It's a parent's worst nightmare. South Africans are on edge as more and more stories of human trafficking hit social media.
A Social Development Trafficking in Person's Indaba last year in Mpumalanga revealed that at least more than one person is trafficked in South Africa per month. This number includes children and adults lured into the country under false pretenses.
The South African Police Service in Gauteng has warned South Africans about publishing fake stories of human trafficking or kidnapping as the topic grains traction.
But as the country opens up more, fears rise.
Grizelda Grootboom is a survivor who has lived to see it all; from being homeless, living in shelters and being gang raped, to being hooked on drugs and prostitution.
However, she is still standing and fighting for the rights of prostitutes and the homeless. This is her story.
Growing up in tough times
The 40-year-old from Woodstock, Cape Town, lived with her father after her mother abandoned her at birth. Her life started spiraling out of control when the apartheid government decided to demolish her grandparent’s house to make way for a new development, her grandfather was killed after he was hit by a bus on his way home and two weeks later her grandmother also died.
“Soon after my grandparents passed away, my family scattered and I was left in the care of my father, who turned to the bottle for comfort. “In the process, he failed to attend the local meetings meant to help allocate alternative housing for the affected families.
“We were forced to live with his friends on boats. We then moved from one shelter to the other, but through all this he never forgot to tell me that he loved me. “My father would leave me in the shelter for days, which turned to weeks, without checking up on me.
"Unfortunately, he was killed on the streets and I was left alone, living in the shelter, broken and with no one to turn to for comfort,” she explains.
Denied by her mother
One day, while walking the streets of Cape Town, she bumped into her long lost uncle who told her mother was married and living in Khayelitsha.
“I took a train to the address but for the first three times I could not bring myself to knocking at her door. One day, I finally gained enough courage to knock at her door, I was happy when she opened the door and she looked like the woman I had been seeing in pictures through the years. Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual. She looked at me with shock and disgust before inviting me inside.”
Grizelda says inside her mother introduced her as a niece.
“Apparently when she got married, she told her husband and family she didn’t have any children. This was the most challenging time of my life because I was 9 years old when this happened. I was chased out of school because of my coarse hair, which was painful to comb and could barely understand what my teachers were saying because they were speaking Xhosa and I spoke Afrikaans."
Being raped for the first time
“My life was turned further upside down one evening, when I and a friend were raped by four boys belonging to a gang. “We were collecting water at a communal tap when the gang forced us into an abandoned shack and took turns raping us at knife point.
“They raped me and when they were done, the gang leader offered to walk me home as if I was his girlfriend. It was already at night and one of the neighbours saw me with the gang leader and informed my mother. I got home to a beating and tongue lashing for being forward and dating gang members,” she adds.
The following day she packed a jacket and two t-shirts and left without telling anyone where she was going and headed back to the streets.
Getting into prostitution and drugs
“I went on to live under a bridge and joined a gang, which treated me like family. While living on the streets at the age of 18, I met a girl who promised me a better life in Johannesburg. I trusted her because she was from a rich family. “
When I arrived in Joburg, two days later, she picked me up in the company of a male friend.” Grizelda says to this day, she can still remember the house she was taken to in Yeoville.
“I believed that my life was finally going to take a positive turn but little did I know it was only the beginning of my 12-year nightmare. My friend left me inside the room with the promise of going to buy food and drinks for us and that was the last time I saw her."
“The following morning, I was woken-up with a kick in the stomach and undressed with my eyes covered with a dark tape and injected with crystal meth. In my mind, I thought the house was getting robbed but this was not the case, I was drugged and forced to sleep with different men."
“This went on for weeks, every client meant a new dosage of drugs pumped into my system and I was later kicked out of the house to make way for a new girl,” she adds.
She decided to survive on the streets of Joburg and to prostitute herself to truck drivers. During this time she operated from a brothel headed by a female pimp.
Grizelda says months later she discovered that she was pregnant with a baby girl and she named her Summer even though she knew she was not going to be allowed to carry the pregnancy to full term. “Usually the terminations were done at two months of the pregnancy but the Madam refused, saying her clients enjoyed the pressure from the pregnancy.
“I was forced to terminate at six months. An hour after the foetus was removed, I was ordered to force a sponge inside my vagina to help stop the blood and get back to my clients.”
Cleaning up her act
“I was admitted into a rehabilitation centre for a year. After the recovery process I went to work at a church.
The pastor asked me to deliver drugs for him in Cape Town, and without thinking twice, I took the opportunity to go back home and never looked back,” she says. Grizelda has been clean for years and helps young women, who are forced into prostitution, to find their way out. “Human trafficking is a booming business and until it is treated like any other criminal activity, it will not stop,” she concludes.
Grizelda’s life is revealed in her autobiography, EXIT!.