She drifted in and out of consciousness as she was groped, then raped, in the bedroom of a friend’s house one Sunday afternoon. Tshiamo Molotsane was a typical 16-year-old who loved hanging out with friends and going out. Her mom, Veronica Wilson (46), was not keen on letting her daughter go to trendy The Social Market in Tshwane, but Tshiamo (now 19) pled and she relented.
“The Social Market was one of those events that my friends always looked forward to, but my mother was strict, so I had to beg her to attend,” she recalls.
Veronica’s only condition for her daughter was that she had to be home no later than 6pm. It’s a scorching hot day in Potchefstroom in the North West as Tshiamo ushers us into her grandmother’s home, where she nervously recounts her terrible ordeal. She and her friends went to the market and at about 4pm that afternoon they went to a friend’s home. There she was offered a drink which quickly made her feel faint. “Everything was spinning so I decided to go to the bedroom to take a nap. One of the guys there grabbed my arm and led me into the bedroom,” Tshiamo says.
Drifting in and out of consciousness she was raped by four men, while someone she had considered to be her best friend stood by and watched. When they were done with her, the teen was left to get dressed and she hurried home to make her curfew. Feeling violated and shattered Tshiamo “got home, cried and went to sleep and I did not share my story with anyone until recently”. She was shaken and overcome with feelings of confusion and self-doubt. “I constantly asked myself why I had put myself in such a vulnerable situation,” she tells DRUM. “If a man hugged or touched me, even if he was a relative, I would say a mental prayer and hope he wouldn’t violate me in any way.”
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Now Tshiamo, who is studying at university, and her friend Molefiseng Tlou (19) have founded a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called She Spoke Organisation. It gives support to victims of domestic violence. “Because I had experienced domestic violence and rape, I wanted to do something that would help my soul,” she says. Since the attack she lives “in fear for the safety of my mother and 10-year-old sister”. “My grandmother starts to panic if I have late classes and I just want to be able to live freely as a woman.”
Like many women, Tshiamo’s experience of rape and violence wasn’t a once-off incident. A year after she was gang-raped, she ended up in an abusive relationship when she began dating a guy she’d known for a few years. “I fell for him because he was such a nice guy. He cared so much for me and he was always there for me, so I was open to being in a relationship with him,” she says. They’d met when she was 14 and started dating when she was 17.
The early days of the relationship were good, but it didn’t take long for him to reveal a jealous, possessive and manipulative side. “Two weeks into the relationship he became a completely different person. He would tell me to go to sleep early, he’d accuse me of flirting with other boys, he would go through my phone,” she says. “At one point he posted on his social-media pages that I was a ‘loose girl’.”
A cycle of confrontations, break-ups, apologies and reconciliation began, but his behaviour only worsened, and he began hitting her. “We would be walking down the street together and if I looked at another guy, he would beat me. One day I went to the park with my friends, but I hadn’t told him I was going, so he set out to look for me and when he found me, he beat me up in front of my friends.” Tshiamo knew she had to get out of the relationship but her fear of what he would do to her kept her there, she says. The final straw came after he beat her so badly, she finally got a restraining order from the police to keep him away. This happened after she confronted him about posting lies about her on social media and he assaulted her. Tshiamo finally told her parents “and they both cried because they were completely unaware that I was experiencing abuse”.
Surviving gang rape, then an abusive relationship, left Tshiamo shattered. “It made me lose myself. I didn’t know my worth and I thought it was all my fault,” she says. It was the most difficult period in her life. “I had to come to terms with the entire situation and it wasn’t easy at all. It took me about three months to be at peace with what I went through. I’ve stopped blaming myself, but I think I’m still a work in progress.”
Her desire to help others led her to choose a degree in public governance and public administration with politics at North-West University. She and Molefiseng founded She Spoke Organisation in July to support victims of domestic violence. “I started this NGO because I wanted to grow as a person,” Tshiamo explains. “I was getting so caught up in school and all the other things in my life that I was losing sight of my desire to help people.” Her goal is to educate and help women and children in South Africa who live with these horrific social issues. “I want this organisation to reach all the corners of SA because we live in fear on a daily basis.” Tshiamo hopes to one day follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher. “When I complete this degree, I hope to pursue my honours and then start another degree in education or psychology.”
For now, she’s planning a march in her hometown to raise more awareness about violence against women and is trying to get sponsorship for charity events she wants to hold to promote awareness. The brave young woman has given talks about her experiences and the responses have been overwhelming, she tells us. “There have been so many people who come up to me and say I have inspired them to open up about their experiences with rape and domestic abuse. “That is exactly the purpose of the organisation – for people to speak up and against gender-based violence.”