Gang-raped teen’s fight for justice

Gang-raped teen’s fight for justiceStanding up against rape.(Credit: Flickr/ GCIS)

A 15 year-old girl who was gang-raped and injured so badly that she has to undergo a hysterectomy now lives in constant fear.

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Nolwazi Xaba (*not her real name) lives with her family in Duduza, a township about about 50 kilometres east of Johannesburg. She has not only been forced to live with the terrible injuries that have left her unable to ever have children, but she is terrified – both of telling the truth, and of lying about what happened.

The young woman was threatened by the nine men who attacked her, and told that if she ever laid a case against them they would kill her family and do the same to her younger sister as they did to her.

Terrified of a repeat attack, but scared too not co-operating with the authorities – Nolwazi felt compelled to open an assault case, but then gave the wrong identity of her attacker.

It has been only a month since the incident that wrecked her life took place. She left home as normal on Monday July 24, and headed out for school.

The young woman was threatened by the nine men who attacked her, and told that if she ever laid a case against them they would kill her family and do the same to her younger sister as they did to her.

On her way she was grabbed by a group of nine men who took her to an RDP house in the neighbourhood where five of them raped her.

“They then put a cloth into her vagina and forced her to go to school in that condition,” said Nolwazi’s mother, Faith Xaba (*not her real name).

According to the distraught mother, Nolwazi’s school is situated opposite a police station. But close as it was, Nolwazi was too scared to go there and report what had happened to her. Her attackers had threatened her, promising that if she reported them, her whole family would be killed.

Too scared to open a case

It was only after a few days that Nolwazi eventually opened up to a social worker at her school. She was taken to the clinic where it was then found that her womb had been badly damaged and needed to be removed.

“My daughter will not have children in her life. And I have now been given papers that I need to sign to confirm that she can have the operation,” said the emotional mother.

The Xaba family encouraged Nolwazi to report the incident to the police, and she agreed to open a case. But when a detective took her to point out the suspects – men she claimed to know – she deliberately pointed out the wrong man, leading to his arrest.

But a week later Nolwazi broke down and admitted to her mother that she had pointed out an innocent man. She asked her parents to take her to the police station where she would withdraw her initial statement, and would tell the truth.

“She was very scared of pointing out the group that raped her, because they threatened her not to say anything,” explained her mother.

And so she took Nolwazi to the police station. Xaba said the investigating officer was angry and told her he could no longer continue with the case because the child had lied, and that her false information had resulted in a wrongful arrest.

“I want this case to continue. I don’t know what to do, my child is even scared of going to school,” Xaba said, adding that she wanted only justice for her daughter.

But the police now dispute Xaba’s allegations that the case has been dropped.

Lieutenant Colonel Evodia Rantsupa, head of the Family Violence, Sexual Offences and Child Protection Unit at Springs police station said that Nolwazi had initially reported having been raped by five men, and that there were nine men in total involved in abducting her, four of which did not rape her.

‘Different version’

Offering a different version to that given by Xaba, Rantsupa said the investigating officer was not aware of any changes to the case, and had not dropped the matter.

“The docket is still at court where the charges against the innocent person wrongly pointed out as the suspect to withdraw an innocent person who was wrongly identified as a suspect by the victim,” said Rantsupa.

She said that should the new information needed to be given to the investigating officer, and that Nolwazi needed to tell the truth and explain why she had lied and identified the wrong man.

Rantsupa said the police were not aware that Nolwazi had been so badly injured that she required a hysterectomy. She said the investigating officer had not refused to continue with the case, but was anxious to speed it up. She said he was keen to arrest the correct suspect, and then apprehend all the men involved.

She said that the case would proceed and she would make sure of this.

“The investigating officer will go to re-interview the victim to get more information that will lead to the arrest of the right suspects. But for now docket is still at court for the withdrawal of the case against the person who was wrongly pointed out as the suspect,” said Rantsupa.

Xaba said she will accept Rantsupa’s undertaking that the case will continue, and is hopeful that Nolwazi will co-operate fully now and that the correct suspects will be arrested.

She still has to sign permission for her child to undergo major surgery that will leave her barren. Nolwazi has become a quiet child who no longer likes to speak, and she has not yet returned to school.

An edited version of this story was published by Times Live.

Reporting for this story was supported by Code for Africa’s impactAFRICA fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.