Story of the ‘war­rior woman’ tells

The al­leged killing of a man who raped her daugh­ter re­veals a his­tory of abuse and al­co­hol

Mail & Guardian - - News - Athandiwe Saba

The old man shuf­fles along in his cow­boy hat with a checked band. His slow, con­sid­ered move­ments make his shoes seem too heavy for his feet. He’s 80 but still runs his small shop. His wife speaks. He nods when prompted for af­fir­ma­tion. Mkhulu, she calls him.

His son would steal from the shop. When the old man re­fused to hand over the keys to the safe with the money, his son would choke him into sub­mis­sion. Even­tu­ally, the vil­lage head­man would be called. Again.

Once, a long time ago now, the old man was a fighter who, like so many other “ter­ror­ists”, was sen­tenced to time on the Is­land for his con­vic­tions. But that was another time.

Fi­nally, the po­lice would ar­rive. Rather them than the frustrated vil­lagers, the old man would in­sist.

The chil­dren and their mother have no re­spect for their fa­ther, the vil­lagers would say.

Two weeks ago, in the wee hours of the morn­ing, Mzolisi* and two friends were al­legedly rap­ing a woman when her mother ar­rived, armed with a knife. She al­legedly stabbed the three. Mzolisi died.

But there is much more to this story for, wo­ven be­tween the hills of the tiny vil­lage of Qumbu, near Queen­stown in the Eastern Cape, is a sor­did his­tory where women live in fear, al­co­hol abuse is rife and fam­ily bonds are in tat­ters.

On Tues­day, peo­ple from the six vil­lages that fall un­der Swart­wa­ter gather to sup­port the woman, who now faces a charge of mur­der and two of at­tempted mur­der. The com­mu­nity hall is filled with more than 100 peo­ple, mostly women, who sing and speak and cry.

“We are here to sup­port this woman who had the strength to do this. It has been years women have lived in fear and not a sin­gle man could do any­thing about it. Women in this vil­lage have been raped and mur­dered. There are cases where per­pe­tra­tors are still walk­ing among us. God gave this woman strength to do what many couldn’t, to pro­tect her child and this vil­lage,” says Thobeka Mhlom.

She adds the best way to fol­low in her foot­steps is for every woman to buy a sjam­bok, a whis­tle and a knife. “We are tired of be­ing vic­timised, raped and killed by the mon­sters we live with here. Now is the time for women to take this prob­lem and fix it. We must use the whis­tle to call for help. Neigh­bours who hear it must re­spond by bring­ing their sjam­boks and knives.”

The hall heaves in agree­ment.

The el­derly share their sto­ries, and younger peo­ple stand up and pledge to col­lect money to en­sure that Nol­wazi* (the “war­rior woman”, they now call her) and her daugh­ter Zanele* re­ceive the best lawyers and coun­selling avail­able.

Nol­wazi be­gins to cry be­cause of the out­pour­ing of sup­port but by that time many of the men have left the hall. The women, and a few of the re­main­ing men, then dis­cuss ar­range­ments for travel to Lady Frere on Oc­to­ber 9, when their hero­ine will face the mag­is­trate.

In the vil­lage, many speak openly of that night, adding their own twists to the tale.

Some look for any­thing that might have pointed to Mzolisi, Thando* and Mongezi* one day vi­o­lat­ing a woman like this. They stole. They got drunk of­ten. But what brings hands to mouths in hor­ror is that Zanele and Mzolisi were cousins.

Mzolisi’s fam­ily moved to Qumbu when the boy was still a tod­dler.

“They lit­er­ally grew up to­gether. Their moth­ers call each other cousin and, when Zanele’s fam­ily ar­rived in the vil­lage, the two fam­i­lies were in­sep­a­ra­ble,” said Nolu­lamile Davali, a close friend of Zanele’s fam­ily.

Two weeks ago, Nol­wazi was wo­ken by the ring­ing of her phone, a call from her mother. She found it hard to wake up — it was 1:13 in the morn­ing. But a sec­ond ring forced her to take it.

“My mother said my daugh­ter was be­ing raped by three boys. I was afraid and had sec­ond thoughts, but no mother would leave her child to the wolves,” she said.

Nol­wazi cuts a tall, heavy-set fig­ure. She tow­ers above the many women and men who have gath­ered out­side her two-roomed home. Her hands are weath­ered and her eyes are red with ex­haus­tion.

“I am tired. I am con­stantly think­ing about what hap­pened and what could have hap­pened. I have this heav­i­ness on my shoul­ders that comes and goes but I have to be strong,” she said.

Af­ter Nol­wazi re­ceived the call, she went to her kitchen cut­lery drawer and took out a knife. The young men are no­to­ri­ous for caus­ing trou­ble in the vil­lage and she needed pro­tec­tion, she rea­soned. But first, she called the po­lice.

The Dubeni po­lice sta­tion, which serves the Swart­wa­ter area, is more than an hour away. In the vil­lage, the com­mon per­cep­tion is that if the po­lice do re­spond to a com­plaint it takes many hours.

A visit to the po­lice sta­tion af­ter 5pm mid­week found a sin­gle po­lice con­sta­ble on duty, wear­ing san­dals and chi­nos. There was no po­lice ve­hi­cle in sight or any other of­fi­cer. The con­sta­ble re­fused to pro­vide any de­tails about their ca­pac­ity or why there was no one else at the sta­tion.

Com­mu­nity mem­ber Nosakhiwo Mbama says the vil­lage re­quested a mo­bile po­lice sta­tion but they were told there were no re­sources for that.

“The Queen­stown sta­tion is closer to us but, when we call them for help, we are re­ferred to the Dubeni sta­tion. If you call at mid­day, if you are lucky, it will ar­rive at night. How are we sup­posed to be pro­tected when we have no po­lice sta­tion?” she asks.

Mbama, like other vil­lage mem­bers, be­lieve scant po­lice pres­ence in their vil­lage ex­ac­er­bates an al­ready vi­o­lent so­ci­ety — which drove one woman to take mat­ters into her own hands.

When Nol­wazi called the po­lice sta­tion, there was no an­swer. She de­cided to go her­self, ac­com­pa­nied by a small group. But only Nol­wazi en­tered the house, her phone torch search­ing the spa­ces inside for her daugh­ter.

Zanele says she doesn’t re­mem­ber much. When she speaks she is hunched over and her words land on her slen­der arms, which are crossed and cov­ered by a flo­ral vis­cose top.

The 28-year-old has bruises on her face and around her eyes.

“I spent a lot of time with Mzolisi and Thando be­cause they are fam­ily.” She looks at her mother.

“Mama, do you re­mem­ber the beige pants I had which looked like they were a man’s cut? I lent them to Mzolisi a few weeks ago. He re­ally liked them and he needed some­thing to wear,” she says.

At the edge of the vil­lage fac­ing a moun­tain is the face-brick home where Mzolisi grew up. Across the foot­path is the house where the al­leged rape and stab­bings oc­curred.

Mbulelo*, fa­ther of the de­ceased, has lit­tle to say and asks one of his grand­chil­dren to wake his wife, Nok­wazi*.

She leads the way to the house where her son died. Her one leg is weak and so is her health, she says. The 65-year-old calls out to her hus­band to open the door of the yel­low house. Mbulelo trudges along and bat­tles to un­lock the

Tragedy: It looks like any other home in the Qumbu area of the Eastern Cape, but this where the al­leged rape and stab­bing took place. The room (be­low) also shows no sign of the vi­o­lence. Pho­tos: Del­wyn Verasamy

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