Sexual and Gender Based Violence

South Africa: Better care for sexual violence survivors

A report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has found disturbing gaps in services for sexual violence survivors in South Africa. 

Nearly three-quarters of public health facilities in South Africa designated to provide services to survivors are unable to provide all the components of medical or clinical forensic care, the report said. Studies show that up to 1 in 4 women have been raped in their lifetime and yet only a small proportion of rapes (as few as 1 in 25) are reported to the police, with many survivors never accessing care.

The following are  testimonies from victims of sexual violence who MSF treated at the Kgomotso Care Centre in Rustenburg.

Dineo Lekone: Corrective Rape

Was raped by a male acquaintance on the night of her birthday in September 2016.

“We had been drinking in Brits with my girlfriend and some of her friends, and after a glass of wine or two, we went to Oukasie (township).

When we got there her friends complained that the drinks were warm, and so we went to Garankuwa, to a place called "Sho’t Left,” she says, seated in the counselling room of the Kgomotso Care Centre, in Letlhabile Community Health Centre.

When Lekone’s girlfriend disappeared she called and called until her airtime ran out. Her male friend offered to take Lekone to a petrol station to buy more airtime.

“He bought an electricity voucher for himself and he said we must go to his place to load electricity. I agreed,” she says.

At his apartment, Lekone’s friend asked her to come in for a while, and once indoors he said he would not be able to drive her home, as he was too tired.

“He prepared another room for me, and while I was busy undressing he came in saying he wanted to sleep with me. I was dating this girl at the time, and he said, ‘what you wish to do with your girlfriend, you will do with me tonight’. I refused. He threatened to kill me and throw my body in the Crocodile River.”

After being raped repeatedly, Lekone was dropped near her girlfriend’s home. 

“She advised me to report the incident.”


Preventing HIV

Police officers took Lekone to Kgomotso Care Centre (KCC) at Letlhabile Community Health Centre, where she was given post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV, counselled, and finally examined by a forensic nurse, who told Lekone to come back the next day for more counselling.

“The next day a nurse named Cecilia, from Doctors Without Borders, came to fetch me for my counselling session. She and my girlfriend played a big role in helping me to go through this,” she says.


Losing faith in the justice system

The repeated postponement of Lekone’s rapist’ trial has led her to doubt the justice system, and whether she should continue with the case.

“At church, they tell me I should go on with it, so okay. I don’t think I am the only one he did this too, and I can’t rely on others to come forward. I can’t keep quiet, I will talk.”


Poppy Makgobatlou: Abused by husband for several years

For more than 27 years Poppy Makgobatlou endured physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband, whom she stayed with because “in our culture, we respect the wishes of our parents, and my mother felt it would humiliate her if I left him”.

Makgobatlou’s sister passed away in 2014, and when her mother fell ill a few months later, “things started to get out of control in my life.” Her husband began removing items from the house one by one – where he was taking their things she did not know.

“He would just come and go, and when he was home he would fight me. He broke my shoulder, and the doctors recently told me that it still hasn’t healed.”

In 2015 Makgobatlou lost her brother. “I remember what hurt the most, besides the beatings, was taking my brother to the hospital on Saturday, and my husband was nowhere to be found. He came back home on Monday, but only to ask for my wedding ring.


Losing a brother, receiving a divorce decree and being kicked out of a sister's house

I told him I did not know where it was, and when he left the house he said he was going to kill me when he returned. Around 2 pm,  I received a call from the hospital to say that my brother had passed on - they wanted to know which mortuary they should take his body to,” she recalls.

After her brother’s funeral Makgobatlou lived with her sister’s two daughters for a time, unable to face her home. She received a summons for divorce from the Sherriff of the court and learned that her husband was living with another woman.

She received a divorce decree on the same day as her nieces kicked her out. Earlier in the week on the streets of Boitekong she had met a healthcare worker from Doctors Without Borders, who had told her about the Kgomotso Care Centre (KCC) at Boitekong Community Health Centre.

With nowhere else to turn Makgobatlou borrowed R20, and caught a taxi to the KCC, where she was counselled and then transported to the Grace Help Centre near Mooinooi, which provides shelter for vulnerable women and children.

“What I liked about the KCC counsellors is that they did not dump me. Even now, they visit when they are in the area. I can feel that I am strong now, and ready to leave the shelter.

I have no money but I do not need much – I want to know what it is like to live on my own in a little mokhukhu (shack), with just one plate and one cup – that will be fine for me,” she says.


The importance of speaking out

Asked if she would like her name to be changed to preserve her anonymity, Makgobatlou emphatically says, “No!”

“If an abused woman hears my story, I want them to know that I, Poppy Makgobatlou, used to hide my problems, but it kills you from inside to do that. You must speak out.”

About MSF’s response to sexual violence: In South Africa, the 42,496 rape cases reported by the South African Police Services for 2015/2016 are estimated to be only 4-11 per cent of the true number of rapes. An MSF study from 2015 found that on South Africa’s platinum belt, one in four women is raped in her lifetime yet only 1 in 20 ever report to a health facility for treatment.

MSF has been working with the North West Provincial Department of Health since 2015 to capacitate designated facilities as ‘Kgomotso Care Centres’ (KCC), providing a complete essential package of medical and clinical forensic services to survivors of sexual violence. Currently, MSF supports staff in three KCCs - all in primary care settings – to create a comforting environment for survivors, offer survivors the services that meet their needs, or refer them to the services of other government departments.

Find out more about MSF’s work in South Africa.