Women get cattle as justice for rape

2013-09-01 14:01

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Villagers have given up on reporting women and child abuse to the police

In the villages of Umhlabuyalingana local municipality, rape survivors’ families have given up on the police – instead, they accept cattle as restitution for the crime.

Women in this deeply rural corner of northern KwaZulu-Natal say they know better than to report rapes. The police do not take them seriously, they explain, and they also risk being bullied and ostracised by their male relatives.

“Here, as a woman, you stand to lose your husband for reporting a rape of your child or grandchild,” says Elizabeth Nxumalo, who is a ward committee member in one of the villages.

Nxumalo is frightened that she will one day become a target herself because she insists that rape and domestic violence must always be reported to the police.

She is outspoken, which is unusual for a woman in this network of villages near the Mozambique border, where women are expected to kneel on the ground as a form of respect when addressing a man.

But recently, the women of the villages had a chance to speak more freely about their experiences when the Commission for Gender Equality visited as part of its Women’s Month programme.

The commission’s visit brought residents and the police together. “We told police flat-out that they don’t work,” says Nxumalo.

City Press viewed a video taken on the day. In it, a top local police officer told residents that they no longer respected police officers because they knew cops were no longer allowed to “klap” them.

Mbazwana Police Station services five large villages that fall under the local municipality. The area is so large that it has 16 indunas, or headmen.

The villages were only connected to the electricity grid in June this year. At night, the area is eerily dark.

Under the cover of night, violence against women and children seems to be raging out of control.

When City Press visited the area last Friday, a family was burying their daughter in Mafa village.

Thembani Mthembu (31) was stabbed at least eight times and her body was dumped in a bush by her lover of four years. When the man called a local induna to confess, he said the couple had slept together before the murder.

Women carry Thembani Mthembu’s coffin during her funeral in Manana. She was murdered by her boyfriend, who confessed and then killed himself. The couple’s two-year-old daughter was found sleeping next to her dead mother. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/City Press

Mthembu’s lover hanged himself. The couple’s two-year-old daughter was found asleep next to her mother’s body.

In February, a young woman from Bangizwe village was stabbed to death after she tried to end a relationship.

The rape of elderly women is so widespread in these villages that a local NGO, the Mashabane Youth Development Agency, organised a march two months ago to focus on these crimes.

It was also Mashabane that brought the commission to the villages of Umhlabuyalingana.

The commission’s provincial manager, Makhosazana Nxumalo, said her organisation was concerned about the rates of gender-based violence, the system of accepting cattle as compensation for rape and the widespread withdrawal of charges by police.

The commission is now compiling a report and will meet KwaZulu-Natal’s MEC for safety and security to discuss the villages.

The report will also be presented for discussion before the provincial and national portfolio committees on women, children and people with disabilities, as well as KwaZulu-Natal’s women’s caucus.

Meanwhile, one induna believes he’s found a way to get everyone together and talking about these issues. Bhasobha Gumede, who runs Mafa, says local authorities should host a day of free food, booze and preaching to bring villagers together.

And councillor Clarence “Gidla” Mdletshe said that, with Mashabane, motivational speakers like Ukhozi FM DJ Sbu Buthelezi would come to address the community about violence against women and children.

‘He’s an old criminal who never gets arrested’

A new jersey. That’s what a 26-year-old man allegedly offered his seven-year-old cousin after raping her – but only if she kept quiet.

The little girl from Mavundla village was so badly injured during the attack that she spent more than a month in hospital. Her aunt has been ostracised by the older men in the family for daring to speak out about the rape.

“It’s like she’s lost her mind. She is not okay. Her teachers tell me that she just laughs in class for nothing,” a neighbour who reported the matter to the police told City Press.

“My uncle told me to my face that I’m wasting my time and that he (the offender) was an old criminal, who never gets arrested,” said the girl’s aunt.

The alleged rapist is still free. A number of parents have moved their children to other schools. Kids were so traumatised by news of the rape that they wet themselves while sitting in class, say residents.

Grandmother did as she was told

The seven-year-old told her friends at school that a relative had raped her. The other children, who had paid careful attention during sex-education classes, ran to tell the teachers.

The little girl had not told her grandmother about the attack because the man threatened to kill her if she did.

The man who allegedly raped her was arrested in June and is on trial at the Mbazwana Magistrates’ Court. It has emerged in court that he allegedly raped two other girls – aged nine and 10 – from the same family. The girl’s grandmother says police convinced them not to pursue those two cases.

“They said we must not pursue the cases because the doctor’s report did not say that the other girls were raped, when in fact it did. We ended up not knowing what to do, so we did as we were told,” she says.

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