A social time bomb that threatens South Africa
THIS is the story of Wayward Girl, a youngster whose life is a tragic example of a lost generation.
One could say she is a victim of vicious social circumstances which have turned the abnormal into the normal.
The daughter of a domestic worker mother, she lives in an informal settlement on Johannesburg's western periphery. With no father in the picture, her mother has had to break her back to get her to her 16 years of age and get her a semblance of a decent education.
Wayward Girl has serious discipline issues and her mother is absolutely terrified of her. The mother acquiesces to her every demand. The latest cellphones are a standard demand from this young woman.
But she does not hold on to them for long as she "loses" them. This year alone she has lost three. Neighbours suspect she peddles them for money to acquire drugs.
She has been known to pass out at taverns where she and some of her friends drink with older men.
Not a great fan of education, she often arrives late for school or bunks altogether. One morning last month Wayward Girl was late for school.
The principal, a disciplinarian who has been trying to instil order and responsibility among the pupils, has a policy that late arrivals must first accept punishment if the gates are to be opened for them.
On that particular morning Wayward Girl convinced some of the fellow pupils she was with not to accept the punishment option but rather turn back and go find fun. Some agreed to follow her lead.
She then phoned an on-off boyfriend of hers, who is a 20-something man with no discernible means of income. Sensing opportunity, the man invited the girls over to his place for a day of fun.
He then called up a few of his own friends to join in.
After booze and who knows what else had been consumed, the day ended with the rape of the girls. Distraught and in pain, the girl came home crying and told her mother what had happened.
The very next day, the on-off boyfriend's family came over to apologise for the incident.
They offered her mother R500 compensation. She was about to accept the fine until the intervention of a neighbour and the girl's uncle, who insisted that the matter be reported to the police.
They escorted the mother and the girl to the police station where she laid the charge. After a few days of no follow-up, they made further enquires about the state of the case. They were then told the all familiar story: the docket was lost.
After angry words were exchanged with the police, the uncle and the neighbour decided to lay a new charge. But then the girl turned against them. She refused to lay the charge anew, stating that she would rather forget about the incident and get on with her life. The mother stood by her, telling the neighbour and the uncle to let sleeping dogs lie. No amount of persuasion would move them.
The alleged rapist is still walking the streets with a bounce in his step and a knowing look on his face.
As for the girl, she has continued her wayward ways.
She is still bullying her mother. An R800 cellphone that she had recently forced her mother to buy has been stolen and she is now demanding a new one. The household radio has also gone missing. And, to top it all, she has not been at school for the past week and a half.
This story is one that plays out in many parts of our country, where social dysfunction has stripped so many of their dignity and value. This dysfunction has inverted authority structures and rendered many parents obsolete.
It has created a culture of impunity in which the negative elements in society know they can do as they please because the criminal justice system will not deal with them.
It will take a miracle to rescue this young girl from her path of self-destruction. By the time she closes her second decade of life, she will have had more negative experiences than most people do in their lifetimes. This is her normality.
The young man who took advantage of her and her friends has probably done it countless times to many other women and will do so well into the future.
The police who "lost" the docket are as dangerous to the society as the criminal. That the young man's family members who believe they can buy off a rape victim with R500 is a demonstration of the sickness of the society.
The saddest part of the whole case is that this 16-year-old who does not see her rape as a major violation and is prepared to live her life comfortable that a perpetrator who could have been punished will get off scot-free. It is about her value of herself and absolute loss of dignity.
In our nation's discourse we speak of the political time bomb that could explode if poverty and inequality are not dealt with speedily. Just as worrisome is the social time bomb resulting from societal norms breaking down.
The story of Wayward Girl is a snapshot of this.