One cold evening in the village, fourteen-year-old Mandisa and two friends, Khanya and Andiswa, were walking back from the shops. They carried a litre of paraffin, flour and candles.
They hadn’t anticipated a change in the weather, but it began to drizzle. The girls had all grown up in the area and were familiar with the short cuts to get to their homes. They were dressed in light skirts and T-shirts, and none of them had bothered to bring an umbrella. So now they opted for the shortest route home – which was through the forest, then over a shallow river, and then back on the gravel road.
As the girls approached the river, they spotted three men coming from the opposite direction. They couldn’t see them clearly as it was getting dark. They looked at one another with worried frowns and began to walk slower.
“Maybe we should go back?” said Mandi. “It’s quite dark already.” As the men moved closer, Andiswa quickly eased her friends’ concerns by claiming to know one of them.
“He comes from the same village where I visit my grandma,” she said. “It’ll be OK.”
She walked forward happily, claiming the man’s attention. Mandi and Khanya were relieved.
“Hello, Bhut Lungelo,” she called out, respectfully. “It’s me, Andiswa. I met you at my grandmother’s village, Emalahleni.”
He didn’t respond.
She greeted him a second time, calling him by his name, assuring him that they knew one another.
The men had approached the girls silently. No words were spoken, no hands raised in greeting. Suddenly, the man who had been addressed as Lungelo, raised his fist and punched Andiswa – a hard blow – to her face.
She slumped down on the wet ground, unconscious. Mandi and Khanya stood there, frozen for a moment, immobile with shock. But when they saw the other two men set their sights on their prey and begin to move towards them, they sprinted, dropping the groceries where they stood.
“Stay close to me,” Mandi gasped to Khanya. “And make as much noise as you can! Someone should … hear us … I hope,” she panted.
They raced through the thorny shrubs of the woods, desperately frightened and screaming for help. They were immune to the cold rain, grazes and cuts they had to endure. They ran, screamed, ran, tripped, ran, stood, ran, wept, ran and ran. But it was futile.
The men finally caught up with them. Their hunting instinct had taken over in their drunken state.
The girls were tackled and pushed to the ground, beaten up ruthlessly, and had their legs forced open.
Mandisa would never forget those tiny, light brown, demonic eyes which tracked her through the bush and finally stared down at her with satisfaction as she tried desperately to fight back.
‘Pastor’ Lungelo had converted a warm, sweet girl into a broken woman. They all had their way with the girls, swapping them around as if it were a game.
The girls never spoke about it to anyone, and not among themselves either.
Tell us: Since Mandi has found her attacker, what should she do about it?