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CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­press.co.za

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

PHOTO: TEBOGO LETSIE

Bukeka Kotikoti

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