Doing What’s Best
The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Each time it happens the consequences are life altering for the victims, Siphokazi shares her journey with us.
Born in Cape Town, Siphokazi Myogi* (17) spent the first few years of her life living in the upmarket suburb of Bantry Bay.
“We lived in a double story house, very close to the beach so we would often take walks together. I am the only child between my parents, but I have a step-sister from my father who is four years older than me who lived with us. My mom did not work and my father was a businessman, we had a comfortable life, so I am guessing he made a lot of money.”
When Siphokazi turned six her life began to change.
“I remember my mom sitting down with me and saying that she might need to move out and someone else would be moving in. I never knew what she meant at first, but later I found out from my sister that my father cheated on my mom. At that young age I never knew what cheating was except that it involved another woman and that it was a bad thing.
“At seven my parents got divorced and my mother moved out. She told me that my daddy would take care of me and that I would see her over weekends. My dad did not support my mom financially so she needed to find a job. She began working as a domestic at a house close to my school so she would see me during the week – she would always bring something special for me during break time. It was good for me because I missed my mom and when I got to see her during the week it made things easier.
“A couple of months later my dad’s new girlfriend moved in and they got married a year later. I developed a good relationship with my stepmother, she was younger than my mother, and I found it easier to talk to her about certain things.”
“When I was 11 my mom got sick, she had diabetes and developed sores on her right foot. Her condition worsened over a few months, I remember visiting her over one holiday and the house stank, there were dishes everywhere. The sores on her foot had gotten worse and she was barely able to walk. I also heard from the neighbours that the only way she was eating was when they would send her some food because she could not make her own. She was staying in a shack so it was all very different to where I was living. I felt bad because my mother only had me to care for her.
“I decided that I needed to move in with her because she needed me. When I got home I had a chat to my stepmom and asked her if she could talk to my father about my decision to move out.
“She agreed, and while she was talking to my dad I overheard him telling her that she must never take me to see my mom again. I was disappointed that he did not understand that I needed to be there for her. I decided that if he wasn’t going to take me then I would make my own way to my mom’s house.”
Following that, Siphokazi ran away to her mother’s house after school one day.
“That same afternoon he came looking for me at my mom’s house, he told people to call me, but I just ignored him. I then skipped school for two days but when I went back he came to the school looking for me. I told him that I needed to look after my mother because she had no one, but he told me that I don’t respect him and that if I moved he would be nothing to me. I was angry with him because of his threats and coldness.
“The change in environment was difficult, we struggled with food because my mother couldn’t work and we would only get money secretly from my stepmother. I also had to change to a school closer to my new home in Khayelitsha. Whenever I got down about the situation I would think about why I moved and I knew that I was doing the right thing.”
For the next year, Siphokazi never spoke to her father and only kept in contact through messaging her stepmother. Until one day when her father reached out to her about a family ceremony that she needed to attend in his hometown in the Eastern Cape.
“My dad called me saying that I must go to his home for a ceremony where they slaughter a goat and would introduce me to my ancestors. At first, I wasn’t keen because I hadn’t been there before, I was 13 and my mom told me that I needed to go so that good things can happen in my life. I had only ever spoken to my grandmother over the phone, and hadn’t met any of my father’s family in person so I was kind of excited, but mostly nervous. When I agreed to go my dad said that he couldn’t go with me because of work, I left the following December holidays.
“When I arrived at the bus depot my grandparents and two cousins fetched me. It was awkward at first, I did not know anyone. While I was there I stayed in the family house, where my dad’s five siblings visited often.
“I soon clicked with one of my cousins – the daughter of my dad’s oldest brother. We had similar personalities, we found the same kind of thing interesting like watching the same television programmes and we spoke for hours.
“One day she said that we should go to her dad’s shack and ‘chill’. We were sitting on the bed talking when her dad came home. He didn’t say much to us and told my cousin that she needed to go to the shop. I got up to go with her but my uncle pointed at me and said: ‘no, you stay.’ I stood there confused, he walked towards me and pushed me on the bed. I looked to the door and saw my cousin leaving.
“I remember him leaning over me, and the heavy brown coat that he was wearing touching my face. He wasn’t saying anything to me, he just got on top of me then he raped me. In my head I kept seeing my cousin and hoping that she would bring people to help me, but she never came back.
“When he finished he got up, opened the door and told me to get out. I walked back to the family house, went to the toilet and stared at myself in the mirror. I thought no one would believe me because many of them had just met me, and my uncle had been living there for a long time. I just wanted to get out of there, so I called my friend because my mom did not have a phone. I told him what happened and asked him to tell my mom to send me money, I had a bank card with me which she could send the money to. The minute I got the money I told them that I was taking a walk and I went straight to the taxi rank. Leaving all of my belongings at the family house, I took a taxi straight to Cape Town.
“I remember every time the taxi went over a bump I would need to stand up because I was so in pain and I began crying. When the taxi stopped at a garage I tried calling my dad but he didn’t answer.
“When I got to Cape Town, I remember the taxi dropping me close to home and me banging on my mother’s house door. I was scared that someone from my father’s family would have followed me. When she opened the door I went straight to my room where I cried the whole night, I kept asking myself questions.
“The next day my mom took me to the clinic, where they tested me for HIV or any other viruses and they gave me medication. I was scared of finding a disease, I didn’t want anyone to touch me but I allowed them because I needed to know if I had picked anything up. Having to explain what happened to everyone was taking me back to the experience – it made me feel scared that my uncle was coming to hurt me again.
“We were at the clinic for about six hours, when we left they gave me a letter and said that I must take it to the police station. I think by that time I had zoned out and I was doing things just because instructions were given to me, there was not too much thought on my side through the process. The police were helpful but they told me that I needed to press the charges in the Eastern Cape. I didn’t want to go back…. in my mind I was going to see someone from his family – because I feared what they were going to do to me.
“A day or two later my mom and I went back to the Eastern Cape, we went to the police station where I told them what happened. I was still fearful, and at that time feeling disgusted with myself. I began blaming myself because I thought maybe I gave him the wrong idea. My mom was straightforward with me, she said that it was not my fault and that a grown man must not do this to children.
“Without my mom’s support I don’t think I would have taken any action. She would tell me that I was strong, and that she will protect me. We spent one night in the Eastern Cape, I remember not sleeping out of fear that I would be captured. The next day we left for Cape Town and I was relieved to be going back home. At that point I hadn’t heard from my dad.
About a month later the police called Siphokazi’s mom and told her that the suspect had been arrested.
“They told us that we need to go to the Eastern Cape in April for the trial (about two months after his arrest). When they told me that I need to see him, I thought about dropping the case, but I felt obligated to carry on with the case to prevent him from doing the same to other girls.”
A few weeks later, Siphokazi endured a further knock in her life.
“About three months after the rape, I had really bad toothache and needed to get a small procedure done at the hospital. They asked me if there was any chance I could be pregnant and I told them about the rape. They took a blood test and I found out that I was pregnant.
“I was scared, mainly because I thought what if the child grows up to be like my uncle – I thought about terminating the pregnancy but after talking to my mom, we decided to keep the baby.”
Less than two months later the trial began.
“I was still at school during this time, so I needed to miss days to go to the trial – three pre-trials first and then the court case. Every time I went it was horrible – I would see my dad’s family but we never spoke.
“The worst part was when my cousin (my uncle’s daughter) sent me a message saying that no one believes me and that I will not break up their family. She also wrote that even my dad doesn’t believe me because he paid my uncle’s bail.
“The court case lasted over a year, my dad was often there to support his brother, but never spoke to me. I was heartbroken that he never believed me. But I had my mom.”
During the trial, the family of Siphokazi’s dad found out that she was pregnant and approached the judge to say that her uncle has rights to see the baby.
“I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to keep my baby for me – I didn’t want him to know them. But I had no choice because the judge agreed that he has rights as a father. I went through a very dark time and tried to end my pregnancy by drinking floor cleaner. I felt like everything in my life was wrong, I felt alone and that if my child spent time with his father that he would become a rapist. After drinking the liquid I went to sleep but nothing happened – I just got sick, but the baby was fine.”
As the trial concluded her uncle was found guilty.
“The judge sentenced him to 11 years and said that my child would visit him from the age of six months. I felt sick that I had to share my baby with him, but my mother said that sometimes a mother must make sacrifices for her child and that we would raise him to be a good man.”
After giving birth, Siphokazi bonded with her baby, and says that even though he visits his father in jail, she is convinced that he will be different.
“I don’t know what I am going to tell him about his father when he is older. He has visited him in jail on a few occasions with one of my aunts. Whenever she takes him I feel sick, but I know that I am his mother and that I will always love him and try my best raising him.”
Two years later and Siphokazi says that she is making the best of her situation, she is in Grade 11 and performing at the top of her class, all while raising her son with the help of her mother.
Siphokazi concludes: “My childhood was violently ripped away from me and I was forced to grow up quickly. Nothing that has happened to me was my fault, however I made the choice to take responsibility. I knew I needed to report him in order to save other girls. I also knew that my baby boy needed a loving mother, that could see him for who he is and not the circumstances that brought him here. Sometimes in life we are called to be bigger than ourselves… when life calls you, be responsible and answer – no matter how hard it is.”
Siphokazi is a Leaders’ Quest participant