Stories Of Change: South African Survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence Speak Out.

Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are central to We Will Speak Out SA. A programme funded by Amplify Change  is documenting stories of Most Significant Change (MSC) of the survivors and survivor champions since joining support groups initiated by Tearfund SA.

In addition to this formal process, we would also like to share some individual stories documented by survivors and survivor Champions thus far in the process.

The final MSC report will be finalised by end June/early July.

Names in stories have been changed to protect the identities of survivors. Read the stories:

Ada’s story

After my mother died I went to stay with my uncle who is a police man. At 12 years old, I was in boarding school. My uncle took me from boarding school and treated me as his own daughter, and he was a father to me, we would always eat together. I trusted him, because he was my father. One day, during lunch time, I was eating and drinking Fanta and started feeling drowsy. I fell asleep and later woke up in hospital where I was given medicine. My uncle came to see me and told me that if I speak of what happened he will shoot me, he then showed me his gun.

I did not go back to school after that and I didn’t go back to live with my uncle. I fled to Burundi. There I found family – my sister’s friend took me to their home but couldn’t afford to send me to school. Only later I managed to go to school in Burundi and I had friends. I was influenced by friends to get a boyfriend who can pay for what I needed.

I started having problems at school. Male teachers tried to convince me to sleep with them in exchange to pass my grade. Because I refused they gave me low marks and I started to fail. I felt like I was losing. My boyfriend who was paying for my school fees at the time left me after hearing rumours about the teachers. He thought that I had slept with them.

One day, my sister phoned to tell me she was selling my mother’s house in Rwanda. I left to Rwanda and we shared the money from the sale. I was 18 years old by that time. I went back to Burundi where I met a friend of mine who was staying here in South Africa. During that time, the war in Burundi broke out. We planned and travelled from Burundi to South Africa together.

In South Africa I started to survive. I met my husband who is a Christian. He introduced me to his church and I became a born again Christian. I was Baptised and my life started to change. But I couldn’t feel love because I hated men. I had no feelings for men, they were only financial security for me.

At church one day, there was an announcement that they were looking for women who would like to talk about their challenges. I was curious. I met Solange (Tearfund) but had no idea why we were being called. We were given the day to meet and I will never forget it – 2013. We were 12 women and I was waiting to see what they were going to say. They spoke about rape. I was confused…how am I going to share?

We started to continue the group meetings and it was always about talking, every time. The day I finished talking, I felt like the heaviness I have carried in my heart was now empty. That night I couldn’t sleep and thought of what happened, worried that people will take it outside the group or even tell my husband. He didn’t know.

But the women I shared my story with kept the secret. The more meeting days came the more I changed. I became stronger and able to teach other new members. Having a group is teaching me how to recognise problems other women or friends may have and I can talk to them about it.

Through the group, I started to find a way to survive by myself. I work now, running my own business. My business is going well. Before this, I was unable to do anything because of self doubt.

Now I have taken responsibility of helping other women who have similar problems.

Grace’s story

I suffered from depression and planned to run away. I was giving up and running, but my God had another plan for me. I met a lady from church who didn’t say much or even judge me, she just asked me to stay for a while. She introduced me to a women’s Bible study group (support group) and we grew close. I heard their stories which made me change my mind about running away. I have realised that my problem was small and I went back to my own community to start my own Bible study group with women who have been through similar problems as I have.

I thank God for this. It has pushed me to finish my studies because now I am able to speak out to my husband and tell him how I feel which makes me stronger. I now have my Master’s degree and I have rebuilt my relationship with my husband.

Mary’s story

My childhood home was a warm home. We were good hearted people who were welcoming to everyone with a problem or who didn’t have a place to stay. We would take people in as a brother or sister like real family members.

One day my mother wasn’t at home and left us children at home. She wasn’t worried as she knew there were older people to look after us. A man at home came to me and forced himself on me and raped me. I was a child. I was so confused and I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. As I was young, it was physically painful for me and I struggled to walk. When my mom came back she asked what has happened to me. She started crying because the man said if she reports him he will kill us – my mom and her family. My mother cleaned me and told me to have a rest. She went to confront the man again and chased him away from our home.

I am an older woman now. I joint the support group and realised more girls and women are experiencing rape every day and not speaking out because they fear being blamed or judged for it. I saw the importance of sharing and showing that even an old lady like me was raped. But it is important to speak out, report the incident and get help as soon as possible. For me, I took time to accept or report as it was back in the days where it was hard to speak about sex.

Lu’s story

Coming into a new relationship, I didn’t know I was bringing my hurt into the marriage, but my support group has helped me in a huge way. As a Champion, you speak to someone but then realise you are speaking to yourself as well and not only the group in your community. Most of all, the Champion group has played a huge role in helping me, the Champions may not realise this, but they have helped me rebuild my marriage and be open and loving to my husband – I was abused in previous relationships so when my husband tries to come close to me I would push him away. He would buy me things but I wouldn’t accept it because I will feel that he thinks he owns me. Even our sexual relationship was bad. By the time we have been married for 6 years he hasn’t seen my body because I was always told in the past how ugly I was.

I was so used to be beaten badly and even when the blood was dripping from beatings I had to still have sex (not ‘make love’). I am grateful for the support group, and mostly for the group of Champions.

Now, I have even taken a picture and sent it to my husband, he now has seen my body and our relationship is better. He even told me he was giving up but now he has his beautiful wife and he loves me. I really didn’t know love, because all my life I had to fight. I was abused, but now I can laugh.

Sarah’s story – in progress

I’m 21 years old, I live in Durban. I live with my mother my sister and my brother. My mother is a domestic worker and we survive only on her salary. When I was doing grade 11, I was not on good terms with my sister, she was jealous of me because I was slim and she was a plus size.

One day when my mother wasn’t at home and my brother was working night shift, my sister and my nephew came into my room. She made my nephew rape me in front of her while she was laughing – asking why can’t the beauty I always show off with fight for me. I was so hurt emotionally and physical mostly because I loved my sister. I couldn’t believe she had done such a horrible thing to me.

I woke up the following morning and went to school. It was a Tuesday. I couldn’t remember a single lesson at school as my mind was not at school. I decided not to tell anyone. I failed my grade 3 times and I decided to quit school.

In 2015, I joined the support group in Umlazi which was introduced by my friends. Initially I didn’t talk I would just come and sit and listen to other people sharing. Eventually I felt comfortable around these women and felt loved and supported by them. They encouraged me to go for counselling.  I am now doing my matric in IET and have realized that silence is very dangerous and can stop you living your life while the person who did the damage does not even care.

Siyanda’s story – in progress

I am a 23-year-old lady born and raised by a single mom in a township of Umlazi. I matriculated in 2012 and I was very passionate about travelling and exploring nature. My mother is a hard worker, a good hearted strong woman. She was my role model growing up. I’m the eldest daughter of her 3 children.

In 2013, my mother had a fight with her sister (my aunt). My aunt, out of anger, told my mom to tell me where I came from and why I don’t have a father.

I was very confused because my mom told me my father passed away while she was pregnant. That evening, my mother called me and told me who my father was. She said that he had raped her and as result, she fell pregnant with me. I have never felt so betrayed and upset in my life. I ran away from home and stayed with my friends for a week. I could not understand how a woman I love so much can lie to me and I was upset that I’m a product of rape.

Eventually I went back home but nothing was the same again. One morning I woke up and decided to go see my “father”. I was not sure what I wanted to hear from him but I just wanted to confront him.

When I confronted him, he said that he was sorry for what he did to my mom and he’s been trying all his life to be a father to me but my mom has been blocking him. This was more confusing to me and complicated things even more for me. In church I heard about the support group, so I went and shared my story. We then started counselling with my mom and we are still finding a way to normalise the situation. I enjoy the time we share as a group and the activities we do together. My mother has forgiven my father. I pray to God that one day I can be able to see him as a father and not as a rapist.

Survivors new to support groups.

The two survivors below are new to support groups and will keep documenting their experience of the group and process of change over the next months. They are in the beginning stages of their healing and finding their voices in the groups they belong to.

Sophia’s story

In 2015, November 18, I was at a bar and had an argument with a local man. He slapped me. I got angry and wanted to phone the police. Another (local) man insisted that I lay charges. He offered to accompany me to the police. There was sugar cane and forest-like vegetation on the way. I knew this man, he is my neighbour. In the middle of the road he refused to take me home and said we were going to have sex in the sugar cane. I realised that he was serious when he pointed a knife at me. I tried to run away but he tripped me, beat and kicked me. He removed my clothes and raped me twice. Afterwards, he told me: “Do you know that I can dig your eyes out so that there will be no proof?”

He forced me to stand and dress myself. He then accompanied me home to make sure that I don’t go to the police station. On the way home, he asked me if I was going to press charges against him and I said no. He told me to tell my family that it was the man I had an argument with at the bar who did this to me. At home, I knocked on the door and my mother opened. He told my mother that the man I had an argument with at the bar had done this to me. As soon as he left, I told my mother the truth.

The next morning, I took the clothes I wore and phoned the police. They took me to the police station for a statement. They also took me to the hospital. At hospital, I was checked and cleaned. The police started to look for my rapist, and found him. He was arrested, taken to the police station and detained for 8 months. By that time, I was working at a convenience store and was always short in my till. I was unable to focus and couldn’t cope. I ended up getting dismissed at work.

The investigator brought me the dates of the case, I attended 3 days consecutively. On the first day, everyone felt sick in the courtroom. He was found to have 8 previous convictions but have always managed to win the cases.

When he testified, I was always taken outside, but when I testified, he was always in the courtroom.

On the 3rd day, the court called the man I had the argument with as a witness. Later I heard that my rapist was free, but there was evidence to support my case. I heard that he won the case. It is bitter that I still see him. I don’t know what he thinks about me – to this day he even greets me.

I received a call from Kwazulu Regional Christian Council (KRCC). We met at KRCC offices and I spoke to them about the incident, there were other survivors of rape and they also spoke – we all spoke. Solange (Tearfund), asked me to bring the case number.

I am still angry and I still want to appeal because I cannot stand watching him walk free. Since the case was finalised I have not been able to get into contact with the investigating officer. He is always out of the office.

What I wish is for the support group to help me to appeal because I cannot do it on my own and the man who raped me is a gangster. On the first day of the support group I found some healing in the fact that there are so many other women who survivor the same and worse.

Throughout my ordeal, I only received counselling once.

Lethabo’s story

I was 14 years old, on my way to church in the evening far away from home. It was my brother’s birthday. We passed by a shop, boys were shouting at us telling us to stop. They then started chasing us and we ran in different directions. One of the boys carried a golf club and he forced me to love him – he claimed that I was his girlfriend. He forced me to go to his place. He beat me with the golf club and took me into an empty room. He pushed me to his bed and took off his clothes. He gagged me with a towel and raped me.

Later on, women came looking for me. He escaped through the window. In the door, I saw people including my sister. They took me to a house. From there I went to my mother and she accompanied me to the clinic and the police station. I was examined and given medication.

I haven’t received any counselling. I have tried to kill myself with contraceptive pills. My neighbour’s sister was laughing at me, asking me: “how does it feel”.

We attended my case in January. He was arrested and I went to court to testify. The investigator told my sister that if she agrees to have sex with him (the investigator) I will win the case. She refused and the case disappeared.

In 2009 we heard that the investigating officer was discharged from service. He used to propose to me and tried giving me his money but I did not give in to his demands. I was scared to go to school because there was a man who looked just like him always standing outside the school with sunglasses.

In 2013 I met my boyfriend and we had a baby together. He cheated on me while I was pregnant, and made another woman pregnant who used to threaten me. There was no support at home which is why I found myself dependent on this relationship. I nearly had a miscarriage.

Later on, I used to be absent at school because I had no one to look after my baby. A friend connected me with a woman who then introduced me to a Champion in Durban and also to Solange (Tearfund).

I started to trust again and had people to talk to. My life was changing.

My baby boy is 3 years old now. But I’m still angry.

The investigating officer was found shot dead in a ditch.

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