A KADOMA woman who walked through hell and back after she was waylaid, attacked and raped under the cover of darkness has opened up on what transpired on that horror night, and the consequences that followed.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
But perhaps the most heartrending thing for Grace (not her real name) is that her attacker is still at large.
Grace, who exhibits unparalleled resilience, opened up to NewsDay Weekender last week on what she went through and how she has been able to turn a corner so that she can also reach out to other women in need of a shoulder to cry on.
When the news crew met her at Kadoma Motel, she was attending a counselling training session, a way of reaching out to others that has also helped her to deal with her trauma.
Wearing a beautiful long black dress and trendy boots, with her long flowing hair partly covering her face, Grace looked nothing short of a beauty model.
Her joviality, confidence and warm smile all belie the dark secret she carries — the painful story of her ordeal at the hands of a man who is still at large. So chilling were the details that the tale sounded like a story from a television crime series.
It was a chilly night in June last year and Grace was coming from a midweek service in Rimuka suburb in the company of church mates, singing some popular hymns that kept their spirits buoyed up despite the cold blizzard.
The women eventually parted ways, with Grace taking a detour to her house, which passed through a poorly-lit short stretch of only a few metres.
Humming away and eager to get back home to her only teenage daughter, Grace missed the furtive figure trailing her.
“I suddenly felt an object (brick) whizz past my head, narrowly missing me. I tried to turn around, but someone grabbed me from behind by the throat,” she recalled.
As the thick hands closed over her neck she choked and as she was dragged away from the light and deeper into the woods, her primal instincts kicked in. At the first opportunity she opened her mouth and screamed. Again and again she called for help.
“I was so close to some houses and I knew my screams could be heard, but no one came out. Cold fear clawed at my heart as I realised that I was at the mercy of this monster,” she said.
She would learn later that a couple from her church heard the screams, but thought it was some other couple fighting, a common occurrence in the ghetto.
When she continued screaming, her abductor turned violent and bashed her with a thick plank all over her body.
“I had assumed he was alone, but I heard another voice calling out to him to release me as people might come to my aid,” Grace said.
She heard retreating footsteps as the accomplice bolted from the scene. But undeterred, her attacker continued pummelling her, demanding that she gave him money.
“When I indicated I had none, this incensed him and he continued bashing me,” she said, adding that she lost her footing and fell to the ground.
On the ground, helpless, she became an even easier target.
“He started kicking me in the stomach, on my head, everywhere. I curled into a tight ball, but he was not done with me,” she recalled her soft eyes turning into hard chips as she relived the horror.
The attacker stamped on her broken body over and over again. He went berserk when he searched her and couldn’t find anything of value.
Then the worst happened. Tired from bludgeoning her with the plank and fists and booted feet, her attacker whipped out a knife and grabbed her throat.
“I was so scared now and at that moment, I knew he was going to kill me,” she said.
As the sharp blade sliced through her neck, Grace, bruised and worn out, found renewed strength and grabbed the knife.
“At the time I did not feel the pain as the blade slashed through my fingers. I just wanted to live,” she said, tears pooling in her eyes.
Fighting the battle of her life, she held her on tightly to the blade, which almost severed two of her fingers. She said the thought of never seeing her daughter again gave her resolve and she fought like a lioness even as her body screamed in pain.
Surprised by her strength, the attacker was thrown off and soon abandoned his mission. He looked at his victim and ordered her to strip off her undergarments. Suddenly, what was just about to happen dawned on Grace.
“At that time I did not care anymore. I was now feeling angry and refused his orders,” she said.
Undeterred, the attacker used his knife to slash off her clothes and as she lay naked on the cold ground, she readied herself for the onslaught she knew was just about to come.
“All awhile he kept the full blaze of his torch on my face, blinding me. He said to me in a gruff voice, ‘You will never forget me’ and then raped me over and over again. It was brutal,” she said, cringing at the dark memory.
She stopped fighting, certain that her attacker would not hesitate to kill her. For a long time her attacker abused her in the most profane way. She lost count of time and focused her thoughts on the future of her daughter.
“I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my daughter to live with the memory that I was raped and murdered. So I played dead to stay alive,” she said.
It worked and soon the rapist stood up, grinning wickedly, and ordered her to get up and put on her clothes. She complied, but the bleeding from her neck and hand was getting worse. The attacker searched her again one last time.
“He came across my bible and quickly dropped it. Somehow his demeanour changed. He lit the torch and made me walk in front as he took me to the main road,” she said.
A few metres from the road, he left her and melted away into the darkness like an apparition.
Left alone, in the silence and the darkness, the horror came back and, with it, tumbling emotions. Screaming, covered in blood and dirt, Grace stumbled into the road.
“The first car that came slowed down but took off at high speed. I must have looked like a ghost,” she said, adding that she then decided to stand in the middle of the road. Her greatest fear at the time was that she could have been infected by HIV and she became panicky.
The next vehicle that came along was a commuter omnibus. The driver stopped and his assistant jumped out.
“I started crying and tried to explain everything at once. Although the assistant understood me, the driver initially wanted to leave me behind. He said the police would blame them,” she said.
Finally they agreed to take her to the nearest police post, but fear got the better of them and they dumped her at a shopping centre.
Losing blood and strength, Grace managed to get her bearings and dragged herself towards the nearest police station, where she stumbled in just after midnight, exactly four hours after the abuse.
“They took one look at me and the female police officer rushed me in front of a heater and ordered a cup of tea for me. They only asked for my statement when I had calmed down,” she said.
The police took Grace back to the scene with sniffer dogs to try and pick on her attacker’s scent or trail. They came up with nothing. A few suspects were questioned but up to now, there has not been any headway — perhaps the story of a cold case.
“As they finally took me to the hospital I kept asking myself why the attacker raped me. He is an animal and I shudder to think that he is out there somewhere, free. Maybe he has even forgotten about what he did to me,” she said, her voice laden with pain.
Grace tested HIV negative after taking the PrEP and received counselling at Parirenyatwa Adult Rape Clinic.
How does she stay positive?
“I live one day at a time. Counselling is now my life, I want to help as many women as I can to cope. Before I received counselling, I had turned into another person, always angry, lashing out at my poor daughter. But now, I am able to deal with my issues rationally. I have the support of my local pastor. She keeps me grounded when I feel like losing it,” she said.