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“lion mama” fought off her daughter’s rapists

April 3, 2019
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TW: This article contains mentions of rape.

Rape and rape culture are ubiquitous to global culture but for South Africa — dubbed the rape capital of the world at approximately 110 incidents per day — it has reached pandemic levels. This reality accommodates little to no justice in the way of arrests, forcing one mother in Lady Frere, Eastern Cape to rescue her own daughter from three drunk men. When Nokubonga Qampi got a call that her daughter Siphokazi was being sexually assaulted not far away, she called the police with no answer. Nokubonga decided to go out and find her daughter with nothing but a knife.

“I was scared, but then I was forced to go because it was my daughter,” she told the BBC. “I was thinking that when I get there, she might be dead… Because she knew the perpetrators, and because they knew her and knew she knows them, they might think they had to kill her so she couldn’t report them.” As she ran into the night, Nokubonga ran towards her daughter’s screams with the light from her phone illuminating the dark path. It was that same light that revealed the horror of Siphokazi being raped while two other men stood with their pants around their ankles, waiting for their turn, again.

“I was scared… I just stood by the door and asked what they were doing. When they saw it was me, they came charging towards me, that’s when I thought that I needed to defend myself, it was an automatic reaction,” Nokubonga said. The mother doesn’t go into much detail about the traumatizing experience and what followed it, resulting in one of the attackers dying and the other two being severely wounded. Nokubonga’s bravery has garnered her the nickname “Lion Mama.” The name had originated from a newspaper who dubbed Nokubonga “Lion Mama” when her identity was still concealed, placing a picture of a lioness and her cubs as a visual representation of her story — the name and sentiment stuck.

Nokubonga took her daughter to a friend’s house where she was arrested as soon as the police were called. The arrest and possible prosecution of Nokubonga garnered national outrage, with many people advocating for the mother’s freedom. Buhle Tonise is the attorney who represented Nokubonga, who was distraught and resigned to a glib fate when Tonise first took the case. According to the BBC, the lawyer said “When you are meeting with people that are at that level of poverty, then you know most of the time they would feel that the mother is going to jail because she has no one to stand by her side. The justice system is for those who have money.” In a country where poverty was manufactured along racial lines, that means that Black people and specifically Black women have to contend with a justice system that does not protect them and a police force that protects rapists.

The public and media movement to paint “Lion Mama” as the hero saved Nokubonga from her own pessimism about her fate and prosecution. It is not fair that South Africa’s justice system leaves much to be desired in the way of justice in the case of sexual violence but this is a reminder that the say of the people is still powerful. Until the implementation of laws becomes satisfactory to the protection of victims of rape, South African women have no one to rely on but themselves and a public past the point of weary. Had the public not shown outrage over Nokubonga being charged with murder and crowdfunding for her legal defense, she would likely be in jail, leaving Siphokazi without a mother and support system.

After witnessing a courtroom filled with supporters, Nokubonga responded to all her well-wishers by saying “There were a whole lot of people from all over South Africa. What I said to people is thank you, because the fact that the court was filled to the rafters, it meant that they supported me. They really gave me hope.”

Siphokazi waived her anonymity at the conclusion of the trial to spread a message of hope to fellow rape survivors. “I would tell a person that even after such an attack there is even life beyond it, you can still go back to society. You can still live your life,” she said. A rare and positive ending for a lioness and her cub.