I Kept it a Secret – #16DaysOfActivism, #SaySomething
On May 20 2006, I was scheduled to take part in what we called Open Day at my high school somewhere in Ekurhuleni. I woke up on that cloudy Saturday morning, prepared myself and waited for my uncle who was meant to come and either give me money for school or drop me off. He was working the night shift at the time. While I waited, I looked at the time and thought to myself let me just leave and avoid being late.
We stayed in town, and my school was a walking distance. I wasn’t used to walking to school by myself but I had walked back from school with a group of pupils of who stayed in my complex and we would take different routes all time because we would just get bored of using the same one every day. While doing that I discovered which was the quickest route. It was, unfortunately, also the most dangerous one.
I knew very well that I was not allowed to walk that route by myself or even with a friend because we were warned against it by our teachers, parents and even prefects. On that morning, however, I ignored what I had been told and decided to take the passageway because it would allow me to get to school quicker. I left my house around 7am and headed towards that direction.
This passage is right behind the Germiston Hospital, police station and also leads to one of the train substations.While walking on the right side of the road, something in me said look to your left. When I did, I noticed a short man walking slowly. He made me uncomfortable because when I looked at him, he looked down. I became uneasy but boiled my discomfort down to nothing more than paranoia.
I crossed over to his side and walked faster so I could get ahead of him. As I was about to turn into the passage at the corner, he approached me, grabbed my neck and pulled me towards the passage. My instant reaction was to scream. I was terrified. He was terrifying. Red eyes and scars on both his cheeks, only adding to my fear. I thought. That’s it. I am going to die.
I continue to scream and fight this man with much less strength than he has. My only goal is to prevent him from pushing me further into the passage because once he does, no one would hear me scream. He manages to pull in me into the entrance of the passage. He has also taken my phone and my house keys. He has a small “okapi” knife which he keeps putting in my mouth telling me that if I don’t stop screaming he’ll cut my tongue.
He then orders me to take my pants off. In total disbelief of what was happening, I could only react by screaming each time he told me to do something.. When I refused to take them off , he threatened to cut them off with the knife he was holding. He asks me for my name. In a panic, I tell him.
The nightmare suddenly ended when I realised someone was throwing stones at us. Everything seemed so surreal. Still screaming in shock and disbelief, three guys suddenly appeared . They start yelling and asked what’s happening. My assailant pushes me away from him, throws my phone and keys on the floor and says “Keneiloe, hyini ngawe be ngi dlala”!!! This basically means I was just playing with you. His tactic was to give these guys (my rescuers) the impression that he knew me.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I was so shaken that I could not even stand straight, I kept on falling onto the grass. He walked away as though nothing had happened. My rescuers start asking me questions. Among them, I hear “Why was I there? Don’t I know it’s dangerous? Did I want to die? Despite these men coming to my rescue, they seemed so annoyed with me, they couldn’t believe that I would risk my life in such a way.
They encouraged me to go the police station which was literally 4 minutes away. My rationale said not to because I would be subjected to a lot of questioning and my family would find out about this. They have so much faith in me, they think I’m smart and that I know right from wrong. They would definitely be upset with me and I would probably never hear the end of it. The police will obviously say I was in the wrong because the route I used is dangerous and should have been used. I also imagined them saying that my attacker had run away and that they would not be able to find him. I convinced myself that because nothing had happened and I wasn’t raped, it was okay for me to walk away.
One of the guys then offered to walk me to school but that turned out to be a disaster because, on our way, he started telling me about how beautiful I am and that he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I was so annoyed, I asked him to leave me alone and return to wherever he was going. I finally made it to school; a bit late but they had not started. When I saw my friends I couldn’t help it but cry and relayed the horrific experience.
They too begged me to tell my teacher so she could accompany me to the police station. A case was never opened, my mum and my family still don’t know about this incident because I honestly felt like they would judge me for the wrong choice I made that could have taken my innocence.
Sexual assault cases are not reported in South Africa, women are scared they will be judged and scrutinised. If I knew at 18 what I know now, I probably would have reported the case to avoid someone else going through the same experience or even worse getting raped.
Silence doesn’t save anyone. There is one lesson I have learnt through my own experience and as we observe 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, I encourage you to SPEAK OUT. There is no level to abuse. There is no spectrum that distinguishes a scratch from a bruise. Abuse is abuse. SPEAK OUT and trust that someone will believe you.