'I made the decision to go back to find the woman I raped.'

Dumisani Rebombo and his friend raped a young girl in their village in South Africa when they were teenagers.

Years later, he returned to the same village to find the woman he attacked and begged for her forgiveness. [via bbc]

Mr Rebombo, 49, is one of thousands of men in South Africa who admit to having carried out a sexual assault - one in four, according to a recent survey.

He told BBC News why he feels so many young men in his homeland engage in the ill-treatment of women.

When I was 15 years old, I took part in a gang rape.

Before the incident, I was constantly jeered for not being man enough.

At the time I was not ready to have a girlfriend when all my friends did.

I did not tend the cattle or sheep, nor did I attend the initiation school [where South African teenagers are circumcised in traditional rites of passage].

This fuelled my daily jeers.

My friends sang and clapped as if we had done something right
Dumisani Rebombo

A friend and my cousin pressured me to prove that I was man enough, by taking part in the rape of a teenage girl in the village.

This was termed "straightening her up", since she did not want to go out with any of the local boys.

I succumbed to this daily pressure and on the day of the incident, when they saw me trembling with fear, they ordered me to take marijuana and beer to defeat my fears.

I did just that and the two of us [my friend and I] proceeded to rape the girl.

Guilty and scared

Afterwards, I was terrified.

I felt guilty but also scared that the news could reach my mother who had a high standing in the community.

The following day, when we went for our soccer practice, this incident was reported to all the other football players.

Dumisani Rebombo
Dumisani Rebombo said he was prepared to face jail

On hearing the news, they sang and clapped as if we had done something right.

This helped to stop the jeering somewhat and I was allowed to associate with the other boys.

I still felt guilty, at least partially so, especially when I saw the girl in the village. Sometimes I tried to avoid meeting her.

But slowly, over time, I began to think less and less about the incident.

I left my village in Limpopo Province and went to live in the city and joined a religious group from which I learned a lot about love and respect for all.

Strangely, I did not think much of the incident - I just went on with my life.

I started work with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) where I mostly worked with unemployed mothers.

Every Monday morning, the women reported incidents of abuse in different forms.

Every time I heard of a negative act by a man, I was forced to go back to my own incident
Dumisani Rebombo

As they did this, I could not help it but give way to introspection.

It was as if every time I heard of a negative act by a man, I was forced to go back to my own incident.

I then asked my employers to train us in a methodology which would target boys and men.

They did this and very soon, I felt challenged, self-consciously, to set an example to the men I was teaching.

Seeking forgiveness

I took a decision to go back to find the woman I raped.

I realised that the woman needed justice.

But also, I wanted to ask for forgiveness, now that I understood the effects and consequences for someone who has been raped.

Anti-rape protesters in South Africa
South Africa's government has been urged to solve the rape epidemic

I went to my pastor about this. His response was: "You are saved now, you were once in the mud, but now you know the truth and you are therefore OK."

He also asked me if I was ready to go to jail. He said: "What if the woman went to the authorities?"

My answer was: "If I go to jail, that would be justice for that woman."

I therefore took the journey to the north.

I wanted her to know that I felt bad about what I had done to her, that I was a changed man and I was working with other men to prevent rape.

When we met, she showed a wry smile on her face.

Since we were at a public clinic, she thought I was a doctor or someone from the Ministry of Health.

I related my story to her. She looked at me and revealed that she had since been raped on two other occasions.

She told me how she often cringes when her husband touches her
Dumisani Rebombo

She started crying. She told me how she often cringes when her husband touches her.

She told me that her life was never the same emotionally following these incidents.

Worse still, she was not ready to tell her husband of what had happened.

Finally, she said that she forgave me, and thought that I had meant well with all that I had said.

I left that room with a new burden - to do something about rape in my community and my country.

Machismo feelings

If you asked me: "What motivates so many men in South Africa to engage in un-consensual sex?" I would say that it is the machismo feelings and beliefs, coupled with patriarchal processes and tendencies.

I think that we raise boys in the wrong way, but later on in their lives we want to see them as different men who care and love.

My advice to young men who feel under pressure to rape, is to surround yourselves with good friends.

Learn to talk to someone about what is going on inside.

For with this, one can teach the young men to have other means of solving conflict.

And above all, to grow up respecting girls.

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