Home News Ntombesintu Mfunzi: A South African athlete’s combat in opposition to rape

Ntombesintu Mfunzi: A South African athlete’s combat in opposition to rape

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The hilly and winding path routes close to Mhlakulo village in Japanese Cape, South Africa are difficult for even essentially the most elite runners.

In some components, reaching the summit requires crawling up the rugged gravel paths on tiptoe.

Ntombesintu Mfunzi, a 39-year-old ultramarathon runner, is among the prime feminine runners within the nation and she or he lives and trains on this expansive area.

Mfunzi grew up in Ntsimbakazi – a village about 130km (80 miles) from Mhlakulo – the place native races are uncommon.

In 2013, she was invited to compete within the Mirtha Payisa Run for Diabetes. She gained the half-marathon and efficiently defended her title in 2015 after the 2014 occasion was cancelled.

Nevertheless it was in 2016, when she returned with a hat-trick of titles in sight, that her life modified.

The evening earlier than the race, Mfunzi was lured right into a bush, crushed with a hammer and brutally raped. The rapist threatened to kill her however left her mendacity within the bushes.

Mfunzi ultimately managed to get assist, was admitted to hospital and reported the incident to the police.

“To say I used to be terrified can be placing it mildly,” Mfunzi describes the traumatic expertise in vivid element in her memoir Yoyisa (Overcome).

“My knees went weak and I buckled, falling face down proper in entrance of him. My terrified state did nothing to him, for he introduced the hammer down on my again as if he was placing a nail right into a cement wall. The ache was excruciating.”

Mendacity in a hospital mattress, she determined she would nonetheless compete the following day.

“I mentioned to myself, ‘I’m not going to let the satan win once more. I’m going to do what I got here right here for, which is working’,” she informed Al Jazeera.

The next morning, as Mfunzi crossed the end line forward of the pack, she collapsed in entrance of the gang chanting her identify.

4 days later, the neighborhood in Mhlakulo discovered the rapist who’s now serving 22 years in jail.

Now, she is utilizing her story to lift consciousness of gender-based violence (GBV) and assist different rape survivors overcome their trauma whereas additionally advocating for systemic change via her work as a human sources officer at a jail in Port Elizabeth.

“From that day in November, my life modified utterly,” she mentioned. “I used to be alleged to die. However perhaps God wished me to save lots of different survivors, to encourage them to combat.”

When Mfunzi reported her rape to the police in 2016, she says they acted swiftly in taking her assertion, gathering proof and transporting her to the hospital for checks [Courtesy of Wayne Reiche]

‘Onslaught’

Mfunzi’s story is amongst many in a rustic with among the highest charges of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide on this planet.

In keeping with the latest information from the South African Police Service (SAPS), 2,695 girls have been murdered in 2019-20, indicating a lady is murdered each three hours.

Within the earlier interval, the femicide price was 15.2 per 100,000 girls – 5 occasions the worldwide common.

South Africa additionally has the best price of rape on this planet with 132.4 incidents per 100,000 folks.

Reported sexual offences, together with rape, have been on the rise yearly since 2016, when the quantity was 49,660. Final yr, greater than 53,000 sexual assaults have been reported to police, however girls’s rights teams say the precise quantity is prone to be a lot greater.

“These are points that we’re always dealing with,” mentioned Claudia Lopes, a girls’s rights activist and programme supervisor on the human rights basis, Heinrich Boell, in Cape City.

“It seems like we’re coping with the identical onslaught, and as civil society organisations and activists, we get pissed off.”

In Might 2020, following a wave of renewed protests demanding authorities motion, President Cyril Ramaphosa permitted the long-awaited Nationwide Strategic Plan on Gender Based mostly Violence and Femicide (NSP GBVF), carried out to deal with accountability, prevention, safety, response, financial empowerment and analysis.

Almost 21 billion rand ($1.36bn) was allotted over three years to assist the plan.

Nevertheless, final month, President Ramaphosa revealed “nationwide sources” have been urgently diverted “to combat the COVID-19 pandemic”, as he introduced a two-year 128 million rand ($873,000) private-sector fund to assist present extra funds to implement the nationwide plan.

Mfunzi mentioned extra must be performed to make sure girls really feel protected reporting rape, together with prioritising rape instances in courts and offering sensitivity coaching for law enforcement officials conducting investigations [Ntombesintu Mfunzi Facebook page]

The transfer got here amid mounting strain from activists and civil society organisations, and a pointy improve in violence in opposition to girls through the nine-week nationwide lockdown imposed final March.

The federal government says the fund will help in numerous initiatives aimed toward supporting victims and survivors, strengthening the justice system, elevating consciousness and creating financial empowerment alternatives for girls.

However some activists mentioned the institution of the fund was rushed and {that a} lack of session with civil society left them in the dead of night about how the cash can be spent.

Lopes mentioned that whereas the funding itself is sweet information, the shortage of readability raises questions on transparency and accountability, in addition to considerations in regards to the diversion of presidency funding away from present providers, akin to shelters for victims of crime and violence.

“What’s vital is figuring out how these funds are managed,” mentioned Lopes.

“My concern is that with austerity measures, the non-public sector fund shall be used as an excuse by authorities to cut back the cash to NGOs that render providers,” she mentioned.

Different activists have identified the minimal info within the authorities’s 2021 funds about addressing GBV.

Is South Africa doing sufficient?

In South Africa, correct and up-to-date statistics on rape are tough to supply, partially as a consequence of excessive prices and low reporting.

Research present that those that report incidents to the police expertise re-trauma, sufferer blaming, threats, incompetence and delays in dealing with their instances.

In keeping with a 2017 report by the South African Medical Analysis Council – the latest examine of its form – arrests have been made in 57 p.c of reported rape instances and solely 8.6 p.c of instances concluded with a responsible verdict.

When Mfunzi reported her rape to the police in 2016, she says they acted swiftly in taking her assertion, gathering proof and transporting her to the hospital for checks.

Whereas her rapist was arrested inside 4 days, delays within the system meant it took one other two years earlier than he was convicted and sentenced.

Mfunzi says she was given quite a lot of the reason why her courtroom dates have been repeatedly postponed, together with renovations on the courtroom, a scarcity of judges and non-availability of attorneys.

“I’m actually grateful for his or her [the police’s] work, however I really feel just like the justice system relaxed after the rapist was arrested,” she mentioned. “The closure was so vital to me … this postponement was actually killing me.”

I really feel just like the justice system relaxed after the rapist was arrested

Mfunzi mentioned extra must be performed to make sure girls really feel protected reporting rape, together with prioritising rape instances in courts and offering sensitivity coaching for law enforcement officials conducting investigations.

“That’s the reason individuals are not reporting instances … they’re petrified of it dragging for years.”

Talking at a public dialogue occasion aimed toward enhancing entry to justice for GBV survivors in August 2020, Police Minister Bheki Cele mentioned GBV remained a precedence for the SAPS.

He mentioned progress was being made in resourcing specialised GBV models inside the police service and offering officers with sensitivity coaching.

However following his announcement of the newest crime statistics on February 19, which confirmed an increase in rape and sexual offences, Cele acknowledged there have been policing gaps, notably in dealing with GBV instances.

“I do concede that we must … put our home so as,” he mentioned.

In its annual stories courting again to 2005, the Nationwide Prosecuting Authority, which operates beneath the Division of Justice and Constitutional Improvement to prosecute felony instances, has recognized that employees shortages, insufficient budgets and reputational harm have undermined its effectiveness in combating corruption and GBV.

The federal government has recognized “broadening entry to justice for survivors” as a key intervention in its NSP GBVF and has dedicated in its 2021 state funds to extend the variety of rape care services from 58 to 61 and designate 99 extra courts as sexual offences courts.

#IChooseToBeAVictorNotAVictim

For Mfunzi, being a victor can be about championing different survivors.

In September final yr, she hosted a march to lift consciousness of GBV and is a speaker for the 16 Days of Activism marketing campaign.

She additionally posts messages of encouragement utilizing the hashtag, #IChooseToBeAVictorNotAVictim.

Mfunzi mentioned many survivors have contacted her to share their tales. Others specific their gratitude on social media.

“We’ve by no means met but it surely seems like we’ve been buddies perpetually … immediately I’m doing a dedication run particularly for you,” one lady informed Mfunzi on Fb.

“Thanks for this … so inspired by your power!” tweeted one other.

She mentioned these interactions impressed her to pursue a level in psychology and work as a counsellor.

Mfunzi nonetheless finds power and therapeutic from working.

A top-10 finisher on the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape City in 2018, she was coaching to make the top-five this yr earlier than the race was cancelled as a result of coronavirus.

Regardless of this disappointment, she continues to run twice a day within the Japanese Cape.

Mfunzi has not returned to Mhlakulo village because the incident in 2016. However she says she needs to return at some point.

“I might like to go there as the brand new person who I’m. As painful as my journey has been, I’m grateful for the girl I grew to become.”