Growing Pains: A story that would have touched Madiba

2013-12-08 14:00

I recently met a phenomenal young lady, Lerato Mahoyi, who espouses what I have come to believe the 16 Days of Activism campaign is about.

Her story starts in Baragwanath Hospital 25 years ago.

Sadly, like many young girls, there is a very early chapter of childhood abuse.

First it’s just insults. Then the beatings start.

Both Lerato and her mum experience them with increasing regularity. Perhaps it’s the fact that stepdad is no longer the breadwinner. Inappropriate massage requests start.

Followed by gruff instructions to “check your virginity” conducted by rough hands. Finally, the cruel outburst: “You’re not even my (biological) child!”

Lerato runs away from home. Her school discovers one of their star pupils’ woes and calls in her mum. After much soul searching, mum leaves stepdad and finds her own place. Lerato calls this her mum’s “greatest achievement”.

Though bitter about the abuse of her younger years, and struck by identity issues, as her “real” father is deceased, Lerato throws herself into church activity, debate, drama and eventually different programmes at a local loveLife centre. Full of life, Lerato is a friend to all.

It is a shock when, one rainy day, on her way back from a store, she is accosted by a group of local boys she’d grown up exchanging pleasantries with. Grabbing her, they spit venom at her because she “thinks she’s better” and features in loveLife magazines and “speaks English”.

They hit her and drag her to a shack down the road. Her screams go unnoticed, drowned out by the thunder and neighbours who mind their own business. In the shack she is raped by the ringleader and the others run off, their lesson dispensed.

The broken teen picks herself up, reports the case and gets medication and counselling. But she is a shell of herself.

Fortuitously, she is, within weeks, selected to be a loveLife groundBREAKER (the apex of their youth development ladder). Some of the training includes dealing with rape crisis. Only then do her tears burst out.

Her tears turn to words, as she begins to speak about her experience. She finds that sharing her tale begins to heal others who hear it. Others violated like her. She moves to Cape Town with a job at the SA Institute for Entrepreneurship and becomes the first child in her family to throw a 21st-birthday party for herself. She travels, speaking as far away as Botswana. Three years later, she returns home.

One day, she is on her way to work when she notices someone following her. The male colleague who usually walks with her isn’t around today. She spins around and comes face to face with the thugs who attacked her years ago.

They pounce on her, beating her to a pulp for all the “trouble she caused” them. She nearly got them arrested, they scream. Then they gang rape her and leave her bleeding in the dusty streets.

She knows what is to follow – the medication. But she feels she doesn’t have the strength to go through the course, so overdoses on it. And runs as far away as possible, back to Cape Town.

It is a testament to her spirit that she eventually returns. “I wouldn’t let them push me out,” she says with a distant look in her eyes. It is a testament to her courage that she soon is telling her story at an Aids conference in Vienna, on a panel alongside her hero, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

And what she does next is a testament to her immense humanity: With a local soccer coach she starts a soccer team for young boys aged 12 to 16. The team’s mission is to instil the values of respect, discipline and purpose in the boys of her area. They shouldn’t become that gang that raped her, she reasons.

The boys attend a minimum number of practice days to get into games played against youth teams in the townships of Sebokeng, Everton, Fine Town and others. Most importantly, perhaps, the team, dubbed Matsatsantsa, requires parents to get involved and show up to support their kids on match days. Perhaps this is how Lerato and her partner, Mazola Tshabalala, hope to tend to the broken family lives they themselves have escaped.

Three years in, the team has started to show an impact on the first of its recruits. It has also begun to inadvertently teach entrepreneurship – they put up tournaments to raise funds for kit. And they have four trophies.

In a decade, Mahoyi hopes to have her own media empire, like another young black lady raped in her youth, Oprah.

“I want to tell the stories of young South Africans,” she says and beams a smile that itself tells the story of hope rising in the face of despair.

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