By Fezisa Mdibi
Walking out of the filthy house I realised my eyes were swelling when the tears started stinging. My lip was bleeding and ribs were on fire. I was angry. I stopped crying. I had been raped for the second time in my life before my 16th birthday.
At 15 I was raped by a family friend. He was in his mid-30s. On the night of the rape I had a bit of flu and my head was heavy. He asked me to help him take boxes into his flat. When we were inside he got me Coke from the kitchen and asked me to stay for a bit. I didn’t feel like I was in any danger because this man knew my parents but I remember after drinking the Coke I started to feel sleepy and eventually my body was numb. When he raped me he had a condom on. I said no repeatedly but for some reason I couldn’t move — I felt paralysed. He kept telling me to stop acting childish and just enjoy it. I couldn’t breathe. I passed out after that.
The next morning he pretended like nothing had happened while he drove me back to the flat. I sat in the bathtub scrubbing for hours. I wanted to get rid of his smell, which lingered in my nostrils, it didn’t go away. After days of living in agony, anger and embarrassment I decided to tell my parents. It was the hardest thing to do as he was a respected member of the community. My family decided it was best to speak to the local magistrate for advice on how to handle the matter since the rape had happened out of town. It was then that the magistrate told the family that the case had no merit as he had used a condom and it was days after it had happened, the evidence was gone. He advised that the families meet to discuss the matter and settle it without involving the law, which was clearly not on my side.
When the families met I was not involved in the discussions. I later discovered that he had told our families that the sex was consensual. He proceeded to offer to pay for damages as it is in our custom when a man has ”deflowered” a girl. The matter was never discussed again. I spent months with nightmares, questions: Was I too friendly towards him? Why couldn’t I move? Why couldn’t I fight? I should have screamed. I felt dirty, ashamed and when I would see him on the road with his friends he would just laugh. I thought he was telling his friends and laughing about it. It was hell.
After a couple of months I ran away from home to live with friends. My friends were doing all sorts of drugs at their house and I tried them too. In one year I had snorted cocaine, tripped on LSD and ecstasy, drooled from mandrax and smoked weed on a daily basis, I drank a lot too. I liked taking drugs, they made me forget but only for a while so I just stayed high. I met a number of shady characters including drug lords who I conveniently befriended to get free drugs. Being a friend to gangsters who were wanted by the police was tricky because naturally we were associated with them. I had unlimited access to drugs as some of the guys who sold the drugs moved into the same house with us on condition they could sell drugs from the house, giving us drugs in return.
One night we were smoking weed at a nearby shop when one of the town’s well-known gangsters came over to us. A month earlier, he, together with his friends, was accused of raping and murdering a girl, gouging her eyes out and disposing her body in the sugarcane fields. The police were looking for them. When he came over to us that night he was looking at me with menacing eyes. Dressed in brown Dickies pants, a belt that was hanging loose from his waist, a white ”spottie” and brown Chuck Taylors, he asked to smoke with us. I remember looking at his dirty fingernails as he took a drag of the weed. He was silent, exhaling big clouds of smoke all the while looking at me. After he finished smoking he told my friends to leave me behind as he wanted to talk to me. They hesitated because they knew his reputation but he screamed at them to go — I could see the fear in their eyes as they sheepishly walked away. ”If you call the police, I will find you and kill you. Now go!” and with that they walked away.
I was sitting down when he started kicking me in the ribs telling me to get up so we can go to his house. ”Your problem is that you think you are too pretty, I want to take you to my house to fuck you so you can get over yourself,” he said while he continued to kick me. As I ran out of breath, I got up. He wasn’t stopping with the kicking. I walked a couple of steps and suddenly stopped, thinking ”I cannot be walking to my slaughterhouse without a fight”. It was late at night and the streets had gone silent. He slapped me across the face repeatedly. When I tried to cover my face with my hands he kicked and slapped me till I removed my hands.
A lone guy walked passed us and I thought it was my chance to escape so I started screaming, asking him to help me. My ”kidnaper” forcefully put my head under his arm and said ”oh baby, you see what happens when you drink a lot? You start talking nonsense” he then looked at the guy and apologised on my ”drunken” behalf. The guy carried on walking. When he turned the corner, he beat me up until I was on the floor. ”Try that again and you will not see tomorrow, I will fuckin kill you.” On the way to the house, I would occasionally sit down in protest or refuse to walk, which was followed by a flood of fists on my face and feet to my stomach and chest.
Walking into the house his friend had his bedroom door open which he quickly closed when his eyes met mine, he pretended that he didn’t see me. I had hoped that he would talk some sense into his friend but alas. I was shoved into the bedroom as he locked the door. I remember hoping throughout the night that his friend would come to help me while I screamed my lungs out but he never came. He raped me repeatedly while beating me up for screaming. I cannot tell how long it went on for but when he finally started snoring I got up and looked for the key, which was tucked under his pillow. Walking out of the filthy house I realised that my eyes were starting to swell when tears started coming out and my eyes were stinging. My lip was bleeding and ribs were on fire. I was angry. I stopped crying. I had been raped, for the second time in my life before my 16th birthday. This time by a gangster who then proceeded to beat me up afterwards screaming “you probably infected me with Aids, bitch!” I found out a few months later that he was the one who in fact infected me with HIV.
Having to sit at the police station waiting for the crisis worker was excruciating. With every police man who came in I had to answer about why I was there, not because they were taking the statement but because they were just curious. By the time the crisis worker arrived, I could tell by her expression when she looked at me that my face was a mess. The crisis room was filled with stuffed animals, a small table, a small pink bed and colourful water paintings that looked drawn by the hand of a child. The crisis worker had a gentle smile and she hugged me a lot. I told her my story as she took my statement down.
I was taken to a district surgeon who kept marking my examination sheet incessantly. He said I had bruises all over my body. My body was in extreme pain. When we were finished, the policemen dropped me off at my friends’ house. They had fear written all over their faces upon seeing the police van. My one friend said she hoped I hadn’t reported him about anything, especially about rape. “He will kill you before you go to court,” she said. Needless to say, the drug pushers at the house were not impressed with me bringing police to our doorstep. In the afternoon the famous gang car pulled up and it was my rapist’s friends, he wasn’t there. The police had gone to his house as soon as they dropped me off. He had managed to run away but had told his friends to find me. His friends told me that they had come to warn me to withdraw the case. If I didn’t withdraw it, whether he was arrested or not, I would never make it to court they said. The next morning when I went to withdraw the case I was met with horrendous insults from the police. They told me the reason I am withdrawing the case is probably because I enjoyed it, that I wanted to have sex and wasted their time by reporting it. They all ganged up and insulted me. The case was eventually withdrawn.
I struggled for years with telling people that I had been raped twice. I could imagine them saying: ”How could it happen twice? Didn’t you know any better the second time? People can be very judgmental. Many years later I finally got the help I needed through counselling and talking about it to other women. Some of my healing also came from volunteering at a crisis centre for abused women. I dedicated my time to helping other women because I knew the fear they had, I could empathise with them. I still fear that it might happen to me again. In this society, I have no guarantee that it will not.
Fezisa Mdibi is a freelance writer and poet who has written for several publications including Drum. She is busy with her first documentary, which is about her journey with HIV which she contracted over a decade ago. She is also one of the directors for a clothing label called Designs of Nuru.