Durban beach front a place of beauty, fun, holiday makers and brutal gang rape.
Just over 2 years ago a young woman called Priscilla (Smithy) was walking the beach front trying to raise money for her shelter rent. She was begging and asking tourists to help her get a roof over her head for the night. Not managing to raise the R18 needed for the night she ended up spending the night on the beach. At some point during the night a gang of 8 men came upon her. She remembered seeing them earlier in the evening and was very aware that these men were not here to help her. She spent then next couple of hours being raped over and over by each of the men. They beat her badly and left her to die in the blood soaked sand. No one came to her rescue. No knight in shining armor, no police officer, no kind member of the public. She was close to Addington Hospital and so when she came around she dragged herself there, where they patched her up and sent her on her way.
9 months later she gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy.
Smithy is just 1 of thousands of girls through out this country who is victim of “corrective”rape. Smithy is a lesbian. This is something that she really battled with as a child, being a lesbian growing up in the townships is not an easy road. There is a great amount of prejudice and violence shown towards any one who is homosexual. People see it as a ‘disease” or a “problem” that needs to be “fixed” and due to this many people keep the fact that they are homosexual secret. They live in fear. They try and live a heterosexual lifestyle in order to keep themselves safe and to keep shame away from their family. This is how Smithy lived much of her life.
The abuse started when she was 4. Her mother was a sever alcoholic and had a number of “uncles” coming to the house on a daily basis. Smithy and her siblings were used to fulfill these men’s sexual needs while their mother got drunk in the next room. This went on until Smithy was 7 years old at which point the children were taken into care and by which point the damage had been done. For the rest of their childhood the 4 children were handed from home to home, separated and abused in each home.
Smithy finally ran away to the streets when she was 14 years old. Separated from her brothers and sister and alone she had no way to fend for herself other than prostitution. Some nights getting enough money for the shelter other nights not so lucky and sleeping on the streets. For the next 20 years this was her existence.
I met Smithy 5 years ago when I started spending time in the shelter building relationships with the girls. When I first met her I will say I was slightly terrified of her. She was wild to say the least! She had had a partner for a couple of years and their relationship was volatile. One night they got into a fight and her partner stabbed Smithy in the eye. By the time I met Smithy her eye had turned white and she was totally blind in that eye. She was covered in scars and the majority of the time she was drunk or high or both. First impressions are a funny thing. I took one look at this woman and I recoiled. She was hard to look at. I know that that is a horrible thing to say, but it is the truth. The years of abuse had taken their toll on her outward appearance as well as her inner person. BUT the second she opened her mouth and started to talk everything changed. She had the softest voice. Was very gentle and incredibly loving.
I totally fell in love with this woman. She is funny and cheeky. Has an amazing sense of justice and wants only good things for others. When she was raped she conceived her son. Knowing that there was no way that she could provide for him she placed him into the care of a family friend who lives in the township. Then along came my friend Jane. And to cut a long story short she took the baby in with her and her family and now we have found a family to adopt the little guy. The love and sacrifice that Jane has shown to this baby is amazing, she has literally saved this child’s life.
Although this beautiful child came out of such a horrific situation his life is FOREVER changed by the love of others. He has a future and a hope. He is going to change the lives of others.
After the rape Smithy turned even more to drugs in order to cope. Smoking cocaine and sugars to take away the emotional pain, getting addicted and then taking them in order to maintain the numbness. She tried to stop but when she did the emotional and physical pain was just too much for her. It broke my heart to sit and watch her disappear before my eyes. All I could do was pray. Many times I sat on her bed in the shelter and just held her hand and prayed for her while she slipped into a drug induced sleep. The drugs were making her irrational and many times she didn’t know where she was or what was going on. There was no helping her. She didn’t want to go to rehab, she didn’t want help. She just wanted to be numb and the only way that she could do that was to continue with the drugs. It has been a while since I have been able to hold a conversation with her, she was slurring and confused. 3 days ago she collapsed in the shelter and when the ambulance failed to turn up the girls from the shelter physically carried her to the hospital. When I got there she struggled to recognize me. When she finally remembered me all she could say was “help me”, over and over she said this, my heart broke into pieces it was like I could physically feel it shattering inside my chest. I knew she was going. I knew in my heart that she wasn’t coming out of it this time. I prayed with her, Jane prayed over her and as we were leaving Smithy said to me “Vash please don’t throw me away.” Those words were the last ones that she said to me. Those words in that moment changed me. It was a defining moment in my life.
I received a phone call at 5am today to tell me that Smithy has passed away.
Smithy died alone, no family to hold her hand, no family to take her body and give her a funeral, no family to mourn for her. But there is me. And today I am mourning for a life that never was. Never was loved, never was celebrated, never was given a chance to walk into its full potential and destiny. A life that was snatched and destroyed before it was even given a chance to flourish. A beautiful woman who was crushed physically, emotionally and spiritually, over and over. I will mourn for my friend. A woman who I loved. A woman who I never stopped believing in. A woman who gave birth to the most beautiful and amazing child. A son who will grow up knowing that his mother loved him beyond everything else. A son who will break the cycle of abuse and drug addiction, poverty and destitution that has been the norm in his family for generations.
Smithy died with the peace and reassurance that her son is going to spend the rest of his life being loved and cared for.
I will never forget my friend. I will never forget her laugh, that deep belly laugh she would get when she really found something funny. I will never forget how she took her handful of coins that she had made begging and bought her and I a cup of tea each and a bread roll and we sat on the curb and spent time together. I will never forget the look of longing that she would give her son, knowing that she loved him with every ounce of her being but not able to be the mother that she needed to be.
Smithy my dear friend I PROMISE that I will NEVER forget you and I will mourn the fact that you are no longer in my life. Your life was not in vein. Your story will change the lives of thousands.
I PROMISE that I will tell your story. I will let them know of your life.
Good bye my friend.