Respected SA surgeon breaks her silence to offer hope to rape and GBV survivors
Durban - A respected KwaZulu-Natal surgeon and humanitarian has courageously broken her silence this Women’s Month over her assault and rape nearly seven years ago.
“I have decided to speak out, so that women who have suffered or still endure the brutality of gender-based violence can know that they are not alone … they are far bigger heroes,” said Dr Morgie Govender.
Morgie, as she prefers to be called, is Head of Surgical Gastroenterology at Grey’s Hospital and Honorary Clinical Lecturer at UKZN. She was attacked during a morning jog in Pietermaritzburg in late 2013. The assailant was never arrested.
Talking to IOL for Women’s Month about her humanitarian work locally and abroad, Morgie decided it was time to speak out for women everywhere.
“The reality is that it happens a lot to women. Some live with it daily. They must know that they are not alone in their silence and pain. They are the women who are the far bigger heroes.
“I am sharing my story because rape and violence can happen to anyone. There is no shame in acknowledging that it has happened, no shame in asking for help and no shame in taking time to heal. But it must not be allowed to derail your hopes and dreams. You are stronger and more powerful than you know. Rise.”
Morgie has assisted on humanitarian missions with Gift of the Givers to Gaza and Congo, and is constantly seen at relief operations closer to home, particularly now in the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
She knew from early childhood already that she wanted to be a doctor because of her passion to help people. Her selfless commitment was poignantly portrayed in her decision to volunteer for the Gaza humanitarian mission mere months after she was assaulted.
“I had taken time off to heal, then the Gaza mission came up and I volunteered … because I did not want this rapist to destroy who I am,” said Morgie. “What this man did is a part of me, but it will not define me. I find courage in having to be strong for others.”
When asked what her superpower is, Morgie protested that she is not a hero, then reluctantly ventured: “Resilience”.
She, however, reserves her highest praise for two very special people: “I thank my parents for everything I am. I truly owe them the world.”
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, internationally acclaimed humanitarian and founder of Gift of the Givers, describes Morgie as deeply compassionate, caring, and ever-willing to offer her time and skills freely. “Selflessness, humility, dedication,” says Sooliman, but she will rarely be seen as she prefers working “in the shadows”.
Morgie has been on two international volunteer missions with Gift of the Givers. The first was Congo in 2012 when a munitions depot exploded in Brazzaville, leaving more than 250 people dead, in excess of 2 300 injured, and over 14 000 homeless.
The second was Gaza in 2014 during the devastating rocket attacks. “She was one of only two women on that mission,” said Sooliman. “All the surgeons were in awe when she was operating and they wanted to work with her to learn her technique.
“She is ever ready to go to any disaster, irrespective of risk, willing to give of her skill freely. She is a great team player, she is loved by all, stays in the shadows, unassuming, gentle, compassionate and deeply religious. She is deserving of this recognition,” said Sooliman.
Morgie recalls two heartwarming stories, moments “that make it all worthwhile”.
In Gaza, she treated an elderly man. He was not badly injured but Morgie knew he wanted to talk, and she patiently listened. Then he concluded: "My daughter, you know our economic situation here, I have nothing to give you,” he said, taking out his rosary. "I have read on these beads all my life, this I give to you." Morgie accepted the gift with gratitude and humility, and back home respectfully placed it at her prayer lamp.
In Congo, Morgie recalls having treated a 17-year-old. “I could not speak French, and she could not speak English. But somehow during our interactions I picked up that she wanted to friend me on FB. It was years later that I received a post from her that she was married and had a baby.”
Morgie qualified in 2000, and works exclusively in the government sector because that is where the most help is needed. She is committed to staying in South Africa, because the needs here are as great as anywhere else in the world.
This Women’s Month, IOL in collaboration with the African News Agency, is paying tribute to women who embody the spirit of the women of the 1956 march to the Union Buildings who sang Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (You strike a woman, you strike a rock). Read more about our #SheIsMyRock campaign here.