Attacks won’t slow her down

2013-03-31 10:00

One gogo from KwaMsane refuses to become a victim of crime, having outwitted her would-be assailants four times.

Yearly statistics indicate that South African women of all ages face the danger of falling victim to rape.

Horrific rape incidents have been splashed across the news media and have attracted lots of outrage from every corner.

Women, for fear of being victims, are forced to be extra careful, while others quit doing what they love, simply in order to stay safe indoors.

But 60-year-old Ntombiyethu Zulu-Masangane is not giving up her passion for running.

Hailing from KwaMsane in Mtubatuba, northern KwaZulu-Natal, this woman has fallen prey to would-be rapists at least four times in her life.

But thanks largely to her running and physical strength – she trained in karate as a young woman – she escaped, unharmed each time.

With no clear memory of dates and times, she recalls how, in one incident, the assailant was armed with a gun. In another, she was confronted by two men at once.

But the same determination that has seen her fending off attackers a quarter of her age makes her refuse to cower or be robbed of doing what she loves best.

To her, running is more than just a pastime. It is as natural to her as water is to a fish.

What particularly frustrates this mother of two – daughter Thandeka (28) and son Sthandwa (26) – is that she can’t get a group of women together who are willing to run with her.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini is a relative of hers and he used to refer to her father as mkhulu (grandfather), Zulu-Masangane tells City Press.

For the past three decades, she has been leaving her home each day at 4am to take to the road and greet the daylight along the way.

Zulu-Masangane has also participated in nine Comrades Marathons and has won various awards for age-related races in her district of Umkhanyakude.

“I run every morning and evening. It is something I have enjoyed since I was a little girl,” she says as a smile lights up her face.

Speaking to City Press from her stall near Mtubatuba taxi rank, where she sells fruit, vegetables and sweets, Zulu-Masangane says proudly: “When I’m on the road, I’m oblivious to all else. That’s when I’m in my element.”

But threatening to foil this happy union with the road are thugs, young enough to be her grandchildren, who have tried to rape her.

During the first attempt, Zulu-Masangane punched her away out of trouble.

“I was still making my way out of KwaMsane when this youngster tried to pull me down. But I hit him and he ran away,” she adds plainly.

While running on the N2 near KwaMkhonza, a nearby village, another man pretended to run with her.

Later, he turned on her.

When she put up a fight, the man ran so fast he left his cap behind after noticing that a motorist was heading over to intervene.

Again, while running on the N2 close to the bridge in the area of KwaMadolo, a man carrying a gun crept up to her but ended up running into a sugar cane plantation when she showed no fear in the face of his threat to kill her.

Her closest shave with death, to date, was also the most recent, when two men she met while running on the N2 towards Mfolozi started running alongside her.

When she asked where the men were going they told her they were on their way to work at a nearby hotel.

But when they passed the hotel, she queried this, to which one of the man said he “was aroused”.

“He started getting vulgar, telling me that we were a perfect fit,” she says.

The men dragged her into a nearby bush. When they tried to strangle her, she fought and tried to strangle one of the attackers herself.

One assailant ended up throwing sand in her face in an attempt to overpower her. Still, she did not let up.

She fought back so hard that the main culprit complained that she was tearing his jacket.

“They were pulling me by my hair. They even hit me with an object on my head. I have a scar to prove it,” she says.

The men fled after security guards, who were patrolling the area, came to find out what was going on.

“I feel that the tights on me, when I run, are mine. The only way they will come off is if I take them off voluntarily. Other than that, they will only come off once I’m dead,” adds Zulu-Masangane in her matter-of-fact tone.

She credits God for providing the protection that foiled the many rape attempts. She has never opened a case of attempted rape with the police.

She has been forced to limit her running, since she can’t find official running partners. This also affects her ability to participate in competitions.

Her son, Sthandwa, whom she’s roped in to run with her, can’t do long distances and only runs with her when he visits home from his job in Joburg.

She says women are generally too lazy to do anything physical.

“I have tried, many times, to put a group together. Even when I assure them that we would start lightly. The only other runners are young men who are much faster than I am, who would feel that I am slowing them down,” she says.

Zulu-Masangane feels the issue of the rape of children and grannies is a fight that cannot be won overnight, or by one person alone.

“It is an utter disgrace and totally disgusting that this has become a norm all over this country. We have now become prisoners in our own communities.

“If people are able to rape their own mothers and grandmothers, what is a stranger?” she asks.

When Zulu-Masangane took up karate in her 30s, she was one of only two women in her club.

She continues to feel strongly that women should enrol in self-defence classes.

Getting to know Zulu-Masangane

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