Every time she heard her uncle’s dreaded footsteps approaching Pako feared for her life – either because he was again about to force himself upon her, or he was intent on carrying out his threat to kill for fear she revealed his shameful secret.
And now her torturer was also the father of her child.
This was one of the last cases I dealt with before retiring as customary court president.
Sadly it wasn’t an uncommon experience, but it was more prevalent towards the end of my almost 20 years in the job than it was at the beginning.
There was a time when the raising of the girl child was characterized by the presence of chaperons who were in the form of grandmothers, aunts, big sisters and other maternal figures.
What I know for sure is that the girl child was always under a constant and caring eye to ensure a safe transition from girlhood to womanhood.
The task was complemented by the fact that there seemed to be a general fear and or respect concerning matters sexual, and this minimized the element of casualties that could arise from ‘hide and seek’ games.
There is a serious departure from this parenting model, not helped by the presence of electronic media and a carefree attitude towardssexual issues.
As I share with you Pako’s case study you will appreciate how unsuspecting and innocent girls can become unreported victims of defilement.
Pako could no longer contain the whirlpool of emotion that had been welling up inside her for many years.
She was just like a grenade waiting to explode as she related her traumatic story.
For an hour I listened, jotting down in bullet points her tragic life history.
• Pako came from a family of three and when their mother died they had been shared among her mother’s sibling. As fate would have it aunt Pretty and her husband raised her.
• Initially Pako had enjoyed love and peace, but this did not last past her 13th birthday.
Aunt Pretty was a businesswoman who travelled a lot, and this opened doors for abuse from uncle Tlhong.
• Pako had to put up with continuous rape from Tlhong and was sworn to secrecy on pain of death if she dared expose him.
Pakobelieved she had no choice but to suffer silently.
• When Pako was 17one of her cousins caught them in the act and he too received a death threat if he dared tell his mother. But anger forced him to speak out.
• Aunt Pretty’s response was unmitigated rage. She accused Pako of being an ungrateful snake and a witch that would kill her to take her man.
• Pako tried to explain the trauma she had suffered from a tender age, and although it attracted the attention of her relatives, all they did was to accuse her of destroying the family bond.
• Not one person considered her innocence, vulnerability and the pain inflicted by an adult who was the senior partner in the crime.
• Eventually Pako fell pregnant, got kicked out of the home, lost the love of Pretty and her children, and ceased to be of any interest to Tlhong, the father of the child.
She also lost her schooling opportunity.
Pako had been taken in by some distant aunt out of sympathy and looked after until she had her baby – a child that stole her peace as he reminded her daily of Tlhong.
It was shortly after the birth of the child that Pako plucked up the courage to request the kgotla to call Tlhong.
She also hoped that the meeting would give her the opportunity to reconcile with Aunt Pretty.
As I sit here facing my laptop, typing my column, I have beside me my diary from the meeting and the four-sided debate that followed.
There is a smudge on the page – I think it must have been from a tear that escaped the attention of my handkerchief.
1. All Pako wanted was that Tlhong be made to harvest the fruit of his clandestine mischief by taking his child so that she could further her interrupted studies.
2. Aunt Pretty released all her bitter emotions on Pako, the child she still saw as a woman intent on taking her husband.
None of her anger was reserved for Tlhong and his twisted desires.
3. There was uncle Shakes who simply wanted to call the police and report this ugly crime.But Pakorejected the move, saying that she would not gain much from Tlhong going to Prison.
4. Tlhong half-heartedly and sheepishly pleaded guilty, but he did not want his “stealing” (go ikutswa) to destroy his family.
Tlhong requested a brief moment to consult with Pretty after which they announced that they would keep the baby so that Pakocould return to school.
The decision was announced with a sanctimony that ignored the psychological trauma he had inflicted on Pako during the years of abuse.
Pretty too failed to appreciate the long-term impact the whole thing could have on Pako as she unleashed all her anger like a rabid dog on her helpless niece.
The use of some vernacular words like “steal” with reference to sex offences have a tendency to sugar-coat an ugly crime.
The absence of youth friendly centres for sex offences can only allow such crimes to continue to hide under the roof of many homes.
Naturally society cannot push back the hands of the clock to the days of chaperoning,and there will always be those eager to pounce on the vulnerability of youth.
But encouraging and developing assertiveness skills would help ward off the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and protect such as Pako from the sins of the fathers.
One wonders too what emotions might course through the twisted heart of Tlhong each time the baby smiles at him.