He didn’t even have the decency to use a condom.
I have tip toed around this story of matrimonial rape for too long.
But now, like the women concerned, it is time to speak out.
As husbands take advantage of their wives under cover of the ‘contract of love,’ there is an urgent need to confront what in the past been considered a ‘private matter.’
This week’s story from the kgotla is a graphic illustration of what happens when the marriage vows of love and respect are exchanged for hatred, fear and scorn.
The elegant woman who walked into my office impressed me with her dignity and poise, but beneath the outward appearance I sensed a deeply troubled soul.
Relieved that I was indeed the sympathetic listener she had been encouraged to expect, she courageously related her story.
Gape I learned was in her late 20’s, married with two children, and had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Whilst she battled with acceptance, she was shocked to discover that her personal medical condition had become the subject of discussion with family members debating what would become of a woman without a womb.
When she confronted her husband Piet as to why he had made her health issue a matter for public debate, he had arrogantly replied ‘Oraya gore bathobasekabaitsemathataame”(Why shouldn’t I tell people my problems).
Since time was running outGape went ahead with surgery, a decision that attracted further insults and criticism from her husband and his hostile relatives.
As she nursed herself back to health, still the ugly remarks driven by myths and misconceptions about a woman without a womb continued.
The fire in Gape and Piet’s bedroom had also died, with Piet spending ever more nights away from home.
Initially he pretended he was at the cattle post,but then got tired of lying and told Gape the truth.
He maintained that things were different after her medical procedure and as a result he had found a ‘hiding place.’
In response Gape’s chose to move to a spare bedroom rather than face the humility of a cold marriage bed.
Then after two years of painfully living separate lives under one roof, Piet began to demand his conjugal rights, reminding Gape that they were still husband and wife.
When she suggested that after such a long period of separation they needed counselling, and with it the precaution of testing for sexually transmitted infections– Piet was enraged.
“O a ntlwaela,” he blurted out, which simply means, ‘You take me for granted.’
He then raped her.
Using his fists to enforce an act he had withdrawn for two years, in his anger and haste he didn’t even have the decency to use a condom.
It was then that her quest for help began. She had visited many offices. From her pastor she received the advice to ‘endure like Christ.’
The kgosi referred her to her parents. Social workers said they could do nothing without consulting her husband.
And when Piet did not show up for a meeting – they did exactly that.
It was therefore something of a relief to both of us that when I invited Piet for reconciliation, he promised to come after consulting his parents.
Piet listened to Gape’s testimony in head bowed silence.
Then looking up with a shrug of his shoulders muttered something about how relatives had pressurized him into rejectinga life with ‘an incomplete woman.’
He played down their two-year break and strongly felt that Gape still remained his wife – “wadikgomo.”
It therefore came as something of a shock to be told that what he had done was not only assault, but also rape.
His jaw visibly dropped as I told him that despite the fact it had occurred within the confines of the family home, he could still be charged and sent to prison.
To his credit, or shame, or fear, it didn’t take Piet long to admit his wrongdoing and ask his wife for forgiveness.
But Gape was unmoved.
She declared that she had lost confidence in their marriage and needed space and time to think.
And whilst she ruled out the possibility of reporting the rape to the police, she was less than enthusiastic about their continued marriage prospects.
As the couple left, going their separate ways, I jotted down the following points.
• Is the justice system from the cop to the magistrate really prepared to stand behind women when they take a stand over matrimonial rape?
• What has love got to do with it when sex is reduced to a medium of exchange between a woman who was bought, and a man who bought “kadikgomo” (bride price)?
• If we are to build a morally upright nation by 2016 can we still call infidelity(go iphitlha) ‘a hiding place?’
• Despite the global call towards gender equality, a middle- aged man with prostate cancer is unlikely to suffer ridicule and rejection the way Gape did.
• How much do all stakeholders know about the fears some men have over living with a woman without a breast or cervix?
Whilst Gape’s case left me with more questions than immediate answers, of one thing I am certain.
Matrimonial rape is the ugliest thing that people who hold a certificate of love can do to one another.
And the biggest threat to women are husbands, not strangers or men with knives.
To individuals who are suffering domestic violence silently, bare in mind what Martin Luther says about what you choose not to tell: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Don’t hide – take a stand and be counted.