Night of the Long Knives

Unless we address things by their true names, the battle against gender-based violence will be lost before teatime writes Bhekisisa Mncube about the darkest day of his life when he once hit a woman, in part two of a three-part series.

I recently (City Press, 03 December 2023) opened a Pandora’s box when I disclosed my rape nightmare at the hands of a family member. Today, things get worse as the victim becomes a perpetrator.

My sexual debut was delayed due to the fear of girls and preoccupation with thoughts of revenge against my rapist brother. To say nothing of my ANC underground manoeuvres, including thwarting my brother’s (rapist) endeavours to join the South African Defence Force in 1989.

My gynophobia dramatically changed in July 1991. I plucked up the courage and proposed love to a girl from a neighbouring village of Gawozi outside Eshowe. The object of my desire was Nokwazi. She was nothing like the tall, yellow-bone girls I had seen in magazines, neither like Zodwa, my first crush.

Nokwazi was slim, dark in complexion and vertically challenged. In my experience, she didn’t exude confidence or class. She was a real rural pumpkin. I was flipping the coin with her, and boom, she said yes to my indecent proposal. Despite my doubt about loving Nokwazi, she grew on me in time.
Truth be told, the fact that I bagged a girlfriend was celebrated everywhere. She inspired me to put pen to paper, and I wrote love letters to her five times a week. Thus, this was the genesis of my letter-writing literary device, something I have perfected of late by writing incessantly to President Cyril Ramaphosa in December 1991, my life and that of Nokwazi changed drastically in one night. Here is the truncated version of the nightmare. My rapist brother and I received “intelligence” from our mutual friend (a woman) that “our girls” had been granted a night out pass to attend a cultural function in their neighbourhood.

Our friend suggested we come ostensibly to participate in the gathering. Our nefarious plan was to get laid by hook or by crook. We got so excited, and military-type planning began immediately. We left home at about
three o’clock in the afternoon on the day in question – armed with heavy jackets and concealed okapi knives. The grand idea was that if the girls refused to accompany us home, we would scare them, and we had no intention of using force. Our journey lasted an hour on foot.

Nokwazi and my brother’s girlfriend didn’t know at all – that we were coming for them or that their maidenhoods were at stake. We took our position on the hill overlooking Nokwazi’s homestead to monitor all her movements. We watched her movements until sunset. After sunset, we changed tack and relied on our mutual friend for updates.

In the meantime, we waited. Our waiting was not in vain. At around 10:00 pm, our mutual friend delivered on her promise and brought us our girlfriends. Although we were in a feigned mean mood, we were mellowed by their presence. Yet, we showed no mercy. We simply announced that we were all going to sleep at the Mncube’s that night. The matter was non-negotiable. So, we pleaded for maximum cooperation. They were stunned.

Nonetheless, they started “co-operating” immediately – by walking with us towards the Mncube’s household some eight kilometres away. We reached home just before midnight, and we had our way with the girls. In the morning, we patted ourselves on the back for the job well done. The audacity!
After the night of the long knives, Nokwazi and her friend were released to their own devices at the crack of dawn. The sad fact is that I took away Nokwazi’s prized personal purity, honour and worth by force. Furthermore, Nokwazi and I continued dating as if nothing had happened.

I am re-imagining sexuality and consent in the hope that I can clear my conscience. I take full responsibility for this sad episode of my life. In my feeble defence, I grew up in a community withisogynistic tendencies, fortified toxic masculinities, and celebrated patriarchy.

To Nokwazi and her generation, I apologise from the bottom of my heart. I am a new man. Like a phoenix, I have risen from the ashes. Today I am emotionally recovered and empowered to prevent the next gender-based atrocity. This article draws inspiration from the latest audacious endeavour of the Faith Action to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Collective, marked by its recent launch of a Statement of Commitment, which I have signed as my contribution to never raising my voice or hand against any woman or child. This pioneering initiative signifies a communal vow to actively
engage in collaborative efforts aimed at eradicating GBV and achieving the goals outlined in the National Strategic Plan to End GBV and Femicide.
Acknowledging their influential and trusted position within society, faith communities have pledged to adopt a series of measures to tackle GBV. These measures encompass the integration of anti-GBV messages into sermons and religious teachings, the provision of unwavering support to survivors, the challenge of detrimental gender stereotypes, the holding
of perpetrators to account, and the advocacy for substantial political reforms.

This holistic strategy highlights the resolute commitment of faith communities to foster a society devoid of GBV. Moreover, the campaign strives to motivate individuals, both perpetrators and survivors, to
find refuge within faith communities. It advocates for survivors to voice their experiences and pursue justice, while simultaneously urging perpetrators to confront and accept the repercussions of their actions, to seek redemption, and ultimately to transform into exemplars of positive change.

Bhekisisa Mncube is an author of three acclaimed books, award-winning columnist and a rape survivor, rehabilitated abuser turned activist against gender-based violence. He is a volunteer at Faith Action to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Collective.

Disclaimer: This piece is part of a three-part series on the darkest part of the author’s life.

It is intended to raise awareness as part of a Faith Action to end Gender-Based Violence and demonstrate the importance of taking full responsibility as part of the new Statement of Commitment.

Read it here.

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