Raped by strangers, and later by own husband

Members of Khulumani meet to share their stories of rape.
Members of Khulumani meet to share their stories of rape.
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

"After being raped by the apartheid soldiers and getting HIV, all I wanted was support from my husband, but what I got were insults."

This is according to Nontobeko Mbenzi, 63, from Engcobo, Eastern Cape, whose late husband raped her during their marriage.

Mbenzi got infected after she was gang raped by apartheid soldiers in the 1990s.

With tears streaming down her face, Mbenzi shared her painful story with Sunday World about how her husband forced her to have sex with him. "I would be tired and my body would be in pain, but he would still insist on having sex with me because we were married," she said.

Mbenzi said she was forced into an arranged marriage "ukuthwala" when she was only 15 years old. "Ukuthwala" is the practice of abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage, often with the consent of their parents.

Mbenzi said she had other plans for her life, and getting married at a young age was not one of them. "I wanted to go to school and continue with my education, but instead I was forced into marriage," she said.

Mbenzi said after she was brutally raped in 1991 in Thokoza, East Rand, all she wanted was support from her husband, but she never got it.

Instead, he often reminded her how he had paid lobola for her, and that he could do what he wanted with her.

"When I told him I had contracted HIV, he still insisted I sleep with him. He told me he also wanted to get sick."

"He insulted me, called me all sorts of names for being raped. Every time he wanted to have sex with me and I told him I am not feeling well, he would tell me I refuse to sleep with him because I want to sleep with my boyfriends [meaning the soldiers]," she said.

This happened regularly during their 48-year marriage until her husband died in 2017.

Her situation also negatively affected their first-born child, who witnessed both her rape and the abuse she suffered at the hands of his father.

"He turned out to be a drunkard, he is violent and angry" she said.

Mbenzi is a member of Khulumani Support Group, a non-governmental organisation that connects victims of abuse to share their experiences with each other.

Members of the support group in the East Rand meet weekly at the home of their convener, Noma-Russia Bosane, in Phola Park, Thokoza.

Mbenzi said she was grateful for the support from Khulumani. Knowing she was not the only woman who had been raped made her feel better.

Spousal rape not always reported

Psychiatrist, Dr Jan Chabalala who is also the head of psychiatry in the South African Defence Force unpacks spousal rape.

"Spousal rape is a situation in which the man [in most cases] forces his spouse into sexual activity when she does not feel like it, or when she is not ready for it.

"It could also be in forcing their spouse into sexual activity they are uncomfortable with, e.g. painful anal sex," he explained.

It is difficult to identify or distinguish between consensual sex and rape in marriage as one party may feel entitled to conjugal rights.

Chabalala also explained that it is difficult to determine how rife spousal rape is as most of it is not reported. He said it is also generally difficult to address this problem as it occurs behind closed doors.

"Women are encouraged to be submissive to their husbands. It may also be too embarrassing to report due to the questions that may be asked, such as 'don't you live together', or 'aren't you married?'

"It is estimated that one out of four women in a spousal relationship is sexually abused or raped," he said. - Sinesipho Mbandazayo

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