Thank God the little girl was not present when it happened. Naledi had been playing with her friends on the other side of the encampment so she knew nothing about it until she returned to her area and saw the crowd of people gathered around the small shack she shared with her mother. Even at the age of eight she could tell that something terrible had happened. As soon as the older women noticed her they rushed over and pulled her away. They were all crying and some were hysterical. Naledi, sensing their horror, struggled to break loose. She wanted her mother, but the women refused to let her go. Now she too began to cry. She didn’t understand what was happening, but her confusion was quickly being replaced by fear. Naledi cried out for someone to tell her where her mother was, but the old women didn’t answer. How do you tell an eight year old child that the most important person in her world, the one who had given her life, had been raped and beaten to death?
Tumelo was feared by many in the settlement. His demeanor was belligerent and his large physical stature made him an intimidating figure. The other men often backed down in his presence and the women all feared him. Tumelo confused these reactions with what he thought was great respect, when in fact he was despised. He cared little for others and had become used to getting his own way. He bullied anyone in which he sensed weakness and he took advantage of every situation that benefited him. However, as bad as he was sober he turned much more sinister when his drinking picked up. Over recent months his alcoholism had grown worse and so had his violent tendencies. Authorities had been brought in many times to try to control him, but they were understaffed and they did little. Many in the camp figured it was just a matter of time before he went too far and they were right.
Naledi’s mother had always been terrified of Tumelo. She had known him for several years and always did her best to avoid him. She was especially protective of her daughter and in the late afternoon when she saw him sitting and drinking near their simple shack she sent Naledi out to play a safe distance away. After a few minutes Tumelo tossed the empty bottle aside and kicked open the door to their home. The attack began without Tumelo saying a word even as Naledi’s mother begged him to stop. There was no doubt that some heard the victim’s cries for help but they were ignored. She was no match against his physical strength and she was quickly overpowered. After the rape she sobbed uncontrollably and Tumelo ordered her to stop. When she did not he began to beat her. In his alcohol fueled rage he broke her jaw, her arm and then delivered a blow that snapped a rib which punctured her lung. Gasping for breath, and with both eyes nearly swollen shut, she blindly swung at him with all her strength and hit him squarely on the left side of the face. The moment Tumelo was struck he lost all control and finished the horror by snapping her neck. Her body went limp and she collapsed in the dirt as he stood over her seething.
The next morning Naledi’s mother was buried on the edge of the settlement along with all the other victims of poverty and violence. She was just one more woman who had suffered the injustice of economic deprivation that can lead to physical and sexual abuse. Naledi was lost. She could not comprehend what had happened to her mother. Why would someone want to hurt such a beautiful and caring person? Her mother was so gentle and kind. Naledi had wanted nothing more in the world than to be just like her. They loved each other so much, in part, because they were all each other had in the world, and now she was gone. Naledi was alone. She had no other relatives in the community. For a couple of days she stayed with an older widow, but she kept waking up at night screaming with nightmares about what had happened and eventually the lady made her leave. Although Tumelo had been quickly arrested, Naledi was still terrified of the settlement, and so she decided to run away. It was heartbreaking for her to leave her mother’s grave, but she was too scared to stay. Early one morning she hid on a covered cart that took her many miles to the west to another encampment. Unfortunately, her child like hopes of finding a safe place where people didn’t hurt each other was not to be.
Tumelo was defiant as he went through the legal process. He knew how little value was placed on the life of a woman in poverty. He was confident he would not be charged with rape because that was rarely prosecuted, however, he knew he had crossed the line when he broke his victim’s neck, but he expected the punishment to be light because she was no one important. He was exactly right. The rape charge was dropped and the beating death was considered to be an unfortunate accident that resulted from his drinking. He was given the minimum sentence and was placed in a prison where he was given clean clothes, hot meals and medical care. For Tumelo life could certainly have been worse. He no longer had to worry about employment. He had a soft bed and better food than he had ever had at the settlement. He would pass his time feeling comfortable and in good health but the one thing he would never do was give a single thought about the little girl he had orphaned…but she thought about him often.
Naledi’s life had been destroyed. In the new settlement she had found no shelter so she wandered aimlessly. There was one small orphanage but it was full and could not take her. Each night she slept where ever she could, but she was always scared if there were men nearby. Each morning she woke up hungry, and her entire day was spent picking through garbage trying to find what ever scraps might have been thrown out. Her clothes were torn and her hair was tangled but no one took notice. There were too many street children for one little girl to stand out. She was often scared and always desperately lonely. The grief she felt over losing her mother was overpowering. She would give anything to be able to sit beside her again and have her tell funny stories so they could laugh together. She wanted her mother to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything would be alright, but that man had taken all of that away. She would never touch her mother’s face again. She would never look into her eyes and see the tenderness that was always there, and she would never feel another goodnight kiss. At the age of eight Naledi was being crushed under the weight of grief and a sense of loss that was too deep for her to understand. All she knew was that she could not trust anyone.
Over the next four years Naledi and Tumelo lived very different lives. In prison Tumelo was taught how to read and he learned a trade, but he had no intention of using it when he got out. He knew he would be able to resume his old life of drinking and fighting, it was just a matter of time. Of course he had learned his lesson. He now understood that after you rape someone you can’t kill them. One is tolerated – the other isn’t. He would be careful not to cross over that very thin line in the future. But he was confident that he could control his physical aggression right up to the point where it might get him in trouble. He now understood the rules of the game……Naledi, on the other hand, spent those 48 months in physical and emotional decline. Eventually she he had been forced to steal food to survive. It made her ashamed to think of herself as a thief. Her hard life in the streets had changed her into a person she knew her mother wouldn’t recognize, and it broke her heart to even think about it. Her desperation had eventually turned into resignation. At such a tender age she had the soul of someone who had experienced unimaginable misery.
It was no surprise that the day Tumelo was released from prison he immediately began to drink. He had waited 4 years for this moment and he continued to celebrate through the night. During his incarceration he had not spent one minute thinking about the woman he had killed with his bare hands. All he could concentrate on was having the opportunity to get as much liquor as he wanted whenever he felt like it, and he would have no mercy on anyone who tried to stop him. His crimes of rape and murder were in the distant past and he believed they had no bearing on his life going forward. He would do whatever pleased whenever he felt like it, and in his mind that included having sex with whomever he desired even if it was against her will. Prison had taught him nothing. He had no more value for human life than he did went he was sentenced. His disregard for women as human beings had actually increased because in his twisted mind he blamed them for the time he had to serve. He was still a predator without a conscious, and there were to be many more innocent victims in his future…and, unfortunately, there were plenty of other men just like Tumelo with the same disrespect for females – no matter what their age.
160 miles to the west Naledi was asleep in an abandoned building when one of those men crept up behind her. His hand was over her mouth before she could react. The terror that swept over her made her feel like her heart was going to explode. Although still a child she knew what was about to happen, and it made her feel physically ill…The attack lasted for only a short time, and even though Naledi resisted with all her strength she was quickly beaten into submission. After a series of severe blows to the head her brain ceased to function, and she was no longer aware of this world and that in itself was a blessing. Eventually the trauma to her body took its toll and she slipped away. A couple of hours after sunrise her battered corpse was discovered. The sheer brutality of what was done to such a little girl shocked those who found her, but because no one knew her name or where she was from there was no investigation, no arrests, and no specific cause of death given. She was just another female that had been sexually assaulted and murdered, and, since there was no interest in this unknown child she was quietly buried without ceremony in an unmarked grave.
Tumelo lived 27 more years during which time he beat and raped an additional 13 women. He was never charged with any of those crimes.