Citizen.Speak.Amplify

“I had heard about ukuthwala but I couldn’t believe it was happening to me”

When SAKHILE NDEBELE* was 16, she was was abducted by a man old enough to be her father, and told she would be his wife. She told ZILUNGILE MNISI how she became a victim of ukuthwala.

My family was based in a small area called Umzimkhulu and ukuthwala was prevalent during that time in our area. I was just a teenager, still doing the things that young girls do – going to the river to talk and play games or do beadwork. It was one day, on my way back home from spending time with my friends, that I was abducted and held captive against my own will by a man who wanted to make me his wife.

He was in his mid 40’s and when he approached me, I was just being polite by respecting an old man and listening to what he had to say. We had just been talking briefly I started to get uncomfortable about the way he was addressing me.

He told me that I had to go home with him because he wants to make me his wife. I explained to him that I was young and was still in school, and that his request was impossible. He gave me a choice between going home with him willingly or being raped by him and he said we should talk about it.

I was shocked by that; I had heard about ukuthwala but I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I started screaming as I ran but he caught me and beat me up. The streets were empty as it was almost dark, so no one could come to my rescue.

He took me to his family home where he would keep me in his room with various attempts to engage in sexual intercourse with me, but I resisted. His sexual advances were so uncomfortable and traumatic because I was just 16 and didn’t even understand what was going on. He said he could not properly introduce me to his family until I get used to the idea of us being together, so he kept me locked up.

I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t eat. My father is strict and it was hard for me, knowing he was probably going out of his mind thinking that I had left home through my own will.

I never really knew who he was, I just heard him being referred to as “Khumalo”. Word broke out that my family was looking for me. He decided that we had to change venues because he didn’t want to lose me. We were on our way to the Durban taxi rank when I spotted my cousin. We were close to the rank and when he let his guard down, I slipped away from his hand and ran.

It was a busy taxi rank so it was hard for him to spot me in the crowd. I found my cousin and we went to my aunt in Ixopo. She let my dad know where I was and my dad immediately summoned me home.

I was relieved that I had made it home safely, until my dad suggested that I go back to the man who had abducted me. He asked me whether the family had good living conditions and enough cattle to exchange for me. He told me that the community already thought he had married me off and since the family has cattle, I should go back and serve as that man’s wife. All that my father cared about was his reputation and the respect people had for him; he did not care about what that man had put me through.

I ran away from home altogether and my aunt suggested that I go stay with her. My father wanted nothing to do with me unless I made the family proud. I stayed with my aunt until I finished high school. I was scared the first few years, always looking over my shoulder, but I never saw Khumalo again.

I moved on with life, got myself a job as a school secretary and I make an honest living. I still keep in contact with my mother and siblings but my relationship with my father is tainted.

I still don’t understand why my own father would want to capitalise on something that traumatised me. Various attempts have been made by the family to get us back on speaking terms and we’ve been trying, but it’s just not the same.

* Not her real name

– As told to Zilungile Mnisi. Got a story or want to get in touch? Follow Zilungile on Twitter.

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