Migrant labour and superstitions combine to make elderly women and young girls in Lusikisiki vulnerable to rape

Community members attending an imbizo at the Great Place to discuss violent crimes and gender based violence in Lusikisiki. Photos by CSVR.

A report by the CSVR paints a picture of how violent masculine cultures are behind Lusikisiki’s country-leading statistics on gender-based violence.

A Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) report reveals that young and elderly women in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, bear the brunt of violent crime and gender-based violence (GBV). For the past three years, the police station in Lusikisiki, a rural town north of Port St Johns, has been among the top three stations countrywide reporting the most rape cases.

According to the CSVR, they conducted this study on Lusikisiki after it had been dubbed the country’s ‘rape capital’. The organisation said that its focus on the area was to give context to the title and to provide a full picture of what is happening on the ground. “We had to provide context to the naming of the area as a “rape capital’ by the Minister of Police Bheki Cele. The naming of the area like this has potential to further perpetuate the undignified violence and afford it some sense of normalcy,” said Naledi Joyi, a CSVR gender officer.

The report reveals that Lusikisiki, like most towns in former homelands, has served as a migrant labour reserve, making women the head of most households. The migration of men from the area, to work on mines in areas like Rustenburg, Marikana and Johannesburg makes particular households vulnerable to continuous raids of rape. Male violence is normalised early with young girls commonly bullied in schools and slandered for not submitting to boys’ aggression. Joyi said that a guardian shared with them how virgin girls are harassed in the community. “Bayapostwa ko facebook kuthiwa bazenza ngcono [They get harassed on Facebook because they say they think they are better than others]”, says Naledi Joyi

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In a report published earlier this year, the CSVR undertook a multidisciplinary project to research eight communities about the root causes and drivers of GBV. The communities include Marikana, Kagiso, Diepsloot, Orange Farm, inner city Johannesburg, Alexandra, Nkangala and Mamelodi. Understanding the key GBV drivers informed their intervention strategy and services as an organisation to each of the communities. These range from mental health and psychosocial support to hosting dialogues and safe spaces. Some of the factors associated with GBV in communities include unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, harmful social norms, lack of social support, socioeconomic inequalities and a culture of grooming of children.

Causes of persistent violence

The report reveals that superstition is one of the factors underlying persistent violence against elderly women.

Superstitions

CSVR’s research focused on two population groups – the elderly and school-going youth. The report finds that elderly women in the area have for decades been victims of mob witchcraft killings, a trend that is not limited to Lusikisiki but plagues other parts of the Eastern Cape and rural provinces like Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. In March, the SABC reported that five family members in Lusikisiki were shot due to suspicion of witchcraft.

Killing of people to
drink their blood

Through school dialogues, the researchers found that school-going youth practice what is called Amakhubalo and previously Amavondo. According to Joyi, each of these are characterised by occult violence. Amavondo would involve stabbings, raping as well as killing of people to drink their blood. Amakhubalo on the other hand is a form of cult-like gangsterism.

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Possession by ancestors

The young people say that the current trend of Amakhosi or Amakhubalo is the new form of ‘possession’ usually associated with ancestors and performed by someone who has achieved a high rank of possessing no less than ten types of amakhosi. They believe that they can transfer Amakhubalo to one another and assert that having Amakhubalo gives them strength to deal with the world and makes them invisible to bullies at school. The violence that is experienced by the school-going youth, the report finds, is gendered in that physical violence and bullying with weapons is associated with boy learners.

One of the methods used by the CSVR researchers was the street corner approach. Here they are seen with young people at a car-wash.

Rising awareness on reporting cases

Joyi said that there has been a rise in awareness within the Lusikisiki community of the importance of reporting rape cases. “Some service providers have let us know that community members report even past incidents that occurred. Some community-based interventions have been instrumental in advocating and educating community members about the importance of reporting rape incidents,” she said.

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