UKZN rape survivor says women suffer in silence

At the same time as friends mourned the suicide of Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko last weekend, a UKZN student who was also raped earlier this year was in hospital recovering from her own attempt to kill herself.

The 19-year-old Pietermaritzburg student, who may not be named, said on Friday she has attempted to take her own life on numerous occasions, and was discharged from hospital on Wednesday after her most recent attempt.

She said she was raped by a fellow student, whom she had regarded as a friend, on the morning of March 4 while attending a birthday party in Cato Ridge. She said that last week’s suicide attempt was triggered by seeing her rapist on campus when he was supposed to have been suspended. She saw that her “attacker was back on campus and was roaming around quite freely and pompously”.

She told The Witness that she was mistreated by the police and health practitioners when she initially reported the matter.

She said only after The Witness published an article about the rape on May 10, did the university’s Investigations Unit call in all the students who attended the party to give their statements. The accused was also required to make a statement in his defence.

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She said she was not sure what the findings were but confirmed that the accused was suspended from the university just before the start of the first semester exams. However, he is apparently in violation of his suspension conditions and is still attending classes this semester.

“I was told that the university has taken measures to inform the accused of the consequences of his violation of his suspension conditions and has also [instructed] campus security to remove him from campus,” she said.

The young woman said the university had offered her counselling and also hired an attorney to assist her in bringing a civil action against both the police and the district surgeon for their handling of the rape matter, and criminal action against the accused.

Speaking about the Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko, who committed suicide last Friday after she was raped by her boyfriend in May, the UKZN student said it was “quite ironic as I was hospitalised last weekend for a suicide attempt that was unsuccessful”.

She said seeing the accused on campus had set her back tremendously.

“It made me feel very unsafe and this triggered a great sense of despondency that led to me attempting to kill myself to escape this pain that came flooding in when I saw him. I really do relate with the plight of Khensani.

“To see the person who raped you roaming freely, to face his many friends on campus everyday who give me dirty looks … that really hurts. And it contributes tremendously to the sense of loneliness and helplessness one experiences when you see very few that sympathise with you and are willing to believe your story.”

The student said Maseko died a lonely death.

“She was misunderstood, her cries for help fell on deaf ears. Support for her wasn’t availed with the kind of urgency that was needed.

“And those are the kind of things that push a rape survivor to take her life. I’ve been there too and I know how she [felt]. It’s just God’s grace that I have failed the numerous suicide attempts to silence my pain after I was raped,” she said.

The student said she was glad to be alive after her attempt on her own life failed.

“What happened to Khensani could’ve happened to me too. The sooner people realise that a cry for help is not an attention-seeking tactic, the more lives of rape survivors will be saved.

“May her death be a wake-up call to all universities, to ordinary citizens, the SAPS and hospitals, that our women suffer in silence because rape cases are not taken seriously,” she said.

University seeks justice

Normah Zondo, UKZN’s acting spokesperson, said the university remained fully committed to pursuing all avenues to ensure the successful prosecution both internally and externally of the matter, and to ensure that the complainant in this matter obtains appropriate justice.

“To this end, in May 2018, the university immediately barred the accused from all academic activities. He was only allowed on campus to write his June examinations, under close security supervision,” said Zondo.

She said the complainant was required to testify in a student disciplinary hearing against the accused.

“It was not possible to set the matter down for a hearing due to the complainant being indisposed. “Note that it is important that this hearing be held at a point when the complainant is available to testify. We hope that this will be possible within the next month.”

Zondo added that the university management together with the proctor were doing everything possible to progress and finalise this matter.

Khensani maseko laid to rest

Rhodes student Khensani Maseko (pictured) was buried on Thursday, Women’s Day, after committing suicide following being raped, allegedly by her boyfriend, in May.

Prior to her death last Friday, 23-year-old Maseko took to Instagram, posting: “No one deserves to be raped” along with the date of her birth and the date of the post — which was the same day she died. After the news of her death, she started trending on social media as people posted condolence messages and called for the perpetrator be arrested.

On Thursday, mourners gathered at the Nasrec Memorial Cemetery in Johannesburg where she was laid to rest. In attendance, among others, was Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela and university student leaders.

Her mother said she was an example to many in her family and community. “I want to thank God for the memories we shared. I don’t know how I am going to carry on without you, but I trust God to help me through this tough, confusing time in my life.”