Three out of 10 Zimbabwean women are gang-raped when they try to cross the border through the Limpopo River to South Africa, according to a church leader who runs two shelters in Mussina.
Professor Lesiba Matsaung of the United Reformed Church is the founder of a two shelters in Mussina, a border town situated next to Beitbridge between South Africa and Zimbabwe and a though fare for refugees and immigrants.
Matsaung said the Mmamaele Georgina Matsaung Women’s Shelter in Nancefield Mussina receives between 20 and 30 women every week while the Christian Women Ministry Shelter, in Mutwale, Mussina receives between 30 and 50 young boys and men.
"All of them have illegally jumped the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa because of economical challenges they face at home.
"Some of these women are as young as 13 years. When they arrive here some tell us that they were gang-raped at the border. Some are also raped here in Mussina by people who lure them to a secluded areas after promising to help them with shelter, jobs and food," said Matsaung.
Most of the victims are young women who meet up with what the locals refer to as Amaguma-guma (thugs), mostly Zimbabwean men who wait at the border, promise the women food and shelter, but rob and rape them.
Matsaung also claimed that the older women, especially married ones did not want to disclose their ordeal because they were afraid that their partners or husbands would leave them.
Matsaung said they took the rape survivors to Mussina Hospital for treatment, but they also had counselors available.
"But most of them do not want us to open criminal cases with the police because of fear of victimization from the perpetrator. But elderly women also avoid opening criminal cases to avoid going to court, which means expose them to their family and partners.
"Many women choose not to reveal their experience as they are too traumatised and ashamed. Others reveal it so that they can get treatment," said Matsaung.
Matsaung described the rape incidents as “horrible” and added that some of the survivors who approached the shelters were already living with HIV/AIDS.
“Some of them come in a critical condition and they ended up dying. But we do not struggle to inform their next of kin or families as they provide that information when they arrive here."
The shelters, which opened in 2008 is a halfway stop for most of the refugees and immigrants who stay for a while before continuing their onward journey, often to Gauteng.
Many of the women are referred to the centre by the police, social workers and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
Matsaung said the high number of rape survivors referred to them, has forced them to open a separate section where they can recuperate while receiving medical treatment and counseling.
The Department of Health and Social Development fund Matsaung’s project.
* Story by Ndivhuwo Musetha an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from the Vhembe health district in Limpopo.