I got taken to the doctor. He sat opposite me and said exactly nothing, not even hello or how are you. Pale and discomforted, he looked everywhere. And then I saw his cold hand, white shirt cuff, soft beige jersey, slowly pushing one small white tranquiliser halfway across the polished desk. I asked what it was. He told me. He said take it if you need to. I asked him if he was going to do any tests or an examination. He said it is not necessary. I snatched the white pill and left, don’t remember how I walked.
The poor man could not bear to touch me because I had been raped.
I kept the tranquiliser for over a decade, an amulet to protect me against shame and oppression. Nothing in the doctor’s life had prepared him for that moment. And that was the thing: many people, who would normally have been told immediately that I had survived near-death, were protected from the information in case they too needed comforting. It was not only that the near-death was rape, although that was bad enough — and would have resulted in the same circumstance — but the fact that he was black and I was white made it much worse for many around me. Shame indeed. South Africa, 1985.
The man who raped me was Paulos Sekonyane Fofo. He was a few years older than me. He came to South Africa from Lesotho, as a young man, the sickest I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, with a standard six, impoverished. He was sentenced to death and executed in 1987.
Blaming wasn’t going to help me. I did not want to carry his shit and knew he was diseased, cry the unloved country — and how responsible we all are for that. And Paulos Fofo gave me reasons to think about him as a human being. Many people, especially men wanting to show women they are not violent and that they care, declare all women as their sisters. Few genuinely claim all men as our brothers, our sons and husbands, our lovers. Especially men who are abusive. And yet I genuinely do not know anyone, man or woman, who has not experienced an abusive person wreaking their fair share of havoc close by.
Paulos Fofo was notorious in his short day but hardly anyone knew his name. He was the first Yeoville serial rapist (there were two in the 1980s, that I know of, who became famous by media headline). Years later, Lazarus Mazingane, who raped and murdered many woman and who was known pretty much only as the Nasrec serial killer was sentenced to many hundreds of years in jail. I think in the same jail where he was born. Sun City. He will most likely die there, still with few people outside of the prison knowing him as anything but the Nasrec serial killer.
I don’t think that this is okay. There is no resolution here. We serve the purpose of the people who profit from violence.
The secrets about the derangement in our societies are ludicrous considering the extent of the violence. How many people do you know who have never experienced violence? How many women in South Africa do you know who have not been raped? How many people do you know who are abusive? Why are these disgraceful secrets considering we share them?
Men murder more men every day than women. Men murder more men every day than rape women. But the heavy silencing about rape among those who have been raped is loudest among the men. And here’s the thing: perhaps (big perhaps because I am full of doubt), a possible way to understand why so many men rape is to understand why they hurt each other and themselves. So much. Like what the fuck is war and why do we stand for it? With what strange illnesses are we nurtured?
When he had raped me and was still in my flat, Paulos Fofo said to me: “White men like fucking black women. Black women like fucking white men. But white women don’t like fucking black men.” In a three-year-old voice I heard myself replying that my parents were good people. Imagine that.
At his appeal trial Fofo’s statement was short. He said he was a very sick man. I believe that and I believe that apartheid was definitely one of the things that made him so sick. I know it is the reason why anyone, me included, who was brought up in apartheid, has some kind of demons.
People care more about people whose names and stories they know. And people need to appreciate just how violent apartheid was, and how violent is celebrity and opulence in the midst of the current hand-to-mouth. Our sad shared secrets fuel the statistics and create festering illnesses that burst out in black eyes and violations that maybe, maybe, would happen less if it was no shame at all for men and women to be named, for their stories to be heard.