File picture: Chris Collingridge

Durban - After years of service, army veteran and professional nurse Mandisa Tsotsi, 70, retired to a simple life in her village in Tsomo, Eastern Cape.

After identifying the needs of her community, the gender activist dedicated her days to helping her fellow villagers - mostly elderly women who live alone and often fall prey to thugs and sexual predators.

Despite rampant rape cases, Tsotsi said there is still a stigma attached to sexual violence, and most victims don’t report the crimes out of fear of being labelled by fellow villagers.

During Women’s Month, on August 27, the sprightly grandmother of five who lives alone was stabbed and raped by an intruder in her home.

“I have been working with these kinds of issues, but not one day did I ever think I would be one of the survivors,” said Tsotsi, a former Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) soldier who was trained in Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Just before midnight, she was startled by strange noises coming from inside her house and saw a strange man yielding a knife. A struggle ensued, with Tsotsi trying to protect herself from her assailant.

“We struggled for a while, he was trying to go for my throat, but I blocked him with my arm, and he stabbed me on my hand. Eventually, he overpowered me and sexually assaulted me. After the ordeal, he demanded money, and when he realised I didn’t have any, he fled. I tried to get some help and managed to get to my brother’s home, about a kilometre away at about 1 am,” said Tsotsi.

According to South African crime statistics for 2018/2019 released in September, the number of reported sexual offences - mostly rape cases - increased to 52420 from the 50108 recorded the previous year.

Tsotsi’s brother immediately took her to Tsomo police station to report the crime. After opening a case, her brother drove her to Cofimvaba hospital where nursing staff examined her, gave her pre-exposure prophylaxis and released her.

However, her pain intensified, and her sons urged her to go to Gauteng for comprehensive medical assistance at the SANDF’s 1 Military Hospital.

Due to the severity of her injuries, Tsotsi was admitted for three weeks at the military hospital, and once discharged, she continued to receive weekly physiological and psychological therapy as an outpatient until two weeks ago.

Tsotsi currently lives with one of her sons in Garsfontein, Pretoria East until she has made full recovery.

Her left hand was wrapped in a bandage, and she carried a piece of sponge that she kept on squeezing as instructed by her medical team.

Although she has not heard from the officers investigating her case in almost four months, Tsotsi is grateful for the treatment she received from police officers in Tsomo when she was most vulnerable.

“I found male police officers at the station. One of the officers was really nice, he handed me a towel and opened the counter to allow me to sit next to the heater to keep warm.

“About 30 minutes later, a policewoman arrived and helped me to open a case. She gave me a rape kit and took me through the process,” said Tsotsi.

Tsotsi said her life was in Tsomo and would be returning to her home as soon as she has made a full recovery. She chose to speak out about the incident to encourage victims to rise up and survive their ordeal. Also, she refused to be intimidated by her assailant - who is still at large, and whom she believes has raped other women.

While she has received overwhelming support from her family and loved ones, she said there were those who had turned her assault into mockery.

“There is still a lot of stigma around rape, especially where I am from.

“People choose to keep quiet when they are abused, because they do not want to be embarrassed.

“I decided to speak about my ordeal because it’s the least I can do to contribute towards stopping this madness,” she said.

Sunday Tribune