It took four years to finally see his attacker behind bars. Now Olwethu is sharing his story to raise awareness around male rape victims
HE REMEMBERS the day as if it were yesterday. It was the middle of the night and he was fast asleep when a noise woke him – and in his room was the man who had come on to him at a party. Olwethu Twalo had told him he wasn’t interested and thought that would be the end of it. Instead it was the start of an ordeal that would leave him violated, humiliated and traumatised.
“He broke into my room, forced me back on my bed and began to rape me,” Olwethu (now 29) says.
When the man was done he stole Olwethu’s cellphone, a chain and his toiletry bag, and snuck out of the house.
This happened four years ago on Christmas Eve, when family and friends were celebrating the festive season and enjoying the holidays. For Olwethu, it turned into a nightmare – and he’s telling his story now to help others who’ve survived similar trauma.
His rapist was eventually arrested and, after a torturously drawn-out legal process, was convicted recently and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Olwethu is relieved it’s all over and his attacker is now behind bars.
The experience has scarred him for life, he says, but his loved ones have helped him to cope.
“I’m thankful for the support of my family,” he says. “As long as they were in my corner then nobody else’s opinion mattered.”
OLWETHU lives in Johannesburg but he was in his home village of Lower Didimana in the Eastern Cape that December, spending time with his family. Everyone in the little town knows each other so Olwethu was familiar with the man who would become his rapist.
“He was known for his bad ways. He came up to me at a Christmas Eve party and told me he liked me and wanted to date me. But I wasn’t interested.”
The break-in and rape happened later that night and throughout it all the abuser kept repeating, “I am someone who doesn’t get arrested.”
Afterwards Olwethu was too ashamed to tell his mom, Noxolo Vumazonke, and gogo, Adelaide Twalo, the full story. He just told them he’d been robbed by a bur
glar and wanted to go back to Joburg immediately.
“When something like this happens to you, it takes something from you. In my head I was hiding it, so I packed my bags and tried to cut my stay short.” But his mother was having none of it. “She saw right through me,” Olwethu recalls.
“She insisted I tell her the real reason why I was leaving, and I eventually gave in.”
His mother and grandmother both rallied around him and accompanied him to the police station – where more humiliation awaited him.
“My mother explained to the policeman that her child had been raped and he asked her, ‘Where is the child?’ When she said it was me, he asked us to our faces, ‘How does a man get raped by another man?’”
Olwethu, who is openly gay, eventually made a statement and then went to hospital where his ordeal continued.
The junior doctor on duty told him he didn’t know how to conduct the examination. “So he called a senior doctor who examined me and administered a test. “But he also said he wasn’t sure if he was doing it properly and didn’t really know what had to be done.” Olwethu shakes his head. “Can you imagine being in a room with all these men, doctors and policemen, who are supposed to be helping you but you can feel the mockery and judgment while you lie on a table, exposed? It takes all your dignity from you.”
But the doctor managed to gather enough physical evidence and the police started to investigate, and his rapist was soon arrested.
Adding salt to Olwethu’s wounds was the fact that some members of his family didn’t believe he’d been violated – and those who did said things like, “he deserved it” and that “he’s gay so obviously he would be raped”.
THE court case moved at a snail’s pace. Olwethu made frequent trips between Joburg and the Eastern Cape only to find the trial had been postponed. “Either there was loadshedding, or there was a backlog or sometimes the court’s recording devices weren’t working,” he says.
All the while he’d encounter his rapist in the court corridors as he had been released on R400 bail.
There was a sense of relief when the trial finally ended and the man was given a 12-year sentence for rape and two years for housebreaking.
“What kept me going during the trial was the hope that he would go away for what he did to me,” Olwethu says.
“I thought even if he only got two years he would know what he did was wrong. I sleep easier now knowing my rapist is in a cell, that he is off the streets and cannot harm anyone else.”
He is sharing his story now so other men who have had similar experiences “can find their strength, through my story, to come out with their own story”.
Olwethu says he has just started monthly talks with rape victims, called Conversations with Olwethu. “I have been getting a lot of messages from men and women who want to share their stories with me.
“What I want to do with Conversations with Olwethu is create a safe space where people can talk about their experiences and where we can educate our communities that male rape happens. Just because some people find it strange doesn’t make it a less serious issue.”
‘It takes all your dignity from you’