Read an excerpt from the award-winning story that kick-started a campaign to link survivors of rape and gender-based violence to care.
In October 2015, Bhekisisa published an article titled Diepsloot: Where men think it is their right to rape that investigated child rape in the township. Part of the story focused on the work of Brown Lekekela from The Green Door, a rape counselling service in Diepsloot. The report has had a far-reaching effect. The Green Door has received extensive donations, one of which is a furnished three-bedroom Wendy house with a shower and toilet, which was donated by Massmart.
He’s also receiving a monthly supply of care packs for women and children from the Dischem Foundation. In January, Lekekela was named LeadSA’s hero of the month.
Bhekisisa has now partnered with The Green Door and other Diepsloot-based organisations working in the field of gender-based violence by launching a cellphone app, the Vimba Helpline, to make it easier for victims of violence to access help.
This is an extract from the article by Mia Malan, published last year:
Brown Lekekela, a well-spoken man in his early 30s, eases behind his small desk in the Wendy house in his backyard.
“What leads to a lot of Diepsloot’s problems is that children here grow up without fatherly love,” he says. “Diepsloot’s children put their trust in strangers who can abuse them. To them, they are not strangers, they are their uncles, because they give them five bob, buy them sweets — things that their fathers never did.”
Across from Lekekela is a neat single bed. A poster of a blonde, turquoise-eyed Jesus is up on the wall. Rainbow rays shine out of Christ’s heart. A statue of the Virgin Mary wearing a baby-blue cloak watches over the cottage from the top of a chest of drawers in the corner.
This is the makeshift headquarters of The Green Door, which Lekekela manages. It helps abused women and children to report the crimes against them to the police, and to get healthcare. Lekekela is The Green Door’s only counsellor.
“Many child rapes in Diepsloot don’t get reported because children — and often adults too — think this is the way that men are meant to treat kids. Rape is a normal part of life here,” he says.
On Lekekela’s desk there’s a file filled with certificates of counselling and project management courses he has completed. He frequently works through the night. His is often the first kind face seen by those who have been raped. He is the link between them and the police and the hospital.
But Lekekela doesn’t get paid to run The Green Door. The organisation receives no funding.
“The provincial government helped us with this building, about two years ago. Since then the officials come here, they ask what we need. I tell them, they fill in forms, they leave. But no money comes,” he says softly, and incongruously smiles.
“Mostly, rapists here don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They think it’s their right to rape. They argue: ‘What is the problem if I have given this child or woman money?’”
Lekekela fetches a journal. In it are the names and contact details of people The Green Door has helped. There are many.
“When children and women come here, they still smell like the rapist’s sweat,” he explains. “They will be bleeding and would have scars all over their faces and their private parts would regularly be torn apart.”
He opens the book and shakes his head. “It’s absolutely terrible.”
Most victims have one thing in common: they come from single-parent households. “It’s rare to find a family in Diepsloot headed by a father. They mostly don’t hang around. They leave the children with the mothers — like it’s women’s work to look after babies,” he says, scoffing.
In South Africa, it’s unusual for children to live with both biological parents. According to Statistics South Africa, only 36.4% of children experience life with two parents.
When black children are isolated in this research, that figure is even lower: fewer than one out of three black youngsters (31%) stay with their mothers and fathers.
There are no official figures available for Diepsloot, but Lekekela believes the proportion of children growing up in households with two parents is “considerably lower” than the national estimate.
“Come with me today and we visit random homes and I can guarantee you almost 100% that in eight out of 10 we will not find the father,” he says emphatically.
Toddlers Zanele and Yonelisa Mali, who were raped and murdered in Diepsloot in 2013, never knew their fathers. They made zero financial contributions to their children’s wellbeing and didn’t even attend their funerals, say their mothers.
The man who killed the Mali cousins also grew up without a father. In mitigation of his sentence, he said he was raised by his grandmother and was left “heartbroken” when his father denied paternity.
A fatherless community, according to a 2009 Medical Research Council (MRC) policy brief, gives rise to “intergenerational cycling of violence”. Studies have repeatedly shown that children raised by one parent are far more likely to experience emotional or physical abuse than those who have two parent figures. But, at the same time, research has also revealed that children who have been abused are more likely to become abusers themselves.
The MRC document explains the vicious circle: “Girls exposed to physical, sexual and emotional trauma as children are at increased risk of revictimisation as adults” and the “exposure of boys to abuse, neglect or sexual violence in childhood greatly increases the chance of their being violent as adolescents and adults”.
In 2009, the MRC was the joint author of a study conducted among men in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. One out of three men admitted to having raped a woman or girl. More than half of them reported they had been harassed or bullied as children. Most rapists also perceived their parents to be “significantly less kind”.
Back in Diepsloot, Glenys van Halter has been working with sexually abused children for 25 years. She’s a feisty lay counsellor and “creative therapist”, using art to help victims to deal with their emotions.
A few months ago, Van Halter was working at a primary school in the township when a lot of noise emanated from a classroom where a teacher had briefly left the pupils alone. Van Halter went to investigate.
As she entered the room, she saw an eight-year-old boy standing in front of a girl of the same age. He was trying to force her to her knees. His trousers were down. “He had her by the hair and was smacking her and shouting: ‘You will suck this because I want to know!’” Van Halter recalls.
She says she demanded of the boy: “What do you want to know?” He answered: “At home tonight I have to do this. So I want to know what it feels like.”
Van Halter explains: “Those same absent fathers are the rapists and guys who end up in jail. And so it’s perpetuated generation after generation after generation, because the men who do this had no good role models themselves. They grew up watching their fathers and uncles doing the same thing.”
Van Halter later found out the boy was sharing a shack with five adult men who had all been “using him for sex. He was just curious. What was he learning every day?” she asks. “He was learning to abuse others. His role models were five sexual predators.”
This story won the 2016 CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Features Award, the 2016 Standard Bank Sikuvile Features Award and the 2016 Vodacom Journalist of the Year award for the Northern Region.
Mia Malan is Bhekisisa's editor-in-chief and executive director. Under her leadership, Bhekisisa’s online readership increased 30 fold and its donor funding eightfold between 2013 and 2019. Malan has won more than 20 African journalism awards for her work and is a former fellow of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.