As this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign draws to a close, a “conquerors high tea” has highlighted the extent of abuse that many people have to endure for years.
Th event, held at the Hout Bay library on Friday November 30, was organised by locally-based non-profit Community Cohesion, an organisation that provides therapeutic sessions and assistance to people who have been victims of violence or crime.
While the high tea was aimed at celebrating the achievements of survivors of abuse, the harrowing testimonies of several women placed firmly into context the daily hell that many victims live with.
The testimony of one young woman who has recently entered into the Community Cohesion programme brought many survivors to tears. Delegates were scarcely able to comprehend the horrors she described, particularly as she had suffered at the hands of her own family.
Exhibiting remarkable strength in telling her story, the woman, who is in her early 30s, explained how she had been abused by her brother since the age of seven.
“It started when my family lived in the Eastern Cape still. My brother raped me the first time when I was seven. My mom had moved to Cape Town already, so I reported it to my older brother but he didn’t believe me. I also told my aunt about it, but she also didn’t believe me,” the woman said.
“We then moved to Cape Town, and he carried on raping me. I told my mother, and she also didn’t believe me. She actually told me that I should hang myself. My self-esteem was completely destroyed.”
At that time, her brother was the only bread-winner in the home and was the only one capable of buying her stationery for school. “I had to pay for my stationery by having sex (with him).”
As much as the acts of her brother hurt her, it was those of her mother ultimately broke her.
“My mother never believed me. It came to the point where I would come home from school there would be candles on my bed. My mother put them inside me to punish me. She told me she was giving me what I wanted.”
Composing herself, the woman said her mother had since died. “I asked myself, ‘Why did she pass away before I could ask her why she did this?’”
The woman remains on pills for depression but is gathering the strength to move forward. She has found a job in Stellenbosch, to which she commutes from Hout Bay several times a week.
“I have approached my bother about what he did. He tells me he knew what he was doing but he refuses to talk more about it.”
Also invited to the event was Sue Burger, of Valley Development Projects, an organisation that focuses on the protection and development of children and youth from Ocean View and Masiphumelele.
“What happened to you should never happen to anyone, let alone a little girl,” she told the woman.
Community Cohesion also operates in the False Bay area, and accordingly, survivors from Ocean View and Masiphumelele were also invited to attend the high tea.
One woman from Masiphumelele bravely told how she had first been raped by a youth leader in the Eastern Cape when she was 16 years old.
“I was walking to church with my cousin when these guys in a car drove in front of us. They pointed a gun at me and told me to get into the car. We drove for two hours and then we came to a house. These guys took me into the house and told me to get into a bed,” she said.
“Then this youth leader came there. He threatened to kill my family if I didn’t do what he wanted, and so he raped me. After 2am, they drove me home.”
She was too ashamed to tell her mother what had happened, and simply went to school the next morning as normal. However, a few weeks later her mother found out that she was pregnant with her rapist’s child.
“I tried to kill myself three times. When my mother found out I was pregnant, she blamed herself. My parents also didn’t want me to report the crime because they said that man (youth leader) was powerful.”
However, last year she decided that she would finally lay a complaint with police in the Eastern Cape.
“In January, this man was arrested. The police said they would phone me about the case, but I heard nothing. I found out that he was arrested again for doing this to someone else, but I don’t even know if I have a case anymore. I haven’t heard anything.”
The woman’s child is now three years old.
Community Cohesion director Bronwyn Moore said the women’s testimonies were “incredible” because they showed their resilience to survive.
Shirley Swingler, herself an abuse survivor and a Community Cohesion counsellor who heads the “One School at a Time” outreach project, delivered the keynote address and explained that “abuse occurs across the board”.
“We must shine a light on the abuse that is taking place. We need to be able to say, ‘no more’. We don’t need to be ashamed of it anymore. Whatever your situation, you need to address it in the way that works best for you. In my time there weren’t any organisations to help victims, but now you can stay safe because of these organisations. You just need to ask for help.”
After an emotional day, survivors went around the room saying why they felt blessed to have overcome their abuse. They were then treated to an assortment of sweet and savoury snacks.
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