Defend Truth


Random acts of everyday violence


This year’s 16 Days of Activism has ended. Are we going to fall silent about gender-based violence again?

This is what happened to my 13-year-old daughter, Phoebe Dordel, in her own words.


Last week, I went on a school trip to Durban. I was selected to represent our school in the national beach handball tournament. We were a team of girls, a team of boys, a coach and an assistant coach.

Everything about the trip was great, except for the assistant coach. He swore at some of us, for very little reason. He offered to buy us beer – when we hadn’t asked and didn’t want any anyway. He stayed up late with us, always in one of the girls’ rooms – there were three rooms that we shared.

At one point, it was two in the morning and we all wanted to sleep – two of the girls had already fallen asleep – but he remained, wanting to stay up and talk to us. Eventually, I just kicked him out.

He made up reasons to come into our rooms late at night. One night, he came into my friends’ room around two thirty in the morning. They had locked their door because of him. He knocked on the door until my friend, half-asleep, came and opened the door for him. He then went into the room, shone his phone’s flashlight into the other girls’ eyes and said he was looking for his hoodie.

By this time, my friend, who is usually very nice, stopped being nice and kicked him out, telling him he could fetch his hoodie in the morning – if it was there. It wasn’t in the end. After he left, she locked the door behind him. He saw, and demanded, angrily, “Why the f**k are you locking your door?”

The door to our room didn’t have a lock, which made us uneasy.

One evening, some of us were in our room – boys and girls – and he joined us. One of us needed to take care of something private and we asked the boys to leave. They left, including the assistant coach, but after a minute, he forced open the door that we couldn’t lock and tried to push himself into the room. Two of my friends held him back.

After my friend asked him what he wanted, he said he was looking for his phone. She gave him a phone that was lying there, assuming it was his, and he left. Shortly afterwards, he was pushing himself back into the room, saying it was the wrong phone. We gave him another phone, the right one, and he left.

Afterwards, my mom wanted to know why I hadn’t raised this with the coach or called home for help. I didn’t think it was that bad. And I didn’t want to make my mom worried – because she gets worried very easily.

I heard my mom talk about my clothes on the radio – in Durban I understood the problem. The girls’ team uniform is a bikini top and shorts. After one of our matches, we went swimming and I wore a bikini bottom and my team top. Then we walked down the beach to get a pizza for lunch. At some point, one of the boys said I must walk in front of him. When I asked why, he said it was because there were some dodgy guys staring at my bum. My friend had a jacket in her bag and gave it to me so I could wrap it around me.

One of the dodgy guys grabbed my friend by the elbow and said something to her, but she shrugged him away and we carried on. She said that guy offered her weed.

The whole thing made me feel nervous and uncertain. I know I should be able to wear what I want, but now I’m not so sure.


This year’s 16 Days of Activism has ended. Are we going to fall silent about gender-based violence again? After all, there’s the festive season to distract us. There’s Eskom and up to Stage 6 load shedding to talk about.

Remember the government’s tweet shortly after the brutal rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana?

Violence and abuse against women have no place in our society. Govt is calling on women to speak out, and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet. Women who speak out are able to act, effect change and help others.” South African Government (@GovernmentZA) September 2, 2019

We were outraged, but not really surprised by this attitude. While ours is a government that fought for liberation and freedom, it is also a government that protects and shelters those accused of crimes against women. The most obvious example being our former president, Jacob Zuma, and the tragic story of Fezekile Ntsukele Kuzawayo – Khwezi – who accused him of rape.

We are in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. We are equal to men in theory, but not in practice. We know that women and children in our country are not safe. We are brutalised daily. From murder and rape to the more everyday crimes committed against us. (Though men rape and murder us every day too.)

Despite the government’s outrageous tweet, so many of us have in fact been shouting about it. We gathered in our thousands outside Parliament and demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa treat gender-based violence as a national emergency. Nothing that has been done about our dire situation has had an impact.

Until we eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence from our society, we must continue to shout. I kept silent on crimes committed against me until recently, when I outlined some of them here, in the Daily Maverick. Now that I’ve started to speak out, I can’t shut up. My words come from a place of rage, and from intense fear for my daughters.

When I wrote about my child abuse and rape, I’d only highlighted experiences that stood out the most. What my 13-year-old daughter and her friends experienced are examples of the more everyday acts that give rise to this terrible culture. And these are girls who are relatively protected, who have the luxury of parents ferrying them about, allowing them only into spaces they deem “safe”.

How much more dangerous is it for other children out there? Children who have to walk alone or take a taxi to school? Children whose parents can’t afford childcare, so they have to look out for themselves after school?

As South Africans, we know we can solve what may seem like intractable problems. We fought against and overthrew the apartheid regime. This is the next fight for our human rights. The #MeToo movement changed things for women around the world. Let’s do the same in South Africa. My 13-year-old daughter – though she hasn’t been allowed on social media before – has set up #hearusroarsa on Facebook and Twitter. Please join, add your story and roar: Enough is enough! Because truly, it is. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted