The Sunday Mail
Wendy Nyakurerwa Assistant Editor
As the young girls came to the podium, two of them heavily pregnant, there was a deafening silence in the fully packed HICC.
It was almost as if everything else was stuck in time, no one dared to move, it was all eyes and ears as the rape survivors narrated their spine-chilling experiences.
Besides their tear-filled voices that took turns to fill the auditorium, only sniffs from a sobbing audience could be heard. Almost everyone who was in that auditorium shed at least a tear as the girls opened up and allowed the world a glimpse into their painful experiences, allowing the world to share the burden of their pain, if only for a couple of minutes.
Meet Vivian (13), Idah (14), Lucy (14) and Vimbai (17) (not real names). The girls who have been to hell and back. They have one painful thing in common: they were raped by their diabolic male relatives, people who were ordinarily supposed to protect them. They lament that each and every day, the wounds bestowed upon their lives bleed profusely.
Are they ever going to heal? Ten years from now, one would imagine that the wounds would have been replaced by scars but considering the deep cuts, are the scars not going to continuously rip open and start bleeding all over again? Only time will tell.
Soon after the public narration, the visibly distraught Idah went into labour and was rushed to Mbuya Nehanda Maternity Home for her caesarean section. Hours later, she delivered her baby and when she woke up, the baby was gone.
Idah does not have any information on the baby. Due to the fact that her cousin raped and impregnated her last year in June, Idah had to make a decision, a very difficult one for such a young girl.
“The baby would have been a reminder of the rape. It’s very difficult but I had to give it up,” she said, seemingly resigning to fate. When she decided to give her baby up for adoption, the agreement was that Social Welfare Services would assume responsibility of the baby soon after delivery until the baby is adopted. There is no going back once that decision is made.
This explains why she looked so glum when The Sunday Mail crew visited her at Mbuya Nehanda Maternity Home last week. The decision was already taking a toll on the young girl.
She lay on the hospital bed, staring into space as she re-lieved how it all started.
Under their grandparents’ care, she and her cousin lived as brother and sister. Idah never saw it coming. In the dead of night sometime in June last year, her 20-year-old cousin invaded her bedroom and raped her, threatening to kill her if she screamed. The abuse tormented her, but she could not tell anyone. She had to endure seeing her supposed brother every day. She was only able to confide in her aunt after some months, leading to his arrest and subsequent sentencing to eight years’ imprisonment in November.
“Akanditadzira, akandikanganisira hupenyu hwangu. Handitodi kana kumuona futi,”she moaned.
Yet not all hope is lost for ambitious Idah whose ambition is to become an accountant, she hopes to go back to school and proceed to college.
Vivian, the youngest of them all, is eight months pregnant. With her head slightly tilted sideways as she narrates her ordeal at Musasa project offices in the capital, she casts a dejected figure. One cannot help but feel the pain of this young girl who, instead of being in school doing her grade 7, is now staying at Musasa project shelter, nursing her pregnancy.
She rues the day her grandfather fell ill, thereby forcing her grandmother to leave her in the custody of her friend back in their rural home of Buhera as she went to seek medical attention for her ailing husband. “If my grandmother had known that this would happen to me she would have taken me with her to Harare,” she reckons regrettably. Vivian avoids direct eye contact as she painfully recalls how her grandmother’s friend went for gardening, leaving her and the 17-year-old boy alone. As soon as she was gone, she was dragged into the house, had her mouth gagged before being raped.
He threatened her with death if she revealed what had happened.
However, as soon as her grandmother returned, Vivian told her. To her horror, Vivian was told such matters could not be reported, even to her own grandmother.
“She said vaizotaura nambuya vangu pachikuru,” And so Vivian put trust in the elderly woman and thought she would honour her promises. Little did she know that she had fallen pregnant and her grandmother was still in the dark.
The matter only came to light after Vivian’s grandmother suspected pregnancy and took her to Murambinda Clinic for tests. She was already four months pregnant and the pregnancy could no longer be terminated.
After making a police report in November last year at Dorowa Police Station in Buhera, the boy who raped Vivian is still walking scot free. What hurts her even more is that he is still going to school while she has had to drop out in Grade 6.
Then there is Vimbai. Having just completed her ‘O’ levels, Vimbai regrets ever accepting her sister’s invitation to visit her in Harare.
Who would have thought that the seemingly loving sister who was co-habiting with her boyfriend had concocted such evil plans for her innocent sister.
On the night of her visit, a man joined the trio in the one room that they shared in Stoneridge, Harare. When evil struck, Vimbai screamed, all in the hope of waking up her sister and her companion. They ignored her, never woke up, never came to her rescue!
“Vakaramba vakarara vese, handina kunzwisisa kuti sei sisi vakasiya murume iyeye achindibata,” even as she said this, she is still puzzled by this betrayal, but the anger she holds for the sister is evident.
It did not take Vimbai long to realise that her trusted sister had deserted her, her mother advised her to come back home. Unfortunately, she was now stuck in the big city because she could not afford a trip back to Chimanimani.
Some two days later, the man came back again, laden with groceries for her sister. Now predictably, the sister left the house, locking the door behind her to give the intruder ample time to rape her sister. The matter only came to light when Vimbai told her other sister in Shamva who promptly took her to the police. The courts authorised that her pregnancy be terminated.
Now what is peculiar in Vimbai’s case is that though the rapist was arrested, the case had been on hold only until March 28 because the sister, an accomplice in this crime, is on the run.
And then there is Lucy, the 14-year-old girl who has suffered at the hands of two different rapists within seven months. She holds her two-week-old son as tears pour down her face. “I have learnt to love my baby, but it still hurts. Sometimes I just cry as I watch him,” she mourned.
Initially, her own cousin took advantage of her parents’ absence and raped her. She only managed to tell her mother when she was four months pregnant.
“They could not terminate the pregnancy, they said it was too late.”
However, Lucy now seeks solace in getting the cousin behind bars. Since November to date, he walks scot free, probably raping more victims.
When Lucy was about seven months pregnant and was now under the care of her grandmother in Mabhuku, another male relative raped her again “completely destroying my life”, she said.
“Gogo vakati hatingamhan’arire mukuwasha. I had joined a support group at Harare hospital, that is where l reported the second case and they referred me to the police.” As this writer spoke to the four girls at length on their different experiences, one thing was clear — these young children had been robbed of their childhood by the people they trusted, people who were supposed to protect them. In all the cases, a male relative is responsible for the incestuous act that has culminated into pregnancy.
Then to add salt to injury, families seem hesitant to take action against the perpetrators, partially blaming the victims for what happened. “My mother blamed me at first,” Lucy laments her nightmare.
The effects of rape are devastating and far-reaching. Ms Itayi Jeche, a shelter counsellor who has been counselling the traumatised girls, said that some rape victims can be suicidal.
“When they first came here, they were tense, some could not eat or sleep at night. Some can be rebellious and bitter. It takes time to break through a wall of a rape survivor,” she said sombrely.
Their shelter matron, Ms Sarudzai Mwarowa, added that it is no easy task to rebuild the confidence that would have been degraded by the abuse.
Musasa Project alone has recorded 444 cases of rape since July last year. Ms Mwarowa pointed out that young girls are increasingly becoming victims of rape.
“We currently have 24 rape survivors who are 17 years and below at the centre,” she said.
Media reports are awash with rape cases daily. It is disturbing to note that defenceless minors are usually targeted by their family members. The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstats) Quarterly Digest revealed that in 2012, 15 women were being raped daily. This translates to an equivalent of one woman being abused every 90 minutes.
Speaking at a belated International Women’s Day commemoration at the HICC, Musasa Project director Netty Musanhu spoke strongly on the need to rein in on rape perpetrators,
“Those who commit crimes such as stocktheft are thrown straight in jail but people who perpetrate crimes such as rape are found walking freely on the streets. The men who rape are given community service while those who steal goats go to jail,” she said.