She survived rape, HIV/Aids, bullet to her spine and enforced suicide
Fumani Ngwenya (53) defied death at the hands of a bunch of merciless criminals. She brushes off her ordeal as a joke. She triumphed over it. “The experience changed me into a better person. I still use the road I was attacked on. Instead of it pulling me down, it gives me more willpower to soldier on,” she says. Behind that content expression of her face lies a horrendous memory of pain and triumph.
On that fateful evening Fumani and her husband were returning home after helping at a night vigil in the neighbourhood. Six strangers in a car accosted them and asked for a cigarette. “My husband told them that he doesn’t smoke,” Fumani reminisces. “They told him that they are taking me with them because he didn’t have a cigarette. He tried to fight them off but they overpowered him. They had all types of heinous weapons.”
The criminals dragged Fumani and her husband to the foot of a train bridge that flanks Mofolo Sotho and Zulu sections. All six men took turns raping her. After, one of them fired a bullet that was stuck at the bottom her spine and left with their clothes, leaving them completely naked. “In the morning young children who were playing in the veld saw us. I asked them to go call their parents,” she says with a crackling voice. That is how they were rescued.
Fumani opened a case with the police, but her attackers were elusive. One morning as she got into the house, an intruder came out from behind a sofa and locked the door inside. “He accused me of calling the police on them. He gun-butted me, raped me and forced me to swallow my epileptic tablets.” She says the intruder told her to kill herself because he wanted to keep his hands clean. Fortunately she fell into a comatose and recovered a few hours later.
LIVING WITH HIV
Subsequent to the attack, she was diagnosed with HIV. Her husband was negative. Fumani’s health deteriorated and was admitted to the hospital. “Even doctors were sceptical that I would survive. However, my health gradually improved and my CD4 count picked up and I started taking ARVs.”
The hospital transferred Fumani to a hospice. “I saw people dying almost every day.” To shift her mind from the deaths and diseases, she formed a gospel choir with fellow patients. They performed on special occasions. Now confined to a wheelchair she was sent home.
Fumani felt like a burden to her family. Her mother had errands to run. Her husband regularly visited to check on her health. One day she plugged in courage and took her chance. “I put one leg on the ground; leaned on the wheelchair armrest; dropped another leg; carried myself out the wheelchair and stood on my two legs. I screamed with excitement. Neighbours rushed to help. They thought I fell from the wheelchair. I took few a steps everyday. At last I was using the help of crutches to carry myself around.”
She is thankful to Reverend Mugivi and Bishop Phaswana of the Lutheran Church in Central Western Jabavu. They registered her for courses in counselling (HIV), and home-based care. It is through the help of these learnership programs that she is giving back to the community. “I gather women who are HIV positive, unemployed and abused and teach them beads work.” They were selling their artefacts and shared the money. Some of them run their own small businesses from home now.
They also grow vegetables. “We sell the vegetables to the same Lutheran church which runs a feeding scheme. It caters for about 300 children including orphans and those who are vulnerable. They give them meals three times in a week.” They also collect old clothes and donate them to these needy children. “I might be poor but I am happy and content about the contribution I make in my community,” she says with pride. Fumani also does motivational talks.
One of her workshops took her to a prison where her attackers are incarcerated. Well, six months after her ordeal two of her attackers were killed and the remaining four serve 45 years each behind bars. Her life-threatening encounter is now a water under the bridge. “I forgave them. I saw them in prison. Everybody deserves a second chance. As for me, I am not a dying type.” she concludes.