HIV/Aids and gender activist Zimasa Mayekiso (30) is inspiring women and children through her profession after surviving being gang raped by four men at a family home in 2008. Mayekiso, who is now a practising psychometrician with the SAPS, is originally from a village called Malepe, in Tsolo in the Eastern Cape. Her father, who was the sole breadwinner in the house, abandoned the family while Mayekiso was still in grade eight and since then their family was supported by her mother’s social grant. Mayekiso enrolled for her psychology degree at Walter Sisulu University via NSFAS from 2007 but could not afford basic essentials like food and textbooks, she said. However, this was only the beginning of her suffering, as her real nightmare would start the following year. “I went to visit my mother’s family and there happened to be a funeral going on at the time. Due to this, my cousin, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and I had to sleep at family relatives due to a lack of space. “At about midnight, four men barged into the hut we were sleeping in and instructed that we be quiet,” said Mayekiso. The four armed men took their possessions before proceeding to repeatedly rape her at knife point.“After they asked us to undress, they played with my cousin’s pregnant belly and I asked them to let her go and hurt me instead. To this they responded that I thought I was clever and took turns raping me both vaginally and anally, while pointing this big knife at me, daring me to be quiet,” Mayekiso said. Following the traumatic ordeal, Mayekiso says she experienced victimisation at the police station as well as at a public health centre while trying to report the matter with officials, who ridiculed her for being raped by four men. “When I went back to university I felt like I was dreaming, I was still in disbelief and shock. I told Mr Qotoyi, my psychology lecturer, and he gave me counselling. He saved my life from self-doubt and I wrote my exams. I passed all my modules, which was a miracle as I was already left with only one week of exams when the incident happened.”She said court proceedings the following year were even worse with “the same humiliation and grilling inside the court room” and, without adequate counselling and with constant postponements, she and her cousin became despondent about attending the case, which was withdrawn after a draining year of court attendances. “It was hard living knowing that my rapists were roaming free in my community and might continue to hurt more people, so I decided to use my experience to heal more survivors,” said Mayekiso. Apart from her work with the SAPS, where she says she works to advocate change in the system, Mayekiso also motivates young women from all over the country who are survivors of abuse though various platforms. She also runs a Whatsapp group, called Unbreakable, which attained over 30 members in a week, primarily survivors of divorce, HIV, gang rape and other abuses. Through the group, she not only heals others but has found her own healing as well. “What I would like to say to all women out there who have been raped but kept quiet, and even felt rape and HIV is a death penalty, is that it all starts from within. As women, you are so uniquely manufactured by God and when God manufactured you he used original parts not fake — that is why I conquered,” said Mayekiso. “Our system or constitution is failing women and children as more rights are given to perpetrators. Our only hope is prayer and supporting each other to prevent each one of us from developing depression or resorting to suicide,” said Mayekiso.