Cape Town -
A14-year-old girl found herself in “modern-day slavery”, in the words of a Wynberg magistrate, when she was sold for R8 000 and forced to marry a man who held her captive and beat her for sex.
On Thursday, Wynberg Regional Court Magistrate Daleen Greyvensteyn sentenced Mvumeleni Jezile to an effective 22 years in jail for three counts of rape, human trafficking and assault.
Greyvensteyn said the situation had been terrifying for the Eastern Cape teenager, who had just finished Grade 7. She went to a nearby shop on behalf of an elder and the next moment she was sold to marry a man she didn’t know.
The girl was taken from her home in Ngcobo and forced to go through a customary marriage to Jezile, 32, on February 2010. She escaped and ran back home. But her uncle and grandmother, who participated in the negotiations for Jezile’s bride, took her back to him.
Soon afterwards, the girl was put on a taxi bound for Cape Town. The girl lived with Jezile at his home in Brown’s Farm, Philippi, and was raped several times and beaten with a broomstick, whip and belt. She escaped again and fled to the police.
She is back with her mother in the Eastern Cape.
The case is the Western Cape’s first case of ukuthwala: the traditional practice of kidnapping a young woman in an attempt to force marriage negotiations. It is also the second human trafficking conviction.
Greyvensteyn said the girl was degraded and forced into a life of servitude. As a makoti “young bride” she was expected to cook and clean for her husband. “(But) the complainant was resilient and strong-willed with dreams of finishing school and marrying for love.”
“It’s intolerable that very serious crimes such as trafficking, rape and assault are committed under the guise of culture, tradition and religion. Both parties to any marriage must consent thereto. Hiding behind now defunct customs to satisfy one’s own needs must be discouraged.”
The court found substantial and compelling circumstances to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence of life imprisonment for raping a child.
Greyvensteyn imposed a lesser sentence than life after considering Jezile’s upbringing, level of education – he completed Grade 8 – his traditional beliefs, and the cumulative effect of the minimum sentences for each charge.
But his lack of remorse and the fact that he continued to rape the girl, despite a large wound on her leg, were aggravating factors.
“Jezile has never shown remorse. He persisted throughout that he was innocent, and blamed custom, the church and tradition. He had little insight into the pain and anguish that the complainant endured; instead he called her disobedient and cheeky,” Greyvensteyn said.
The victim impact report states that the girl suffered from insomnia and when she fell asleep was haunted by nightmares.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Eric Ntabazalila welcomed the sentence, saying it was the most severe penalty handed to someone convicted of human trafficking in South Africa. In 2011, in Lusikisiki Regional Court, a human trafficker was sentenced to seven years in jail.
“This conviction and sentence is a result of the NPA’s commitment to prioritising cases of this nature. Also, (it shows) our commitment to creating a society which is safe and secure for women and children and addresses issues that affect vulnerable groups such as women, children, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex persons and persons with disabilities,” Ntabazalila said.
Ukuthwala, commonly known as “forced marriage”, is an ancient Xhosa custom.
The word means “carrying away”.
Professor Jan Bekker of the University of Pretoria said the custom had changed from what it used to be.
“Ukuthwala was an initiation to marriage made by two young people in love.
“In the rural areas the girl would be at the river maybe, fetching water, when the young man, with a group of his friends, would accost her. She would then be taken to the young man’s home, his father’s hut, where she would remain.”
The father of the young man would then go to the girl’s home to speak to her father and lobola negotiations would start.
For the remainder of the lobola negotiations the girl would be returned home until the wedding took place.
However, over the years the romantic love tale had taken a turn in the wrong direction.
“It’s a horrible phenomenon,” said Bekker.
“Nowadays, it’s middle-aged men who are accosting young high school girls, and because of the different backgrounds, parents take the lobola money they are given.”
Bekker urged the government to intervene because child trafficking and abduction were being sugar-coated as ukuthwala.
“The government and police need to take action now because issues of abduction and rape occur in these cases.”
An investigation carried out by the Commission on Gender Equality has found that most of the ukuthwala marriages have occurred in the Eastern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal.
The commission’s Taryn Powys said: “Today, young girls aged 13 or 14, and sometimes as young as nine, are being kidnapped on their way to school to be married to men who are in their 40s or 50s and polygamists.”
When the girls’ families objected, they were offered “damages” in the form of money, cows and blankets, Powys said.
“Many of them are poor, so they accept.”
Although the custom might be traditionally acceptable, it violated the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998, which said the two people to be wed must be more than 18 years old, and the agreement had to be consensual.
“We are concerned that the abduction of girls by men, as well as the associated instances of sexual assault, underage lobola and pregnancy, constitute a direct violation of girls’ constitutional rights,” Powys said. - Additional reporting by Zodidi Dano