ukeka Kotikoti (22) struggles to talk about the day she was abducted by four men and forced to marry a man 10 years her senior. She fights back tears and occasionally covers her face with a worn blanket.
“Thetha mtanami, kumele beyazile abantu lento eqhubeka kule lali [Speak, my daughter, people must know what is happening in this village],” says her mother, Matshikiza, who is sitting on a chair next to the bed where Kotikoti is lying with her two-month-old son from a new boyfriend in Durban.
The more her mother talks, the more Kotikoti cries. After a few minutes, she manages to compose herself, and starts to relay her traumatic experience.
It was after 10pm on a Friday in January 2009 when 16year-old Kotikoti responded to a knock at the door of her mother’s homestead in Mdakeni village in Lusikisiki. She asked who it was, and her mother’s friend from a neighbouring village asked her to accompany her home because it was late and she didn’t want to walk alone. Kotikoti duly accompanied the woman, but says four men came out of the nearby bush outside the woman’s home. They grabbed Kotikoti and told her she was coming with them.
“The woman I was accompanying started walking away. She said: ‘Don’t worry. I am leaving you in the hands of these people.’ I knew there and then that she had sold me to be married off to a man I didn’t even know.
“I cried and pleaded with them to let me go. I also fought them, but they threatened to beat me up if I didn’t cooperate. I gave in. I knew they were serious because that is what happens when a person refuses to be abducted during ukuthwala,” says Kotikoti.
Ukuthwala is a cultural practice where a young girl is abducted by her suitor and forced to marry him. Kotikoti knew one of her four kidnappers – he was from the same village as the woman Kotikoti had accompanied home. Kotikoti was then taken to her “suitor’s” rondavel. “He came in and told me to stop crying because he loved me and wanted to marry me. I don’t know what else he said because I was angry and felt helpless at this place where I knew no one except one of the four men who abducted me.”
Fortunately, Kotikoti had her cellphone on her and was able to call her mother and tell her what had happened.
Matshikiza trembles as she explains how betrayed she feels by her friend’s actions.
“I was so angry with that, and I still am. She has her own daughters. Why didn’t she sell them since she is in the business of marrying off young girls to strangers?”
Matshikiza reported the matter to the local leaders before confronting her friend. She says her friend’s lack of remorse made her even angrier. “When I confronted her, she showed no remorse and told me to go and get my daughter if I didn’t want her to be married.”
Kotikoti grew increasingly desperate while the confrontations and meetings with community leaders, who were not keen to help Matshikiza, took place.
She escaped, but her suitor and his friends caught her