Ntombesintu Mfunzi: the fight of a South African athlete against rape | News about sexual assault


The hilly, winding trail routes near the village of Mhlakulo in the Eastern Cape, South Africa are difficult even for the most elite runners.

In some areas, reaching the top requires crawling on rough gravel paths on tiptoe.

Ntombesintu Mfunzi, a 39-year-old ultramarathon runner, is one of the best runners in the country and she lives and trains in this vast region.

Mfunzi grew up in Ntsimbakazi – a village about 130 km (80 miles) from Mhlakulo – where local races are scarce.

In 2013, she was invited to participate in the Mirtha Payisa race for diabetes. She won the half marathon and successfully defended her title in 2015 after the 2014 event was canceled.

But it was in 2016, when she returned with a hat-trick in sight, that her life changed.

The day before the race, Mfunzi was lured into a bush, beaten with a hammer and brutally raped. The rapist threatened to kill her but left her lying in the bushes.

Mfunzi eventually managed to get help, was admitted to hospital, and reported the incident to the police.

“To say I was terrified would be to say it lightly,” Mfunzi describes the traumatic experience in great detail in her memoir Yoyisa (Overcome).

“My knees weakened and I bent, falling face down on the ground right in front of him. My state of terror didn’t do anything to him, because he slammed the hammer on my back as if he was putting a nail in a cement wall. The pain was excruciating.

Lying in a hospital bed, she decided she would still be competing the next day.

“I was like, ‘I’m not going to let the devil win again. I’m going to do what I came here to do, which is to run, ”” she told Al Jazeera.

The next morning, as Mfunzi crossed the finish line in front of the peloton, she collapsed in front of the crowd chanting her name.

Four days later, the community of Mhlakulo tracked down the rapist who is currently serving 22 years in prison.

Today, she uses her story to raise awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) and help other rape survivors overcome their trauma while advocating for systemic change through her work as a human resources manager in a prison. from Port Elizabeth.

“From that day in November my life changed completely,” she said. “I was supposed to die. But maybe God wanted me to save other survivors, to get them to fight.

When Mfunzi reported her rape to police in 2016, she says they acted quickly by taking her statement, gathering evidence and transporting her to hospital for testing. [Courtesy of Wayne Reiche]

‘Assault’

Mfunzi’s story is one of many in a country where rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide are among the highest in the world.

According to the most recent data from the South African Police Service (SAPS), 2,695 women were murdered in 2019-2020, indicating that one woman is murdered every three hours.

In the previous period, the rate of femicide was 15.2 per 100,000 women – five times the world average.

South Africa also has the highest rape rate in the world with 132.4 incidents per 100,000 people.

Reported sexual offenses, including rape, have increased every year since 2016, when the number was 49,660. Last year, more than 53,000 sexual assaults were reported to police, but human rights groups women say the real number is probably much higher.

“These are issues that we are constantly faced with,” said Claudia Lopes, women’s rights activist and program manager at the human rights foundation Heinrich Boell in Cape Town.

“It feels like we are facing the same onslaught, and as civil society organizations and activists we are frustrated.”

In May 2020, following a wave of renewed protests demanding government action, President Cyril Ramaphosa endorsed the long-awaited National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Feminicide (NSP GBVF), implemented to address accountability , prevention, protection, response, economic empowerment and research.

Almost 21 billion rand ($ 1.36 billion) has been allocated over three years to support the plan.

However, last month President Ramaphosa revealed that “domestic resources” had been urgently diverted “to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic”, as he announced a private sector fund of Rand 128 million. ($ 873,000) over two years to provide additional funds to implement the national plan.

Mfunzi said more needs to be done to make sure women feel safe reporting rape, including prioritizing rape cases in court and providing awareness training to police officers conducting investigations. [Ntombesintu Mfunzi Facebook page]

The move came amid mounting pressure from activists and civil society organizations, and a sharp rise in violence against women during the nine-week nationwide lockdown imposed last March.

The government says the fund will contribute to various initiatives aimed at supporting victims and survivors, strengthening the justice system, raising awareness and creating economic empowerment opportunities for women.

But some activists said the creation of the fund was rushed and a lack of consultation with civil society left them in the dark about how the money would be spent.

Lopes said that while the funding itself is good news, the lack of clarity raises questions about transparency and accountability, as well as concerns about the diversion of government funding from existing services, such as shelters for victims. crime and violence.

“What’s important is how these funds are managed,” Lopes said.

“My fear is that with austerity measures the private sector fund will be used as an excuse by the government to cut money to NGOs providing services,” she said.

Other activists highlighted the minimal information in the government’s 2021 budget on tackling GBV.

Is South Africa doing enough?

In South Africa, accurate and up-to-date rape statistics are difficult to produce, in part because of high costs and low level of reporting.

Studies show that those who report incidents to the police experience further trauma, victim blaming, threats, incompetence and delays in processing their cases.

According to a 2017 report by the South African Medical Research Council – the most recent study of its kind – arrests were made in 57% of reported rape cases and only 8.6% of cases resulted in a guilty verdict .

When Mfunzi reported her rape to police in 2016, she says they acted quickly by taking her statement, gathering evidence and transporting her to hospital for testing.

While his rapist was arrested within four days, delays in the system meant it took him another two years before he was found guilty and sentenced.

Mfunzi says he has been given a number of reasons why his court dates have been repeatedly postponed, including court renovations, a shortage of judges and the unavailability of lawyers.

“I am really grateful for their [the police’s] work, but I feel the justice system relaxed after the rapist was arrested, ”she said. “The closure was so important to me … this postponement really killed me.”

I feel the justice system relaxed after the rapist was arrested

Mfunzi said more needs to be done to make sure women feel safe reporting rape, including prioritizing rape cases in court and providing awareness training to police officers conducting investigations.

“That’s why people don’t report cases… they’re afraid it will drag on for years.”

Speaking in a public dialogue aimed at improving access to justice for GBV survivors in August 2020, Police Minister Bheki Cele said GBV remains a priority for SAPS.

He said progress was being made in resourcing specialized GBV units within the police service and in training outreach officers.

But following the announcement of the latest crime statistics on February 19, which showed an increase in rape and sexual offenses, Cele admitted there were gaps in policing, especially in handling cases. by VBG.

“I recognize that we will have to… get our house in order,” he said.

In its annual reports dating from 2005, the National Prosecuting Authority, which reports to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to prosecute criminal cases, found that understaffing, inadequate budgets and reputational damage have caused damage. undermined its effectiveness in the fight against corruption and gender-based violence.

The government has identified “expanding access to justice for survivors” as a key intervention in its NSP GBVF and has committed in its 2021 state budget to increasing the number of rape clinics from 58 to 61 and to designate 99 additional courts as courts for sexual offenses.

#IChooseToBeAVictorNotAVictim

For Mfunzi, being a winner also means defending other survivors.

In September last year, she organized a march to raise awareness about gender-based violence and is a speaker for the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

She also posts encouraging messages using the hashtag #IChooseToBeAVictorNotAVictim.

Mfunzi said many survivors contacted her to share their stories. Others express their gratitude on social media.

“We’ve never met, but I feel like I’ve been friends forever… today I’m doing a dedication run especially for you,” a woman told Mfunzi on Facebook.

“Thank you for that… so encouraged by your strength!” another tweeted.

She said these interactions inspired her to pursue studies in psychology and work as a counselor.

Mfunzi always finds strength and healing while running.

A top 10 finisher in the Cape Town Two Oceans Marathon in 2018, she was training to make the top five this year before the race was canceled due to the coronavirus.

Despite this disappointment, she continues to run twice a day in the Eastern Cape.

Mfunzi has not returned to Mhlakulo village since the 2016 incident. But she says she wants to return there someday.

“I would love to go there as a new person that I am. As painful as my trip has been, I am grateful for the woman I have become.





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