at Rhodes University. “I was raped by two men on the same night. I was date raped, drugged and taken advantage of,” the 22-year-old explained. Before she became a statistic, Dyantyi said she was always concerned about the violence in South Africa.
Ministerial task team
In May, then minister of higher education and training Naledi Pandor appointed a ministerial task team to help implement policy and strategies for the prevention of gender-based violence and sexual harassment at institutions of higher learning.
The task team came after a group of academics from different universities wrote an open letter to the minister, pleading with her to investigate sexual offences on campuses, blacklist those found guilty of sexual offences and publicise a register of sexual offenders on the department’s website.
Vetten, who is also a member of the task team, said there are different structures in place at different universities and TVET colleges to address sexual violence. “We need a comprehensive assessment of what is in place at each PSET [Post-School Education and Training] structure, policy, training, personnel, member and type of complaints and outcome,” she said.
Psychologist Megan Jones said research shows an indisputable link between survivors of gender-based violence and mental health issues.
“Concerns arising from gender-based violence include mood disorders, for example, depression, anxiety disorders, substance-use disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidality,” she explained.
“Some studies have found that victims of sexual assault per se are more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder than victims of other forms of gender-based violence.”
Jones said that children who grow up in households where gender-based violence is a norm might normalise that behaviour later in life, either as a perpetrator or a victim.
Women and Men Against Child Abuse operations director Vincentia Dlamini said primary prevention programmes should be intensified.
“Resources to manage violence against women and children must be made available for all victims, especially in disadvantaged communities.” Courts should also be more user-friendly for victims, she added.