‘He is in prison now, but my life has been messed up’

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za *Not their real names

Af­ter Mathapelo* was raped, she found it hard to walk out of her front gate.

“I felt like they were mis­tak­ing me for the rapist, yet I was the vic­tim. I could feel peo­ple’s eyes pierc­ing through my back as I walked through the vil­lage.

“I could not take the pain of see­ing peo­ple talk be­hind my back and point at meor even laugh at me af­ter I walked past.

“Teach­ers and learn­ers ad­dressed me dif­fer­ently, and I felt I did not be­long there even af­ter try­ing very hard, think­ing it will soon be over and peo­ple will ac­cept me, and per­haps sup­port me through my pain. But I was wrong.”

When the po­lice told the me­dia about her rape, they got one cru­cial de­tail wrong. They said she was five years old.

She was 16. She dropped out of school be­fore the end of Grade 8.

Now Mathapelo is 19. She’s preg­nant, which she doesn’t want to talk about, and lives with her grand­mother El­iz­a­beth*.

Her­rapist, Masilo Phillip Maenetja, was sen­tenced in March to life in prison. Mathapelo knows that peo­ple ex­pect her to move on, but she can’t.

She was or­phaned when she was very young and lives with El­iz­a­beth in a crum­bling four-room home in a vil­lage in the Let­sitele Val­ley out­side Tza­neen.

Mathapelo’s head is bowed, her face al­most hid­den be­neath a green cap.

“I feel like an out­cast in my own com­mu­nity. I feel like I have wronged the com­mu­nity by not let­ting it go and by re­port­ing my rape to the po­lice,” sh esays. Her or­deal is lost on her neigh­bours. The young men at a nearby road­side veg­etable stall say they would never com­mit rape them­selves. “Some of these girls tempt men. These girls are also ask­ing for it,” says one. Another says that women are “of­ten raped be­cause they stay at tav­erns un­til late and they are vul­ner­a­ble when drunk”.

Mathapelo had not been in a tavern. It was about 6pm on a Sun­day in Septem­ber 2011 and she was walk­ing home.

“I was only me­tres away from my gate when I no­ticed a man ly­ing on the ground. I thought he was one of those men who would sleep in the streets when drunk, but he grabbed me by my leg as I was walk­ing past. He sprung to his feet, drew a knife, stran­gled me and said: ‘I have been af­ter you for a while now.’

“He slapped me across the face, warn­ing me not to scream and then dragged me to the back of our house, where he raped me for the first time.”

Then he dragged her to a nearby house on the op­po­site end of the vil­lage, “where I was raped the en­tire night”.

She re­ported her ab­duc­tion and rape the next day. Maenetja was ar­rested, but was freed on bail for some time and con­tin­ued to ha­rass her.

“I also quit school be­cause my school is sit­u­ated in the part of the vil­lage where he lives and I of­ten bumped into him. He once threat­ened to kill me if I con­tin­ued pass­ing through his neigh­bour­hood.” Does she re­gret re­port­ing him? “Some girls to­day are afraid to re­port for fear of per­se­cu­tion by their own fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity. I could not do that. It could have been too much for me and would have af­fected me even more emo­tion­ally had I not re­ported the crime and sought jus­tice.

“Just like I have prayed, he is in prison now, where he be­longs, but my life has been messed up.”

Char­lotte Thukethane, the de­tec­tive con­sta­ble who in­ves­ti­gated Mathapelo’s case, says rape is rife in the area, but many cases go un­re­ported.

“In some cases, [a sus­pect] lives in the same neigh­bour­hood as the vic­tim and she will think: ‘What would hap­pen if the sus­pect is not con­victed?’

“It is, how­ever, im­por­tant to re­port a rape case so that the least you can get would be med­i­cal tests for var­i­ous things, in­clud­ing dis­eases, as well as the other im­por­tant thing, which is coun­selling.” Thukethane takes her work se­ri­ously. “I owe it to the vic­tim to get jus­tice on their be­half ... I feel good ev­ery time a con­vic­tion is se­cured and a [rapist] is jailed.”

Mathapelo al­ways wanted to be a po­lice of­fi­cer. Now she is more de­ter­mined.

“I al­ways wanted to be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer af­ter com­plet­ing my ma­tric. I am hop­ing that one day I will be able to face the world bravely, go back to school, be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer and ar­rest [ev­ery sin­gle] rapist out there.”

Graph­ics24

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