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The Perilous Life Of A Woman In South Africa

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At least 110 women are raped in South Africa. Every day.

There are many similar statistics, all pointing to the same stupefying fact – that South Africa is one of the most dangerous places for girls and women.

This writer too is a survivor of an episode of violence, which – ironically – happened the evening before the country celebrated Women’s Day (August 9) in 2014.

In South Africa, a strong patriarchal mind-set, coupled with the intersection of race, gender, class and other identities, influence gender-based violence. There is also a gross underreporting of such crimes.

In the following pages, two educated young women recount how they didn’t let their own experience of violence get them down.

Samantha Smit* (name changed to protect identity) and Bukelwa Moerane reside 40 kilometers from each other, one in the affluent area of Roodepoort, and the other in Diepsloot, a township in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Their paths have never crossed, but destiny served them the same experience from hell – and they survived it.

Samantha Smit, 28

In 2013, three days after South Africa celebrated Women’s Day, Smit was drugged and raped by three male friends she had known for seven years.
When we meet her on a warm Thursday evening in January, the neighborhood is quiet, and her home warm and secure with high security fences. Wearing an oversized t-shirt and jeans, she leads us to the pool area her father helps set up for us.
Underneath Smit’s warm exterior is the aching heart of a woman still trying to comprehend a disturbing episode in her past.
“When you read statistics about women who experience violence, whether it’s sexual violence, domestic abuse or interpersonal violence, I would think I was lucky to not have experienced anything before I was 18 years old. And [this state of the country] is a sad reality,” says Smit.
What was an ordinary night out with friends ended up being her worst nightmare.
“They asked us to come through to their flat which was nothing strange, because we have all been friends for a long time. We trusted them, we knew them and often went to each other’s houses.”
They offered her a drink, which she didn’t know was spiked with Liquid E, a date rape drug.
Fifteen minutes later, she felt dizzy.
The next thing, they were stripping her in the kitchen and dragging her into the bedroom.
“The more I put my clothes back on, the more they were taken off. They found it amusing,” she recalls.
Smit was powerless at the time.
“It was like a ragdoll effect. I knew it was happening, I didn’t black out, I didn’t lose consciousness. But I wasn’t able to do anything about it. I felt like I was looking into the situation. The next morning, I had a cup of coffee and left,” she tells us.
She was in denial and did not want the stigma attached to being a victim.
“I think a part of me knew all along, but did not want to accept it. I also felt like maybe if we don’t give it a name it won’t have the impact… Because at least you still have a little bit of power and it is not completely stripped from you,” she says.
Her life was never to be the same again.
“Suddenly I couldn’t stand people touching me. It would suddenly repulse me. I was startled incredibly easily,” she says.
She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and checked into a clinic five months after the incident.
“It’s a difficult thing to admit to yourself… I realized I was spiralling out of control.”
But she soon reclaimed her power by writing a letter to the three men and confronting them individually.
Though the scar will never completely heal, counselling, and opening up to other women, has helped.
“Every woman I opened up to had a similar story to share. That helped me a lot in breaking down the stigma.”

Bukelwa Moerane, 25

Moerane has been more vocal about her “near-death experience”. She lost her teeth trying to escape from her abductor in February last year.
She was on her way home in a taxi one night from Maponya Mall in the township of Soweto. As she stepped out at the Bara taxi rank in Soweto, it was near empty; then out of the blue, a man driving a navy Polo came up from behind and shoved her into his vehicle.
“What was going through my mind was ‘I don’t know if this guy has a gun behind me or a knife’. He said to me, ‘don’t do anything stupid, you will get hurt’. Instantly, as he said that, my mind stopped working,” shares Moerane.
The abductor drove off with her, holding on tightly to her wrist.
“He was swearing at me, and saying ‘I will rape you, I will kill you, don’t even try anything funny’!”
Moerane started saying her last prayers thinking of her mother and four-year-old daughter. Then, she noticed the door was unlocked.
“My heart started to beat faster. I started thinking ‘I need to get out, I need to get out, there is something I need to do’,” she says.
The kidnapper headed down a dark road she knew.
“I knew if he did something to me in that area, no one was going to find me. I know there are most [probably] thousands of bodies in that area not checked for. I was not going to be one of them,” says Moerane.
She pretended to be relaxed.
“I then looked at him, and noticed he was scared as well. His voice was shaking. I think he had gone through something and felt the need to revenge on me.”
She was no longer frightened.
“So if this person is scared, why should I be scared? I told myself to calm down and I started calming down, because he was holding on to my right hand at the time,” says Moerane.
She somehow mustered the courage to jump out of the moving vehicle kicking the door until it opened.
“He was slapping me and was trying to hold my hand. With the other hand, he was trying to drive and there was oncoming traffic.”
Her biggest fear was for the kidnapper to grab a weapon and kill her, so she leapt out. She lost two of her front teeth, and was bruised and injured.
“I could see my skin peeling off, and dark particles. My glasses fell off. While this car was dragging me, I don’t know for how long, I landed with my hands trying to protect my face, but I guess I was too late,” she says.
Bleeding, she got back up and ran for her life. She tried to stop moving cars, pleading for help, but none did. At the nearest garage, she was taken to Baragwanath Hospital.
Moerane still fears traveling by herself, but finds solace speaking out.
She was a participant at the #NotInMyName march last year to the Union Buildings in South Africa’s capital Pretoria sparked by the death of Karabo Mokoena, the young woman allegedly stabbed 27 times by her ex-boyfriend.
Moerane also took to Twitter to speak out against gender-based violence in the country. She posted images of her after the kidnapping and sought crowdfunding to fix her smile.
That’s when celebrity dentist Alexander Faizi Rawhani, known as Dr Smile, helped put the smile back on her face.
“I believe God kept me safe that time and he [the abductor] could do it again. But one thing I know is if he comes back, we go out together. I don’t go out alone. We die together this time,” says Moerane.

Physical violence against women
• 21% of women over the age of 18 reported they had experienced violence at the hands of a partner. That’s one in five women.
• Divorced or separated women are more likely to experience physical abuse.
• The Eastern Cape has the highest rate of physical abuse (a whopping 32% women reporting it).

Sexual violence against women
• 6% of women over the age of 18 reported they have experienced sexual violence.
• 16% of divorced or separated women experienced sexual violence by a partner.
• 10% of women living with a partner reported sexual violence against them.
• The North West Province reported the highest rate of sexual violence (with 11.8% of women reporting).
[Source: South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016]

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A Country On A Roll

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The tiny country of Rwanda is now producing factory-fresh Volkswagen cars from its rolling hills. Next up are ride-hailing and public car-sharing services by the German carmaker.

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The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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The Power, Humour And Anger Of Mandela

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It is a century since Nelson Mandela came kicking and screaming into a world that he would change.

In one hundred years, his name has been spoken with pride from the paddy fields of Vietnam, through the savannahs of Africa to the smoky steak houses of New York. His legacy appears more contested with every passing year.

I was fortunate to have a front row seat in the Mandela years and saw the power, humour and anger of the man. I used to feel 10 feet tall at press conferences when he used to greet my questions with: “Mr Bishop, how are you?” Once I was walking to a TV interview with him, at an African Union summit in Harare, the day after I had ruptured my knee playing football, he noticed I was hobbling far behind – something he was not used to. He turned and inquired of the cause of my pain.

“May I suggest you take up boxing, it’s safer!” says the old man with that million dollar smile. I shall take the warmth of that smile to my grave.

Make it clear, I am no Mandela worshipper. He was no saint and certainly didn’t want to be one: he could be angry and petulant with the best of them; his past was chequered by domestic troubles; a man of the people, yet distant from his own family, according to many close to him. A man who promoted press freedom, yet like many of the lesser politicians who followed him, wanted his picture on every page of the morning newspaper. Mandela drew the line at the sports page – he joked that he didn’t want to risk being associated with losers.

The greatest fear Mandela had was that his ideals – not his name – would be forgotten after his death. Not for Mandela the greed of rule, nor the trappings of power.

Yet it is very fashionable these days to run Mandela down as something akin to a sell-out. Those who claim, erroneously, that Mandela sold out his people. They say he didn’t stop poverty overnight nor right the wrongs of the past with the wave of his wand. They need to talk to those who were there in the negotiations for a new free South Africa.

“People say we gave up too much in negotiations yet we had nothing to start with,” Denis Goldberg, a man who faced death with Mandela at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, once told me.

READ MORE: Mandela Through Their Eyes

The negotiations with an entrenched elite – that held most of the cards and only grudgingly acknowledged Mandela and his comrades – were difficult to say the least. Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) could not even threaten to go back to war because the depleting arms of its military wing posed little or no threat to the state.

Even so, a deal was hammered together somehow. In the next two years, in the run-up to the 1994 elections, Mandela won his leadership spurs as he steered South Africa away from the civil war that many feared was inevitable. He flew to Durban and told bloody-thirsty faction fighters to throw their weapons into the sea and they listened. When revered freedom fighter Chris Hani was gunned down on his front drive, in 1993, many were ready to take the law into their own hands.

Mandela barged into the SABC studios in Johannesburg that night and made a broadcast to the nation to calm down and put its weapons away. He wasn’t even in Parliament then and I wonder to this day how many lives that broadcast saved with this canny display of leadership.

Then, when into power with a virtually bankrupt Treasury, Mandela steered the National Development Programme that built millions of homes and schools; electrified the homes of legions of poor people and rolled out roads to connect the nation. Yet, the money was never going to stretch far enough and millions still have no roof over their heads and too many schoolchildren attend classes under trees.

It is fashionable these days to say the majority of South Africa must rise in a civil war in which the nation will be cleansed of its past, restored of its land on the path to righteousness. It probably sounds even better after a few drinks.

READ MORE: Celebrating Mandela From Where It All Began; Soweto

I say this is bunkum and anyone who has ever seen or smelt a civil war will agree with me. How a vile, stinking trail of dead fathers, raped women and children, destruction and disorder, can lead a country to the light beats me. Those who scream for war have clearly never seen it.

The first time I clapped eyes on the great man, at the Harare Agricultural Show, on his first foreign visit to Zimbabwe in August 1994, he walked alone, without a security man in sight. I didn’t ask for a selfie – they didn’t exist then, anyway – I was tongue-tied. We merely smiled at each other in passing.

So when people in political circles told me that South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t care for wealth and power – he merely wanted to put his name up there with Mandela – I smiled like I did on that August day in Harare.

This does seem feasible as President Ramaphosa – a millionaire in his own right – was the man who stood next to Mandela, holding the microphone, on the town hall steps in Cape Town, on February 11 1990, during his famous address on release from 27 years in prison.

“I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people,” said Mandela to deafening cheers on that bright summer’s day.

Clearly this humility and willingness to serve rubbed off on President Ramaphosa on that fateful day in 1990. In his first 100 days, he has made manful attempts to stop the rot in South Africa by merely enforcing the rule of law. A course of action he made no secret of even before he took power on February 15.

“There are no holy cows. Anyone who is caught doing wrong things will end up behind the bars of a jail,” says Ramaphosa, with microphone in hand and humble service in mind at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

True to his word, Ramaphosa cut swathes through the corruption of the past. Former president Jacob Zuma ended up in the dock on corruption charges something that many – including me – thought they would never see in their lifetime. He removed the rookie finance minister Malusi Gigaba and replaced him with the people’s choice Nhanlha Nene who has staved off more downgrades of the economy. A clean-up of the state-owned enterprises and the institutions is underway and many who thought they were invincible six months ago have been cut down to size.

I am sure the old man, who must have been spinning in his grave over the last few years, would approve.

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” says Mandela at his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

As we mark 100 years since his birth, it is time for cool heads and clear thinking to make sure this utopian ideal of liberty and tolerance lives on after his death. Our grandchildren will judge us harshly if we don’t.

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