Raped, forced to marry, but now 'in love'

2018-07-08 11:52

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What started as a publisher marvelling at her neighbour’s “perfect marriage” ended with a book about how the woman’s husband had raped her when she was just 15.

Her parents, Sinothando* told her shocked neighbour, then forced her to marry her rapist, who is now a senior police officer, as part of the cultural practise of ukuthwala, or forced marriage.

In the Eastern Cape, especially around the Pondoland towns of Flagstaff, Mbizana, Lusikisiki, Port St Johns and Libode, reports abound about girls as young as 13 who are forced into marriage.

Parents of the “bride” are usually coerced to agree to this, to just accept it because it’s their culture, or because of the lobola they will receive for their daughter.

Little is known about this form of forced marriage, but facts are slowly coming to light.

A new series of books written in isiXhosa, titled Ndandingenje Kodwa Ndenziwa Nguwe (I was not like this, You made me), reveals the story of Sinothando, a victim of ukuthwala.

Publisher Phumela Jakuja (29) said she came across Sinothando’s story in Durban when they were neighbours, and the woman opened up to her about how she and her husband of 18 years, Mpendulo*, ended up together.

“I was just marvelling at this perfect couple who loved and cared for one another, but when Sinothando told me her story, I was reduced to tears. I could not believe what I was hearing as I had always looked at them as this perfect match made in heaven,” Jakuja said.

Sinothando was just 15 when she was allegedly raped at gunpoint by Mpendulo, a police constable who was living in her village, Mount Ayliff.

When she told her mother what had happened, she refused to believe Sinothando, arguing that Mpendulo was a good boy. Her mother said a policeman who came from a respectable family would not break the law. Her elder sister also did not believe her.

“Later, it transpired that she was pregnant. Her family could no longer deny the truth and it is at this stage that she was forced to marry – under the guise of ukuthwala – the man who had raped her because Sinothando’s parents and Mpendulo’s parents agreed that the two should get married,” Jakuja said.

“All Mpendulo’s family was interested in was to protect their son from going to jail and that their good stature in the community would not be tarnished. Sinothando’s family wanted lobola. She was then abducted and forced to marry Mpendulo.”

Sinothando and Mpendulo got married the next year when she was only 16 and had given birth to their twin boys. Later on, Sinothando had to try to study at school and raise her small children at the same time.

She is now a teacher and her husband is a senior police officer.

The couple now have four children, and even exchanged wedding vows during their white wedding five years ago.

“She is happily in love now. She is a firm believer in God and has accepted that everything happened for a reason. She believes that this is her journey,” Jakuja said.

“Even when she read the first draft of the book, she called me and laughed about it. I mean, you would expect her to cry after having to relive all that horror.

“They are a happy couple and do everything together. That is what fascinated me while writing this book in the first place. I just could not believe that she could take things so easy after everything she went through,” Jakuja said.

Mcebisi Ndama, owner of the Memezela Press Publishing Organisation, said he was overwhelmed by the “authenticity” of the story and wanted to highlight the plight of young girls who are forced into marriage through ukuthwala.

“There are so many stories being told about the horrible custom of ukuthwala, where young women are pushed into marriage – often with the consent of their parents. And after she is married, we do not hear a lot about what is going on in the marriage,” he said.

Ndama said the book was 1 400 pages long and was being publishing in four volumes, the first of which was launched last month in Ndama’s home town, Queenstown. He said the second volume would be launched next month.

“Hopefully, we will strike a deal with film makers to start a series on TV. It’s a terrible story, but it needed to be told and we are doing all we can to make sure that we do exactly that. We hope that this is the beginning and that more people like Sinothando will come forward and speak about their own ordeals about the custom of ukuthwala,” he said.

*Not their real names

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