Thursday, 6 September 2012

The day my mom was raped

The day my mom was raped
6 September 2012

It’s not really a day that I commemorate (for obvious reasons), or try and remember on purpose, but because it coincides with the birthday of an uncle, I do so none the less.

There is never a good time to be raped.  It simply should never, ever happen.  But in this case, to amplify the horror, the timing was particularly bad.  On the 27th of January 1999, my Dad died, after a long and painful battle with cancer.  He fought bravely for 2 years, but eventually at the age of 46, he couldn’t any more.  His wish was to be at home, so he never went to Hospice.  They did daily visits to the house, monitoring his pain meds and discomfort, but as a family we cared for him at home.  He didn’t want to be stuck in a bedroom, isolated and all on his own.  So we made him a prime seat (or rather bed) in the lounge/TV room.  Lots of hustle and bustle around him.  Activity, laughter (yes, even laughter amidst death), visitors and general busy-ness. 

Even though the end was expected and we had all been in mourning since before his death, his actual death was still a huge blow.  It left us reeling.  In the weeks afterwards, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Luke was a baby and still needed lots of attention.  This was a good thing, as I had a focus.  The sun still shone every day.  There were cars on the road, kids going to school, people going to work, meals to be cooked.  Life carried on and I was hugely surprised by this.  I had somehow expected the whole world to come to a standstill.  Didn’t they get the memo that my dad had died?

And then, quite unexpectedly in the middle of the night, on the 11th of April, I got a phone call from the very same birthday uncle.  My heart stopped.  Because just 2 and a half months earlier, I had also received a middle of the night phone call from my mom, to tell me that my dad had died.  I just knew that in all likelihood life after this phone call would never be the same either.  Grant answered the call and my uncle Bert said to him “Maggie has just been raped”.  I overheard, and remember jumping out of bed, grabbing some clothes and getting ready to get in the car to go, go, go!  Bert said that my aunt, Bettie, was speaking to my mom on her cell phone and would keep her on the line and company until we reached her house.  The rapist had told her that he would be watching the house and if she called the police or anybody else and someone came to the house, he would come back for her and kill her and those with her.  My mom said that she believed every single word he said to her.  And fearing for our safety, and hers, she called my aunt in Joburg, because she was pretty sure, she wouldn’t be able to immediately rush to her aid.

Grant and I literally ran out of our home at about 2h00 in the morning, Luke under my arm.  We drove at breakneck speed to my mom’s house and I clearly remember not stopping, even to check for traffic, at a single stop street or robot.  My dad must have been watching over us, because we got there in one piece.  We got to the house and my mom opened the door for us, after we reassured her that it was us.  We had a whole phone thing going with Grant and I speaking to my uncle from our cell phone and then him relaying the message via my aunt to my mom, that it was us at the door.  I was quite surprised that my mom looked so normal.  She was calm and rational.  And unbelievably felt sorry for inconveniencing us.  Hello!!!

We did lots of hugs.  I can’t really remember crying, but I’m sure we must have.  A calm settled.  I helped her to get dressed and we went to the Police Station.  Imagine our surprise when it was locked.  It’s for security reasons, I’m sure, but still it was rather unexpected.  And after much banging and noise making, the cops opened up for us and a very, very, very long night began.  The police were amazing.  They immediately had a female officer assist us, because of the nature of the crime.  They were sympathetic and showed great tact.  While I was supporting my mom, Grant started with the phone calls to other family members.  My aunt and uncle in Joburg also did their thing and within a very short while, the Somerset West Police Station was overrun with Lombards and our phones never stopped ringing.  My grandfather wept.  And wept.  And wept.  Not Maggie.  She had already gone through so much and had just lost my Dad.  My mom was 44 at the time.

Amazingly enough there are systems in place for when things like this happen.  Which saddened me terribly.  Did that mean that it happened a lot?  Surely not?  In the dark of night, after giving the police statement, we went up to the Rape Crises Centre and my mom had the obligatory medical examination (me holding her hand the whole way) – trying to get as much DNA as possible.  My mom, just succumbed to it all.  Giving in meekly.  Trying to console us and comfort us.  Weren’t we supposed to be consoling her?  She sort of seemed detached from what had happened – disassociated.  I think adrenaline kept us all going. 

Then it was back to the house, where we met up with the cops and their forensic team.  They took samples and photos.  Dusted for fingerprints.  Some things were pretty grim – like taking my mom’s panties, the butt of the cigarette the rapist made my mom share with him, her bed sheet.

So this is how it went down:  He got in through a bathroom window and my mom woke up with a knife in her neck.  He asked her for money and her cell phone.  They walked down the passage to the study to get him the stuff and my mom said that she kept her head down the whole time.  There was a mirror at the bottom of the passage and she didn’t want to look up and see his reflection – very clever of her.  She thought that as long as she didn’t see his face, he would spare her life.  He then raped her at knife point – in the bed she had shared with my father.  Afterwards he forced her to have a cigarette with him.  He cautioned her about phoning the police and anyone coming to the house and his parting shot was “now you go and have a nice long bath”.

My mom said that all she could think about the whole time was that he must just be quick.  If she cooperated and did not fight him, chances were that he would leave again soon.  She was super anxious, because my 19 year old sister, Katrine, had gone out to a party and was due home soon.  My mom was petrified, that he would rape her too.

My mom started with Rape Counselling immediately and I think it helped a lot.  She still maintains that her biggest help was the support and love that she got from family and friends.  Ironically, there was a whole group of people doing rape counselling at the same time.  And my mom said, that out of the group, she was the only one to have the support that she had.  The others had been blamed for their predicament - for wearing promiscuous clothing, being drunk or being in the wrong place at the wrong time – even by their own families.  How can people be so cruel?   No one asks to be raped!  And through my mom’s counselling we all learnt.  Rape is not a sexual act, but an act of violence.  One person controlling another, making them submit to them.  So basically, it’s an ego boost.  The ugliest possible version, of a  big, bad, bully.

Our biggest concern after the rape, apart from the emotional fallout was the risk of contracting HIV or AIDS.  At the time, the drug of choice was AZT.  A ridiculously expensive course of treatment.  Way above our budget.  Our house doctor, who is a personal friend, paid for one course of treatment.  My mom is an awesome teacher and always taught at less affluent schools.  She felt that it was her way to give back to the community and she simply loved making a difference in the lives of these kids.  And on the night of the rape, she had been at a school function.  Had the rapist perhaps seen her there, followed her home and then lain in wait for her?  I phoned the school, the morning after the rape, to tell them that she wouldn’t be in to work for a few days, and amazingly enough, the “poor” school that she taught at, paid for the second course of treatment.  The AZT made her terribly ill.  In fact, some stuff was never the same after the treatment.  She still can’t eat certain foods now and has less tolerance for others.  It did something to her stomach.  I remember being so scared when my mom had to go for her Aids test after a few months.  Luckily she had the all clear, but I was a bunch of nerves for ages.

Quite a few things changed during that time.  Fear became a palpable part of our daily lives.  It touched us personally.  I could not imagine how my mom had to be feeling.  The first order of business was to get my mom a dog.  Which would serve the purpose as companion and “watch” dog as well as being another living, breathing entity in the house with her – even though my sister still lived at home.  We found an adorable little Staffie and decided that she needed a masculine name – so that my Mom could call out for her dog should she ever be in trouble again.  And so Buddy came into our lives – a lovable female staffie, who’s still around to this day.  It was love at first sight.  My mom also developed an extremely keen sense of smell.  This might sound odd, but there is published research on this and I remember reading about it at the time.  It was as if her senses were heightened and she continually sniffed.  After a period of time this faded.  But eventually after a while, my mom said that if she was scared all the time, the rapist would have won.  He would still be controlling her life.  Besides which, she said it was extremely difficult to hang the washing on the line with a can of pepper spray in her hand.  She made a conscious choice to let go of the fear.  To be honest, it took me way longer.

Now, would you know that DNA is a bugger.  I barely thought it was possible, but they caught “The Bastard”.  A few weeks after finding him my mom got a lovely parcel from the police – her bed sheet, with a hole cut out in the middle as well as her panties, also with a strategic hole cut out.  A bit unnecessary if you ask me.  But the main thing was that he had been caught.  And what a bad boy he had been.  He was wanted in connection with 17 cases in Stellenbosch, and 16 in Somerset West.  He had been rather busy and was wanted for house break, car theft, rape, attempted murder, robbery, etc.  Evidently not the nicest guy.  And in hindsight, my mom was lucky to get out alive.  The court case dragged on for months and months and months on end.  Postponement upon postponement.  My mom was willing to testify, although I don’t think she was particularly looking forward to it.  She wanted to help another person from possibly going through the same ordeal.  And another one of his rape victims was also willing to testify.  Luckily it never got to that and she never even went to court.  But each and every time “The Bastard” appeared in court, the court benches were filled with the Lombard men.  They showed great solidarity and support for their Maggie.  If a staring down contest would have done the trick, they would have flayed him on the spot. 

He got his just desserts in the end.  He was given a 25 year sentence in Stellenbosch and an 18 year sentence in Somerset West.  They run concurrently, so he’ll effectively spend 18 years in jail, not accounting for the possibility of parole.  Funny thing, is that at that stage, Grant was working at Stellenbosch Town Council.  And on the one occasion The Sherriff of the Court (who knew Grant), asked him why he kept on coming to court to watch this particular court case.  Grant explained to him, and The Sherriff asked Grant how much cash he had on him.  Why, asked Grant?  Kangaroo justice was the reply.  At the cost of about R20, discreetly passed from the Sherriff to the prison guards, they would give “The Bastard” a flogging and a beating of note.  Apparently guards abhor rapists and fellow inmates don’t take too kindly to them either.  And did I mention that the same R20 would also ensure that “The Bastard” got raped?  Grant declined the offer, merely because I don’t think he had cash on him.  I suspect that in the end, the Sherriff might have arranged a little beating/flogging/raping of “The Bastard” for sporting pleasure alone. 

They would possibly have been able to catch “The Bastard” earlier.  He had my mom’s cell phone after all and if they tracked the calls that he was making, the satellites or numbers or whatever, would help to pinpoint his location and what he had been up to.  But would you believe that this avenue was not open to us?  It was an infringement of “The Bastard’s” rights, to track him through a cell phone that he had stolen, even though a violent crime had taken place and he had raped the previous owner of the phone.  There is something very wrong with this picture.  My grandfather went into the cell phone shop and begged and pleaded with them.  They explained that they weren’t allowed to and my poor Oupa Willem had a complete meltdown.  He is normally a calm and reasonable man.  But on that day he was screaming and shouting, raging at the owner and manager of the store, explaining to them loudly in front of a store filled with customers, exactly where he suggested they shove their whole store full of cell phones.

It’s been 13 years and I suspect “The Bastard” is surely dead.  There was no way that he would survive jail for so long, without succumbing to Aids himself or perhaps even a more violent death.  The most ironic thing of all, was that after “The Bastard” was caught, and we found out who he was, it came to light that my mom was teaching his son.  I asked my mom how she managed to look at his son every day, without feeling hatred for the father or anger.  And how she was able to treat him just like all of the other kids in her class and she said “If he could show such hatred and cruelty towards strangers, imagine what his own son has suffered at his hands”.  It truly humbled me.  My mom has the most forgiving spirit.  I also asked her afterwards how she was coping with what had happened to her and she said “it was just my body, not my mind”.

I have learnt a lot from this, but wish that I hadn’t.  I would happily forgo the experience and life lessons all together, if it meant sparing my mother and others pain.  Because the rape didn’t just hurt her.  It hurt so many of us.  For my grandfather as a father, it brought him to his knees.  My grandmother ached for her daughter.  My uncles were thunderously angry, as was Grant.  My aunts were traumatised.  My brother, sister and I were numb.  And the circle just went wider and wider and wider.  It had a huge ripple effect. 

It’s 13 years down the line now and my mom is happy and healthy – and has been for the longest time.  She is not bitter or angry.  Her heart is not filled with hatred.  In fact I think to her it was as if it never happened.  She’s chosen to move on.  She made it so much easier for all of us to come to terms with the rape, with the dignified manner in which she handled it and herself.  She has seen great sorrow, and survived great pain, yet chooses to reflect happiness and joy back into the world.  “The Bastard” did not win.  Maggie did.
Maggie centre front - surrounded by some of her peeps


  1. Goodness,Helene! What an incredible support system I had. You are very brave to write about this - I know it is not easy for you!
    The Lombards are the best support group imaginable. xxx

  2. Helene I am so impressed with you writing so candidly about this.

    I was there. Soon after the ordeal Ouma Kathy asked if I could go and stay with Maggie for a week or so. I cannot remember how long I spent there with your Mom.

    In a similar way I was 'raped' in Feb of the following year. I was abducted at gunpoint in my car and stripped of my dignity to the point where I was going to be given the execution-style shot in the head by two 'shooters' of the infamous 'Americans' gang. I was trussed and bound like a chicken and flung into a stairs cupboard of an empty house and they eventually left with my car to go to my house to find more to take, with the threat that if they found anyone there they would kill them.

    I lived for years in fear of anyone and still wont sleep with my room door unlocked. I also think that the worst effect is that since my incident I suffer from insomnia. As it is I am writing this at 04:15 in the morning.

    Those words 'It was only my body and not my mind' your Mom used when we talked privately during my stay with her in Somerset West, helped me deal with my event. I think Buddy was already ensconsed and such a pleasure and friend to Maggie.

    It was during this time that I stayed in Katrine's loft room and I even re-arranged her room while she was away visiting Robin at the time. This I did, to shift focus from the trauma to a project that Maggie could relate to.

    The amazing thing is that both of us had gone through very traumatic events, but the stronger at the time, I must confess, was Maggie. In a way, her calm way of dealing with, first Frank's death and so soon after that, the rape, helped me when I faced certain death.

    Your Mom is a survivor, has that instinct, and provided the guidance to me for my future experience.

    Thank you Maggie for sharing your trauma with me without expecting me to prop you up which I was there to do. I hope that our long talks over copious coffees helped you. It certainly helped me in my hours of need, when I was doomed to die.

  3. Mere words can not express the emotion I felt while reading this entry.
    What an inspirational, strong and brave mother you have, Helene!
    Maggie, you are one of a kind! WOW!
    Not sure I would have handled this nearly as well as you, and the rest of your family have.
    Much love and respect to you all. x

  4. Maggie, you are high on my personal list of "survivors", along with Gloria Estefan, Tina Turner, and Alison from PE. Helene, your grandfather's antics in the cellphone shop put him on my "heroes" list xxx

  5. This rendition of your experience is a truly heartfelt and candid one. One that makes me believe that these senseless acts, as they still happen today, don't need to and won't cripple you. You have re-instilled my faith in the sanctity of family and the importance of support from those who love you. Here's to your strength and courageous spirit and may you continue on this path of steady growth and healing! x

  6. Love you Maggie! You are an inspiration, a saint (to borrow Simon's term for you) and an example to us.

  7. Sjoe, ek het nie woorde nie! Maar dit sal ek beslis onthou, as n maatstaf van die definisie van "sterk" en "inspirerend". Nie net Maggie nie, maar die ongelooflike ondersteuning. Dis mos nou hoe ons vir mekaar moet omgee.

  8. That left me almost lost for words , thought prevoking powerful and so beautifully written , you are all such awesome inspiring women .

  9. Dear Helene and Maggie - I am at a loss for words to this. I salute you Helene for finding a voice to express yourself with such grace. Maggie - I am overcome with emotion. You are in inspiration and your daughter truly a blessing. Hugs to you both.

  10. Thank you - you have said what I think all rape victims feel! Xxx

  11. Oh, Maggie - I never knew! What a painful experience - thank you for sharing, Helene! I admire how you all dealt with this horror and wish you further strength and courage - you are an inspiring family!

  12. Hi Helene and Maggie. My daughter's friend was raped in Somerset West. She is afraid to go to councelling. Who/where would you recommend please. Your story is an inspiration.

    1. Hi

      This is awful and sad to hear.

      Please encourage her to go to the Rape Crisis Centre in Somerset West where the most empathetic and kind and knowledgeable ladies will help her to get her dignity and confidence back.

      She must please not be afraid. If possible she should take her parents with her, as they also can gain much from councelling. If she chooses to remain anonymous, they will respect that. Some people go for the first time many years after they were raped.

      I cannot recommend Helderberg Rape Crisis Centre highly enough. They helped me to regain my life.

      They are situated just off Lourensford Road behind the HH Hospital.
      Their website is and it has all the info you need.
      24 HOUR CRISIS LINE: 083 484 9409
      Tel: 021 852 5620

      Please feel free to mail me on FB.

      Love and special thoughts.


    2. Wow Maggie to go through such an ordeal with such fortitude and strength and Helene to be able to write with such directness about a subject that must be heart wrenching.You are true heroines in my eyes.I salute you much respect.

  13. I am speechless. But this post has crystallised in my mind what it is that makes your family so special, and where it comes from. Blessings for all of you, and much love.