A Long Wait for Justice

A Long Wait for Justice
Photo by Sibongile Nkosi
Photo by Sibongile Nkosi

In 2011 while Oscar Mabela, a former Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) employee, was conducting treatment literacy training at Dr C N Phatudi Hospital in Limpopo, he was approached by a mother and her daughter. The woman was worried about sores in her child’s vagina.

Mabela asked if the daughter, Tsakane (not her real name)*, could be tested for sexually-transmitted infections at the clinic. Nurses there discovered that she had been raped several times. Tsakane was then able to reveal that the rapist was her stepfather. Mabela referred both mother and daughter for counselling at ProGroup Foundation, an organisation that partners with TAC in Mopani.

Soon after, a charge of rape was laid against Tsakane’s stepfather at the Tzaneen police station and he was arrested.

TAC Mopani decided to follow up on the case and mobilised the local community to do the same. It became a theme for the branch’s door-to-door campaign. “This was a human rights issue and it was in our focus,” says Cedric Nukeri, the TAC Mopani District Manager. The case was also a chance for TAC to advocate for a more effective justice system in the district.

On 18 February 2010 the accused appeared at Ritavi Magistrates Court, where he was refused bail. Around 100 TAC members picketed outside the court to support Tsakane and her mother but also to raise broader awareness about gender-based violence.

“We wanted justice and we wanted the perpetrator to get [the] maximum sentence. We are tired of…men that rape our children [being] let off easily,” says Jeniffer Milambo, the District Mobiliser for TAC Mopani.

The case was postponed until 15 June 2010, when TAC members picketing outside the court heard that Tsakane’s attacker had received bail of R500.

Campaigners were concerned and contacted the media. Soon the case was all over local newspapers as well as on the radio. “The media is a powerful weapon to bring attention from those in power,” notes Moses Makhomisane, Capacity Builder at TAC Mopani.

In November 2010 TAC held another picket outside the court. This time, more than 200 people gathered to demand that the magistrate withdraw the option of bail for the accused. But Tsakane’s stepfather remained free on bail and the case was subsequently postponed numerous times.

In 2011, proceedings appeared to have reached a dead end. Milambo requested meetings to find out what was happening and wrote to the prosecutor pushing for the trial to continue.

Finally, on 1 March 2012 the magistrate ruled on the case. A group of TAC members wearing the organisation’s familiar T shirts attended court proceedings and saw Tsakane’s stepfather sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“Although we met with a lot of challenges…like getting permission for a picket, TAC did not pull out. We persisted in the fight against gender-based violence,” remembers Milambo.

(* Some details in this article have been changed to protect those involved.)