A silent epidemic of rape is devouring our young girls in the townships. Lost Girls in South Africa is a documentary currently on circuit, tracing the effects of rape on girl children, their mothers, their families, right through to the ineffectual responses of the police and the courts. Offenders are no longer just fathers, brothers, uncles, and brothers; they are much younger, many of them schoolboys in the neighbourhood, known to the girls. Life is a nightmare for thousands of girls as they grow up in informal settlements and the rural areas, the targets of men and boys who cannot keep their sexual urges under control.
One of the worst aspects of these stories is the collusion between the rapists and their mothers against the raped and their mothers. Exemplifying worst types of complicity, one cannot help but feel enraged at the gross incompetence of an emasculated state that does not care.
Profiling the lives of Ntombi, Fuzeka, Gretchen and Nozuko, aged from 11 to 13, the documentary exposes the inner trauma suffered by girls, who lose their childhood and become old way before their time. The portrayal of the disruptive effects on their school life, on the relationships between mothers and fathers, and amongst neighbours is wrenching.
Ntombi’s rapists, who are virtually her neighbours, stalk and taunt her while released on bail, knowing full well that the criminal justice system is as futile as the police who routinely fail to maintain their grip on offenders. The terror in her eyes is palpable as she navigates her way from school, to her home, or run errands for her mother. Social workers and the police admit that they are powerless in executing their duties, blaming the courts as much as the courts blame their ineptitude.
Fuzeka who is sexually molested by her father is caught between her distraught mother who must act to stop the abuse but who knows that in doing so, she must leave her home for a shack with no running water and electricity. Happier under horrible conditions, her husband harasses them day and night and daily they have to run the gauntlet of a patriarch who could not cope with a wife who removed from him the source of his sexual terrorism. Fuzeka feels crushed as she has to deal with the guilt of separating her parents as well as tending to a mother riddled with AIDS.
Gretchen who claims that her father molests her while her mother goes out to work at night, seeks the custody of her school until a safe place is found for her. Denying the charges, the father blames his misdemeanours on drugs, refusing to take responsibility for any of his actions. iNozuko lives with the guilt of a father jailed for murdering her rapist. Carrying this burden denies her the space to mourn her own violation.
The most searing scenes in this movie are the predicament these girls face, having to juggle their own survival with dealing with the consequences of disclosing the sexual violations to their parents and the authorities. Robbed of the joy of being children, they are constantly thrown into situations where they are compelled to philosophise about the meaning of life, or whether death is not a better option. As a mother of a young woman, this documentary was hard to watch and it starkly exposed the destruction of the moral fabric of SA. A more appropriate title would be: How SA loses its Girls Every Day!