Of sex­ual abuse in camps

Mail & Guardian - - News -

women were forced to wear hi­jabs and I was in­tro­duced as ‘Fatma’. That was the Mus­lim name they gave me,” she says. “I didn’t like it but was told: ‘You bet­ter keep quiet … This is an ar­range­ment en­tered into be­tween [Muam­mar] Gaddafi and the PAC.’ They didn’t look at it as a forced thing but, to me, they signed on the dot­ted lines with our blood.”

She had had enough. Still de­ter­mined to be a free­dom fighter, how­ever, she de­cided to en­ter the ANC’s mil­i­tary wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

“I wanted to walk from Tripoli to Cairo [where the clos­est MK camp was]. I didn’t care how long it took. I told my­self: ‘I’m not com­ing back to South Africa.’ I wanted to con­tinue as a free­dom fighter. I wanted to be in those camps. I wanted those weapons. I’m ashamed to say this now, but I wanted to kill,” she says.

Frus­trated with not be­ing able to get to Cairo, she at­tempted sui­cide. The failed at­tempt at tak­ing her own life had her ar­rested for “be­tray­ing Is­lam” and in­car­cer­ated for three months. On her first night in the prison she at­tempted sui­cide again.

Slowly lift­ing the white blouse she is wear­ing, she shows me a scar un­der her breast. “I used a bro­ken bot­tle. I wanted to get to my heart.”

Re­al­is­ing her des­per­a­tion, prison au­thor­i­ties, African em­bassies and other lib­er­a­tion move­ments in Tripoli ini­ti­ated com­mu­ni­ca­tions with MK lead­ers in An­gola, who, she says, “flew to Tripoli and said: ‘This is our child.’ We flew to Luanda to­gether and, from that day, I was mol­ly­cod­dled by MK; lit­er­ally treated like an egg. I was treated very well.”

Re­clin­ing on a spa­cious sofa in her son’s home in Irene, out­side Pre­to­ria, Then­jiwe Mt­intso — cur­rently the South African am­bas­sador to Malawi — re­calls her ex­pe­ri­ences as one of the few fe­male MK com­man­ders.

“We were like a rare species. We were hero­ines for the fact that we chose to join MK, be­cause pa­tri­archy didn’t ex­pect us to join the armed strug­gle. In gen­eral, we were re­ally pro­tected. But, on the other hand, even those who were pro­tect­ing you would, you know, put them­selves for­ward as pos­si­bil­i­ties …”

Al­though she says she “knows of very few women dur­ing my time in the camps” who re­ported sex­ual vi­o­lence, she con­cedes that “one man threat­ened to rape me”.

“I felt re­ally in dan­ger. But when he threat­ened to do it, I just said to him: ‘You’re not go­ing to do it, be­cause I’m go­ing to shoot you. It’s as sim­ple as all that. I’m just go­ing to shoot you.’

“Be­cause I was in a se­nior position, I was car­ry­ing a pis­tol in­stead of an AK-47. It would have been much eas­ier for me to shoot him,” she says.

“He just re­treated. And right through my stay in the camp, he kept say­ing: ‘One day I will get you.’ So there was al­ways this threat hang­ing over me.”

De­spite this ever-present threat, Mt­intso did not re­port the in­ci­dent — “be­cause I han­dled it”, she says mat­ter-of-factly. “I was quite clear that I will shoot him. One thing that I’m proud of is that with a pis­tol I am very good. Give me a pis­tol and I’m fine,” she laughs.

“But it made me de­velop a very bad at­ti­tude: you at­tack me, I kill you. And it re­ally is very neg­a­tive. Very, very neg­a­tive. But I was in the mil­i­tary frame of mind. And the so­lu­tion in the mil­i­tary is not con­ver­sa­tion. It’s ‘you kill me or I kill you’. Sim­ple.”

Mt­intso adds that the rea­sons women rarely re­ported in­ci­dents of sex­ual abuse were var­ied.

“I think they just didn’t think they would be be­lieved and also didn’t think they would be pro­tected. And there was also a sense of em­bar­rass­ment. That feel­ing of: ‘Did I do some­thing to en­cour­age him?’”

She adds: “In MK, there was also this be­lief that you don’t want to di­vide the move­ment. You don’t want to do any­thing to di­vert from the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle by talk­ing about women’s lib­er­a­tion and fem­i­nism. So, if you were a woman MK sol­dier and you were vi­o­lated, you wouldn’t get sup­port from ev­ery­body. You’d get sup­port — prob­a­bly — from the women. Prob­a­bly. Be­cause some of them would just not sup­port you.”

The con­tin­u­ing cul­ture of sweep­ing the is­sue of sex­ual abuse un­der the rug was brought to the fore dur­ing the trial of Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma, af­ter Fezek­ile “Kh­wezi” Kuzwayo — the daugh­ter of a fel­low for­mer Robben Is­land po­lit­i­cal pris­oner — ac­cused him of rape.

But there were some in MK who knew of Zuma’s ap­par­ent preda­tory ways decades ago.

An MK op­er­a­tive, who chose to re­main anony­mous, told the M&G: “There were other peo­ple who were ex­tremely well known who were ex­tremely prob­lem­atic. I was told to avoid Zuma in the Eight­ies, specif­i­cally be­cause — and I quote — ‘he couldn’t keep his hands off women’. And one of the shock­ing things about the Kh­wezi rape trial was that we all bloody knew that. I was told by a male com­rade that, if I could, not to even let Zuma know I ex­isted [while I was within MK]. This was on the grounds that ‘he could not keep his hands off any woman he met and he did not take no for an an­swer’.”

The pres­i­dency did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment on th­ese al­le­ga­tions.

Judy Sei­d­man was a mem­ber of MK; she now works with the Khu­lumani Cen­tre, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that as­sists vic­tims of aparthei­dera vi­o­lence. For Sei­d­man, the lack of sup­port from women for other women who had re­ported sex­ual vi­o­lence con­tin­ued post-lib­er­a­tion.

“At that time, the [ANC] Women’s League, who were sup­posed to be her [Kuzwayo’s] sup­port, ac­tively turned against her,” she says, adding: “Dur­ing our time pick­et­ing out­side the court … one se­nior women’s league mem­ber came over to our side of the picket and said she didn’t know how to deal with what we were say­ing; she just couldn’t process it.”

Mt­intso adds that, de­spite the gains made in the women’s move­ment, “there are many steps we have taken back­wards”.

“What is beau­ti­ful, how­ever, is the rise of crit­i­cal mass of young ac­tivists. Our democ­racy has al­lowed for the off­shoots of new move­ments. If [only] the women’s league, for ex­am­ple, was in­ter­act­ing with th­ese young peo­ple … In gen­eral, though, we women in the ANC are not part of this move­ment that is ris­ing.”

Forty-plus years af­ter set­ting out to join the fight for the lib­er­a­tion, Khu­malo says: “I’m an­gry.”

As we drive out of the ram­shackle farm, she says: “One of our camp songs went: Savume­lana bo ngalo msebenzi — sim­ply put: ‘We made a promise to each other to free our peo­ple from the shack­les of op­pres­sion.’ This is not the free­dom we fought for. What do we tell the young peo­ple? To keep the faith? No, this is not the free­dom we fought for.”

Teenage fighter: Si­bongile ‘Promise’ Khu­malo claims that, af­ter run­ning away from home in the 1970s to re­ceive mil­i­tary train­ing in ex­ile, she was sex­u­ally abused by the then PAC pres­i­dent. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.