August 26, 2021

Violence all around us – re-telling the story of Nonkie

Gender-based violence (GBV) is part of our everyday vocabulary. Sometimes it’s used too loosely for my liking, sometimes it’s used to meet donor targets, or some quick once-off campaign or fancy speak. High rates of crime, femicide and GBV in South Africa are a reality and many of us live in fear each day, at times the fear may even consumes us. We are too afraid to walk in certain places, too afraid to drive, I can’t even visit the cemetery without fearing for my life.

I don’t speak much about it, about a decade ago, I was brutally stabbed in the shoulder outside my home. I screamed with all of my might, desperately hoping the neighbours would hear, I was defenceless, there was not a rock or stone in sight to fight back, the only thing I could do was scream and so I did. I didn’t speak much about it and put on a brave face after returning from the hospital. Internally, I was broken, each day I walked home and that moment played in my mind, I kept looking over my shoulder and I never went out after dark for several years because I was too afraid. Behind the scenes, I struggled to sleep at night, I would hear imaginary footsteps outside, just praying that I am going to be safe. It took years to stop being afraid, anxious, stressed and I still jump when I see anyone carry a pocket knife. For the first time, in a long time, I have a lump in my throat as I recall this and write this. Reflecting on what I went through and what no one would quite understand. I always thought to myself if an experience of being stabbed was so difficult, I can never and don’t ever want to imagine what it would be like to be raped, in all honesty, I would rather die than live through this type of experience again.

Having worked in the health and gender space, I hear women and girls open up and break down about their experiences of rape and molestation, it weighs on me each time. I usually stop meetings and offer consolation, but I doubt it helps. Last year I worked on a project where women described trying to report GBV cases and were raped for a second time either on the way to the police station, sometimes even by policeman. Young girls describe how teachers rape them, or even how they are raped by peers in school toilets. These cases make me sick to my stomach each time. Last week, I spoke to a colleague, and he said, ‘I can’t imagine what it is like to be woman in this country’.  

This past month, I participated in a Human Rights Course hosted by Enza Research (which, by the way, was an outstanding experience)! I played and re-played the video, “Life After Nonkie.” I recommend taking 12 minutes out of your day, listen and watch The video shows the conservative township of Kroonstad where Nonkie was brutally murdered. In this video her friends describe Nonkie’s zest for life, the violence, stigma and discrimination. The video highlights that ‘other term’ we throw around, i.e. ‘intersectionality’ and brings to light what it means to be a ‘Black Lesbian Women’ who tends to be unemployed, stigmatised and subject to corrective rape and even murder. Listening to Nonkie’s story, I recall a young women from Botswana who shared how she was constantly beaten up by family members to ‘correct her lesbian ways’. I don’t like the term ‘corrective rape’ either, what makes others’ ideas and beliefs right or correct? What kind of belief system teaches us murder and violence or that making another person suffer, is right? Nothing justifies what women within South Africa and beyond our borders are going through.

 As I was thinking of penning this, Nosicelo Mtebeni had been murdered this week and we are crying out for justice. On the one side of Women’s Month in South Africa we celebrate our achievements and our history, yet at the back of our minds, in stark contrast, we wonder as we continue to live in fear, trauma and with our deep wounds, will there ever, ever, ever, ever be justice?

Again, a reminder, please watch, Life After Nonkie

Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning public health practitioner, and pens #ThoughtSpace with a touch of inspiration, critical thinking, and creativity. This month the piece was penned with a heavy heart amidst the growing levels of violence and femicide in South Africa.

Tweet: @ChoonaraShakira

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