Public works to evict centre for rape victims

2017-12-03 06:00
Joyce Nedzungani provides counselling to rape and abuse survivors at the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

Joyce Nedzungani provides counselling to rape and abuse survivors at the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

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An intruder raped Susan Mudau* after breaking into her home in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, using a garden pick at midnight in May. His accomplice tried to force himself on her cousin, who was in another room.

“He sat with his knees on my chest. He told me to perform oral sex to help him get an erection. I thought of biting off his penis, but I was frightened that he would use his knife to slit my throat,” said the 48-year-old mother of three, adding that, thankfully, her children were not at home that night.

The police immediately referred Mudau and her cousin to the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme for counselling and assistance.

As the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence against Women and Children initiative began last week, Mudau and her cousin were told that they may no longer receive help at the centre because the department of public works was kicking the organisation out of the building it has occupied since 2002.

The Thohoyandou High Court last week granted an order that enables the department to evict the NGO from the property, which used to house South African ambassadors to Venda during the apartheid era.

The future of survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse who sought sanctuary and help from the NGO is now uncertain. The organisation is evaluating its situation and may shut down operations in Thohoyandou altogether. Its two trauma centres operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

It is dependant on donors for funding. At least 87% its funds in the 2017/18 financial year came from foreign donors, 8% from local funders and 5% from the department of social development.

This year alone, the centre has assisted 497 sexual assault survivors and 1 638 survivors of domestic violence. It also reached out to 22 000 people through awareness campaigns and dialogue sessions.

Mudau is upset about the pending closure of the centre, saying it played a huge role in helping her deal with her trauma.

“I never thought I would be myself again after that rape ordeal.

“I was devastated, confused and alone that night, but they [staff at the centre] became my friends and closest companions. We cannot afford to lose these people. Where else are we going to get this kind of service?” she said, hugging her counsellor, Joyce Nedzungani.

Public works spokesperson Thami Mchunu said the department had a lease agreement with the centre, but it had only paid rent twice, despite receiving international funding.

Fiona Nicholson, director and co-founder of the organisation, admitted that they stopped paying rent a few years ago.

“We also have an ethical problem – is it reasonable for us to ask a foreign donor to pay rent to our government so that we can provide essential services to victims that our government itself is mandated to provide?” she asked.

“We are digging in our heels. If necessary, some of us will sleep in the office so that if the sheriff [of the court] comes, they will have to lock us in or carry us out. We are also consulting with human rights lawyers,” she said.

She added that the dilapidated property was also home to squatters, who allegedly bribe departmental officials to ignore the fact that they occupy the space.

Mchunu accused the NGO of not cooperating, saying it wanted the building to be donated to it.

“As the department, we asked for their audited financial statements to enable the department to consider their request, however, they didn’t provide the records.”

He denied knowledge of bribes paid to officials and urged anyone with such information to contact the relevant authorities.

The man who allegedly raped Mudau was arrested earlier this year– after he allegedly raped another woman in the same village.

Mudau said she was confident that this was the same person because he had bragged to his friends in the village that he had raped her. The police are waiting for DNA results.

*Not her real name

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