As South Africa continues to struggle with gender-based violence, the community of Rustenburg in the North-West province has found an innovative way of supporting survivors.
Working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) through a project that’s aimed at addressing the challenge of sexual and gender-based violence in the area, some men have started acting as a link between survivors and care services.
As first responders, the MSF staff drivers are often the first people that survivors comes into contact with after an incident; this requires them to be able to offer both physical and psychological support.
For Lebogang Seketema, working as a driver is a personal decision. His sister was raped by a neighbour when she was 9 years old. She never received any medical or psychological care, while the family never reported the rape.
Seketema says the role requires emotional sensitivity.
“You can imagine I am a man, and the lady has been abused by a man,” he tells MSF. “She has to get inside the car, and sometimes I’m alone inside the car with her. So, you know how it feels... You have to let her know that she’s in a safe place, that she’s safe with you.”
A 2015 MSF survey of 800 women in the Rustenburg area found that one in four women had experienced rape in their lifetime, and that around 11,000 women and girls were being raped every year in Rustenberg.
The survey also revealed that, like Seketema’s sister, 95% of participants didn’t report their rape to a healthcare worker — “many out of fear and shame, and limited knowledge about the importance of seeking immediate care,” according to a statement by MSF.
A 2018 report published by Statistics SA noted that the rates of femicide in South Africa were more than five times the global average.
Research into the immediate effects of rape and GBV found that survivors go through shock, fear, anxiety, confusion, and withdrawal. In severe cases, survivors experienced “major depression, alcohol abuse and dependence, drug abuse, generalised anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder”.
This makes the work of Seketema and his seven colleagues even more important. They drive around Rustenburg daily to transport survivors of sexual violence to community care centres called Kgomotso Care Centres (KCC).
Each of the four centres has forensic nurses, psychologists, counsellors, and social workers. Services offered include care packages to help survivors treat their injuries, and to help prevent HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies. Survivors are also linked to legal services.
“As awareness of the KCCs grows, an increasing number of survivors are seeking care,” says MSF.
In 2015, for example, the first KCCs in Rustenburg received 62 cases of sexual and gender-based violence. In 2018, the four centres received a combined total of 1,266 new cases; and 657 new cases in the first half of 2019.
This growth is in part a result of community-based initiatives, including a schools programme that educates learners about sexual and reproductive health and GBV. Learners are also screened for signs of sexual violence.
The community initiative has reached 25,500 learners in 20 schools since 2018. Meanwhile, the KCCs in Rustenburg have provided care for more than 3,000 survivors since 2017.
The MSF adds: “For Lebo and the other drivers, working for MSF and meeting survivors has changed their own understanding of violence, and the role each of them can play in changing other men’s mindsets.”
If you live in South Africa and have experienced sexual or gender-based violence, you can find resources for advice and support here.