#HerNameWasVovo and she was a human being

I am a middle-class, white, cis-gender woman who is perceived to be heterosexual. Because of this I am protected in many ways from the hate and violence that is levelled against poor, black queer people like Noluvo Swelindawo, who was kidnapped from her house in Driftsands and murdered because she is a lesbian. I am not sexualised and perceived as ‘deviant’ in the way that Noluvo is. My body has not being transformed by hundreds of years of exploitation into something unhuman, like hers has.

Noluvo Swelindawo

Noluvo Swelindawo. Pic: IOL

But I am not as protected as I have always thought. On the 30th of October 2015 I was raped.

I do not profess to know what Noluvo experienced as a queer black woman, but I have experienced what it means to have violence acted out on me, because of what I represent; that which is less than man, that which is woman. I know what it is to be grabbed, strangled, dragged, penetrated. I know what it is to look into the face of a man and fear that he will kill me and leave my broken body in a clump of bushes. I know what it is to fear that those I loved would find me like this. I know what it is to have my humanity ripped away from me, to feel that I am no longer myself.

The murder of Noluvo forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in South Africa, what it means to inhabit this precarious, fractured space. On reflecting on the murder of Noluvo, I am forced to mourn for all of us who can read this kind of story and then carry on with our lives, when the lives of so many are being ended, when so many are being stripped of their dignity, their freedom and their humanity.

The valuing of my life, over the lives of other women, was made clear when I attended a government clinic following my own rape. Here I was repeatedly asked who I was accompanying for treatment – because surely this well-dressed white girl could not be the one who was raped? The fact that I cannot comfortably be seen as a ‘rape survivor’ and  that so many people have wanted not to believe what has happened to me when they so easily believe and overlook when the same happens to other women, is deeply revealing of how dehumanisation has become a key social coping mechanism.

If I had been murdered, those of you, who feel that this can’t happen to people like us, would have cried and probably brought flowers, like you did for Franziska Blochliger. You might have raged and screamed. You might even have marched to ensure that this does not happen to another young woman, like me. You would have recognised my humanity and that it was unacceptable for this to be taken from me.

You will not, I fear, do the same for Noluvo.

*Republished with permission.




Rebecca Helman will begin her PhD, which explores “post-rape subjectivities” at UNISA in 2017. She is researcher at the UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences & SAMRC-UNISA’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit and a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office.

Follow her blog here. 





The Perfect Victim

I live less than a five minute drive away from where Franziska Blöchliger was raped and murdered. I drove past Tokai forest on the day that it happened. I saw security personnel gathered around the entrance near to where her body was found. By the following day it was in the news. As I watched the media frenzy unfold and the reactions from the womxn in my family, I noticed in myself, an absence of anger or distress or even empathy.

In the weeks following, residents of the surrounding suburbs tied bouquets of flowers along the fence near to where it happened. I have driven past the site many times but only recently decided to visit. I wanted to try and understand my own reaction to the news and I thought that paying a visit might help to bring me clarity.



[Mourners left hundreds of flowers at Tokai forest. Image source: The Good Things Guy ]

As I walked along the fence looking at the drooping flowers, it occurred to me that the public reaction to Franziska’s case is quite unique. She has not once been blamed or implicated in what happened to her. With most rape cases that receive a lot of public attention there is often something about the victim or what the victim was doing that is offered as an explanation as to why it happened to them. The reaction to Anene Booysen’s 2013 rape case is an example of this.

Feminist author Pumla Gqola writes in her book, “Rape: A South African Nightmare”, of the public’s reaction,

“sometimes callers to radio stations expressed a combination of shock and attempts to explain how such a thing could happen by slut-shaming and victim-blaming her. Her judgement was questioned by some who then quickly and condescendingly decided that her class standing meant that she did not know better.”

It takes a lot to be the perfect victim, and one must be to ensure public outrage that is free of victim blaming. The perfect victim must be white, cisgender, heterosexual, sober, must not be out after dark, must not be at a club/bar/party, must not be in a “dodgy” area and must not know their assailant. In light of this, I was able to understand my response. I do not trust the public’s reaction and I do not want to be a part of it. I cannot trust that there is any sincerity behind those bunches of flowers. Would they have been there if Franziska had not met all of the requirements of the perfect victim?

As I drove away I noticed a poster-sized picture of Sinoxolo Mafevuka’s face stuck on a tree. But the poster was torn so that most of her face was missing. And I wondered if Sinoxolo’s case would have received any attention at all if Franziska’s had not happened for it to be compared to.

Danielle Alheit

Congratulations to our new counsellors

By Shiralee Mc Donald (Counselling Coordinator, Observatory)

Graduation of Observatory’s newly trained counsellors.

Saturday February 4th saw the graduation of seven volunteer counsellors for the Observatory Counselling Service, four newly recruited and trained Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) counsellors and four counsellors recruited from our volunteer body trained in child trauma counselling.  It was a lovely informal affair with Nazma Hendricks (Operations Manager) handing out certificates to the volunteer counsellors.  We were fortunate to have Wonique Dreyer who trained and supervises the TCC counsellors handing out certificates to the TCC counsellors.  Samantha Harris and her twins kept us entertained and officially welcomed everyone into the focus group.


New Volunteers

Certificate handover

Certificate handover

For more pictures please go to our Facebook Group here.

Santorum: Rape Victims Should ‘Make The Best Out Of A Bad Situation’

There has been a lot of uproar about the recent statements that Republican, Rick Santorum made regarding his position on abortions. Specifically the right to an abortion after a person has been raped.

Here is the video of the CNN interview. What do you think it says that a GOP Presidential candidate is making these statements in 2012?