Isaac Mangena
Isaac Mangena

Gogos under siege: Let’s put an end to it

It should be concerning to every individual when a newspaper headline sates: “Dead woman (80) sexually assaulted with a fork”. Actually everyone should be filled with anger.

This was the headline in the Sowetan today (December 4 2013). The story tells of the gruesome murder, and possible rape of Gogo Anna Ntsane of Hennenman in the Free State. She was found lying dead, “naked on the floor with a stab wound … and a table fork pushed into her private parts”.

Just a few weeks ago my heart moved and nearly dropped out of my body when I watched on an SABC programme stories of two pensioners from the Eastern Cape who were raped by kids young enough to be their grandchildren.

I asked myself what’s this world coming to.

The grannies told Cutting Edge of how their dignity and innocence was stolen when they were forced down and humiliated by these scumbags. One elderly was infected with HIV and the other has had a runny stomach and other illnesses ever since.

One of them knew her assailants, who she meets in the streets every day. She feels let down by the police.

One granny’s son told the programme that the investigating officer couldn’t explain why his mother’s rapist was not arrested even though he is known. He was told the information was reserved for educated people, not him and the victim.

The other said the police told her they couldn’t do anything except encourage the families to convene a village meeting with the elders and talk it through.

At least through that process the suspect’s family may eventually be made to pay damages, they were told. Really? Few rands won’t do away the physical and emotional scars these grannies were forced to go through.

I changed the TV channel as I couldn’t bear to watch any more. I was near tears, the pain I saw in the eyes of those two elderly women, who could’ve been my grandmothers, was just so hard to bear.

I couldn’t begin to imagine how they feel every day.

Like many of you I was raised by my grandmother because my mother worked as a domestic worker in Johannesburg.

When my grandmother died, I was still young, I continued to be raised by several other grandparents in my village of Ga-Mamabole in Polokwane. I regarded all of them as my biological grannies.

They fed me, took me to clinics, bathed me and borrowed me jerseys when it was cold. In return I would do chores for them: fetch water, herd their cattle and help them in the fields.

I never went to bed hungry because I had a village of grannies that fed me and took care of me.

Like my peers in the village, we grew up under their care, we listened to their advice and respected them.

Their life experience prepared us for the unknown future, the stories they told around the fire added to our wisdom. We learnt respect and to love one another. The village raised us and taught us ubuntu.

How fast things changed. Today our grandparents are regarded as worthless. They live in constant fear, alone. They fear the people in the streets, and worse, they fear their own children and grandchildren at home who they raised and taught many things about life, including how to pray.

Our communities have a bigger role to play to reverse this sad situation. But it seems no one cares. The Older Persons Week, launched by President Jacob Zuma — surrounded by dozens of pensioners at the Union Buildings a few weeks ago — came and left. So will the 16 Days of Activism. The messages to respect our elders seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

We are back to reality. Our grannies, like Gogo Anna, have no one to take care of them. She was all alone when she was killed. No one knows where her children are and why she was left to live alone. And did the neighbours not hear her last struggles before she died?

Many of our grannies are being killed and accused of being witches. Those who survive these onslaughts are being raped just like the grannies in the Eastern Cape, and others like Gogo Anna get killed. They live in terror meted out by the communities they helped built. Nowadays our elderly citizens are relegated to old-age homes, leaving the modern generation with no one to teach them about life and wisdom.

Government has an even bigger role to address the problem faced by our elderly.

Many of the social ills faced by our country are felt hard by the pensioners. Lack of service delivery impacts mostly the elderly, and women in particular.

Many of them, especially those in rural areas, continue to lack access to adequate health and basic education, and suffer from gender discrimination and abuse.

And as recipients of social grants, older people have become largely responsible for their unemployed family, and the R1 300 grant money is never enough to buy medicine, food and care for their extended families. The impact of Aids is bigger on them since they are forced to look after those suffering from the disease.

There has been a growing concern that the police are not doing enough to take care of these people or to serve them when they come to report crime. Crime-prevention strategies do not include grannies that live alone and many are shouted at. And as seen with one of the grannies in the Eastern Cape, they are not helped because they are “uneducated”.

Former president Nelson Mandela reminded us that: “A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future.”

At the rate our country is going, ours is indeed an “endangered” future.

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    • Mr. Direct

      Dreadful stories, my sympathies to the families involved. It is really frightening to think there are people walking the streets at this moment who do not have any respect for anything or anyone. These psychopaths should be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    • Momma Cyndi

      What happened? When I was a child an old person and a child were sacrosanct. Life was harder then but nothing like this ever happened. What changed?

      The current science says that 10 to 15 % of all humans are just crazy. Out of that small percentage, about 10% of them are so crazy that they don’t even fear being caught. That is 1% or so of the population. Are we so many that the 1% has grown so large or are we not catching them before they do so much damage?

      Gods forbid that anyone struggles to survive for 80 years and then has the indignity of dying from being raped by a fork! What kind of epitaph is that! How do their children cope with the idea and how does society just brush this off? Could it be an ongoing problem because this doesn’t happen to the silver spoon crowd?

    • Rich Brauer

      Mr. Mangena,

      My initial reaction was to chide you for forgetting all of those other innocents, *all* women, and children, and others who suffer from rape and other kinds of horrific abuse.

      And then I came to my senses. And said, yes, this is an important post.

      It’s interesting — I’m no longer a believer, but the new pope, Francis, has stated that the most important problems facing this world are the underemployed youth and the plight of the elderly.

      You leave me wondering whether the two problems and populations might be far too intimately and perversely linked.


    • Nimue

      Thank you, Isaac. Two days ago I had a long discussion with a dear friend on just this subject: abuse of the elderly and especially violence against elderly women. There does seem to be a social trend here – and elsewhere – toward “gang rule” in which vulnerable individuals are targeted for attack and/or murder. These gangs (both formal and informal) demand that newcomers commit a crime before they can be “accepted’ into the gang. The emphasis on sexual assault suggests the real reason behind such gang requirements: women are seen as the enemy, as obstacles to what males want: license to do as they please without consequences. This is a widespread – perhaps universal – male attitude especially in the adolescent period of development. And that is the root of the problem: the male desire for unfettered “freedom”, including the “freedom” to injure, maim, and kill at will. It’s easy to blame to hyper-violent forms of entertainment but it’s also true: impulse control is quickly extinguished where no limits exist and in the fantasy world of violent entertainment, there are no limits. No wonder young males (and some females) see “life” as confinement by contrast and women as the gatekeepers of “life”. The lost art of teaching impulse control is destroying us and our planet.