Maverick Citizen

Gender-based violence

Battling poverty and hunger, Graaff-Reinet community stands up against rape

A march by residents of Santaville on 9 August to protest against gender-based violence. (Photo: Joy Williams)

Amid growing poverty and hunger, the Santaville community from Graaff-Reinet has found a renewed purpose after three women were raped and another three robbed in a brazen crime on 7 August. The women, whose working hours have been reduced during lockdown, were walking home as they could no longer afford a taxi. Apart from helping the police to find and arrest the attackers, the community has organised protests to create more awareness of gender-based violence.

“We started our campaign with cookies and boerewors rolls because we quickly realised that for some of the community members that would be the only thing they would have to eat that day,” Samantha Graham-Mare, a Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament, said.

“Even before the incident we planned to have something for Women’s Day and we had started a petition.”

She was one of the community leaders who helped to create awareness of gender-based violence in the Graaff-Reinet community after a horrific incident where three women were raped and another three were robbed and held at knifepoint.

“Our community has never seen a crime like this,” said Rudolf Rossouw, a resident who led the search for the suspects. 

“We are struggling here. The women had their hours reduced so they are now only working eight days in the month. They felt like they couldn’t afford a taxi. They walked that whole week from the Monday to the Friday. They would leave at 4.30 and it would take about 40 minutes. We think the men were watching them,” he said.

He said when the women didn’t arrive home they all thought that they might have gone to town.

“But then we got the call that they were assaulted. We were there before the police. Everybody was crying. There were six of them, all between 25 and 30. I asked what happened. They told us how the two men held them up with big knives and took their bags, and how they raped three of them. I don’t know if one of the women had a fit or if she faked a fit but after that the men then let them go,” said Rossouw.

“We went home after we heard the story. We went to fetch our pangas.” 

He said they looked everywhere for the two suspects. First, they had a wrong name and discovered that the man they were looking for was still in jail. Next, they went searching through the bushes close to the reservoir.

“One of the uncles who farm with goats and pigs came to us and said he knew the two men. They had been hanging out at the Sarah Baartman monument all week and they would sit there drinking,” Rossouw said. 

They found the house of a suspect’s mom.

“Just as we arrived there, we saw them running,” he said. “We found the backpacks and the women’s jackets at the house. Some people were already out selling things.”

He said after the community discovered the name of one of the suspects, they saw he had posted pictures of himself drinking at the monument on Facebook.

“We then used an app to track the stolen cellphone, that is how we found him.”

The other suspect handed himself over to the police later on Friday evening.

“This is the first time that this happened in our community,” Rossouw said. “We are very angry. Everyone was out that night – even those who struggled to walk. We want to be heard. If they ever get bail we will wait for them,” he said.

Another community leader, Joy Williams, said this was the first time she had seen the whole of the Santaville community act together. 

“Gender-based violence is a serious problem here. Many women won’t speak up. When we organised the march you could see that many of them had gathered the courage to speak out.

“Santaville is one of the poorest parts of Graaff-Reinet and since lockdown people have really struggled. We try to run soup kitchens for them and there are many adults who come to ask for food. It is not only the children,” Williams said.

Police spokesperson Captain Bradley Rawlinson said the Graaff-Reinet Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) and members of Graaff-Reinet Operational Command Centre arrested two men for the crimes on 7 August. 

The men have appeared in court, but have not applied for bail. By law, they can be named only once they have pleaded to the charges brought against them.

It is alleged that the men overpowered the six women who were on their way home from work in Wolwas, Graaff-Reinet by using knives and then robbed them of their belongings. The men also allegedly raped three of the women. MC

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