The White Door Centre is directly linked to local police station as part of government’s new plan to tackle gender-based violence
Seoding is a dusty village at the end of a gravel road.
It is situated in the middle of the triangle created by the Northern Cape’s hubs of Vryburg, Kuruman and Kimberley.
But none of the money from these towns has filtered through to Seoding.
Unemployment is high. Prospects are few. And violence against women and children is endemic.
It is against this backdrop that the department of social development’s brand new centre for victims and survivors of gender-based violence was opened last week.
Clad in a black dress, her distinctive Afro accentuated by sparkling eyes, Patricia Toli is the embodiment of a Seoding survivor.
The 42-year-old mother-of-two has been raped and physically abused more than once.
“I was raped for the first time at the age of nine by a family friend. At the age of 29 I was beaten to a pulp by my boyfriend,” says Toli, whose earlier cheerfulness has now been replaced by a visible air of despair.
Just as she was healing from that and trying to rebuild her life, the same fate befell her again.
“The man I married and with whom I have two children was extremely abusive and he repeatedly beat me. It became the norm,” she says.
A tear trickles down Toli’s cheek. She pauses to catch a deep breath, trying hard to compose herself.
But she is so overwhelmed by the pain and emotions her hands trembling.
“My heart is sore because I have not made peace with the rape that happened when I was nine. The two men who violated me in my later years were aware of the rape that happened early in my life … I can never forgive these people,” Toli says.
“These were people I trusted with my deepest secrets and I feel like they took advantage of that. My past is hampering me [from making progress] and it is not easy to move on after such attacks … to make it worse, the law is disappointing us.”
To make matters worse, Toli believes the abuse has filtered down to her son.
“I have a 10-year-old who witnessed his father abusing me and now he has turned violent and beats other children at school.”
In line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s action plan to tackle the scourge of violence against women and children, Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, earmarked Seoding as one of the places for a centre for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
The centre is directly linked with the local police station.
“When a woman or a child is violated, the White Door Centre is a place they can run to prior to turning to the police. Once they are safely taken into the centre, police will be contacted,” Bogopane-Zulu said during the opening of the centre last week.
“John Taolo Gaetsewe as a district does not have a shelter for women in need of protection from gender-based violence. We learnt that the number of women abuse cases in the area were on the rise so we had to make sure that we provide the community with this centre,” she said.
Boitumelo Kgakelebotse (25) was born in Seoding. She also suffered at the hands of an abuser, and is excited about the new centre.
“I was abused by a man I used to date. I got sick and tired of it and one day I decided to go to the police station and report him.
“I got a protection order and he actually stayed away from me,” she explains.
Kgakelebotse believes that “this centre could be the safety net women in Seoding need and could help calm the high levels of crime in the area”.
Although the centre still doesn’t have running water and electricity, it will provide a 24-hour service from its staff members who include psychologists and counsellors.
- THE PEOPLE
The Northern Cape is the largest province geographically, but it is the most sparsely populated, with a population of just over 1.2 million (2.1%), according to StatsSA 2018 mid-year population estimates.
According to StatsSA’s labour force survey for quarter two of 2019, the unemployment rate in the province rose by 3.4 percentage points. The increase from 26% to 29.4% made it the province with the second-largest recorded increase, after the North West.
A StatsSA 2011 census showed that the small village of Seoding has a population of just more than 7000, mostly of youth between the ages of 16 and 35. According to the census more than 12% of the more than 2000 households have no source of income.
THE SOCIOECONOMICS OF SEODING
During the launch, police visibility was high, a novelty for the villagers.
The nearest police station is about 7km away in Mothibistad or 15km in Kuruman.
“We can wait [for] up to two days before police arrive when they are needed in emergencies,” says 21-year-old Mpho Morwagae.
“I don’t know if they only have one car or what [the problem is]. Just last night [Monday] someone was stabbed right in front me. The police were called but we received no assistance.”
Morwagae is a self-proclaimed “hustler” and doesn’t believe that education is the be-all and end-all for one to have a successful future.
We find him in the company of four friends, who gleefully give each other random high-fives while engaging in a seemingly funny conversation.
“It’s all about an individual and a person’s mentality, that is what makes a person successful – intelligence and a positive mindset,” he says in a husky voice, admitting to not having slept much the night before.
Morwagae says he found “solace in weed and alcohol” and started smoking dagga when he was 13.
“With nothing to do, how else can I keep myself busy?” he asks.
He is skeptical about what, if any, difference the White Door Centre will make.
“I doubt the centre will make a difference because the abuse of women is prevalent and police don’t intervene,” he says.
Aobakwe Tsolo (24) runs his own car wash. We find them sitting under a tree with his friend Chalk, who runs the business with him.
The two are originally from Lesotho.
Tsolo says the lack of job opportunities in the area means the local people need an entrepreneurial mindset.
“Where would we look for jobs in this area? There are no jobs. So the best thing to do is to be proactive and not wait for things to come to you,” he says.
Next to him are six drums filled with water. Tsolo has no access to running water. He stores all the materials he needs to do his job in an orange shack.
Although Tsolo is the proud owner of Stu’s Car Wash, he says it is not always easy to make ends meet.
“I have been here since morning and I have not had a single customer,” he says.
It’s now 4pm.
Tshesa Nyama Tavern is just a few metres from the new centre.
At 10am, the drinking spot is empty but the owners say they are “usually swamped from Thursdays” [and over the weekends].
Ntombizodwa Bosman, the 26-year-old owner, runs the tavern with her boyfriend of three years.
She has been behind the till since 7am and will be closing shop at 8pm.
Bosman is indifferent about the centre and if it will stop the violence.
“Yes, we know that drinking is a problem in our area. But we have to make a living and this tavern is what sustains us.
“Drinking is part of the culture in this community,” she says.
Bosman, who has a seven-year-old-son, acknowledges the role that alcohol consumption has played in the high levels of crime.
“Most of the crimes we have witnessed at the tavern typically involve young boys. They drink, get drunk and most of the time they stab each other for material things, such as phones.”