Jacana Media has shared an excerpt from Exit! by Grizelda Grootboom.
Exit! is the story of how Grootboom was betrayed by a friend and sold into human trafficking in Johannesburg at 18 years old. However, her life up until that point was a cycle of abuse and neglect.
After being abandoned by her father at eight years old, Grootboom lived on the streets of Cape Town for a few months, before managing to track her mother down in Khayelitsha.
But her mother had a new family, and Grootboom spent her time cooking and cleaning, with regular beatings and no hope of going to school. But it was when she and a group of friends were raped that she decided to leave her mother’s house forever, at the age of just nine years old.
Today, Grootboom has turned her life around, and works as an advocate for Embrace Dignity, an NGO that opposes commercial and sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.
Read the excerpt:
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By the time of my third stay in Khayelitsha, I had learnt basic isiXhosa greetings, and had slowly got used to the culture of Site C. At my mom’s house I was spending most of my time cleaning and cooking, but by now I knew the routine in the house, and I had a plan for how to deal with my mom.
When she came into the house after work, I would grab the bucket and casually walk out so I could say I was going to get water. I knew she would have seen how the long queue at the tap was when she was walking back, and I could guess how much time I had before I needed to be home with the water.
Then I would ask the people in the queue to move my bucket along the queue – that is how I made time to play. By then I had some friends there, three girls who lived around us. We girls used to play games after they came back from school and while I was fetching water for my mom, games like ‘iThoti ezintathu‘.
To play ‘iThoti ezintathu‘ you line up three cans in the middle of a circle drawn on the ground, and two teams stand on either side. One team tries to hit the cans with a ball, and then the other team catches the ball on their side. After someone hits the cans, they run into the circle to put the cans up again, and the people on the other team try to hit that person with the ball. You have to dodge the balls at the same time as lining up the cans again.
When you see that kind of game being played close to a tap, and you’re nine years old, you’re going to want to join in! My new friends and I were all between nine and twelve, and we’d play in the time I had stolen while my bucket was in the tap queue.
I loved playing this game and the girls I played with quickly became good friends. I didn’t have to worry about speaking good isiXhosa with them because they wanted to speak English, of which I knew a little.
But we weren’t the only people playing games.
‘Efoli‘ was a common game among tough gangster boys in the community. It means ‘get raped’.
One day it got late as we were playing near the tap. As it got darker, the streets got emptier, but it wasn’t dark yet – just dusk, when the house lights are on and the moon is just rising.
Some of the boys in the community where watching us from nearby. They were about sixteen years old. One of my new girlfriends, the oldest one, who was twelve, knew one of these guys. She kept looking over at him.
‘Hey, sana‘, the guys yelled out.
‘Hayi, suka‘, we replied.
Would anyone watching have thought that we were trying to attract these boys with our childish game? But the four guys strolled over, and casually put a knife to the oldest girl’s side, and to us she said, ‘Masihambeni‘ (let’s go). We knew she was thinking that if we didn’t go with her they would stab her and run away.
I was the youngest. I was the last.
I was terrified and in pain.
They are on top of me.
They all came into the room at the end.
There were all these legs around me, and sperm on my face.
Then they let me go.
It was a long walk home. I was clutching my skirt between my legs and there was blood streaming down my legs.
The thing I remember is that there was a neighbour watching me as I walked all the way down the street to my mother’s house. She was also a mother, and I knew her. She had smiled at me sometimes before when she had seen me playing at the tap – when she smiled I thought that she had felt happy for me, happy to see me adapting. But that night she just stared at me. And I felt blame and judgement. Her look made me feel shameful. When you’re out at that time, it’s like you asked for it.
When I arrived home, my mother was drunk and ready with a sjambok. Hitting me, she asked me why I hadn’t brought back the water and cooked dinner. Her sons had already eaten their sheep’s head.
She beat me all over. She never asked me where I had been. I kept quiet, and when it was over I went to clean the plates. I didn’t eat supper, just licked the plates with leftover gravy still on it.
I was so angry with my mom. This was the final moment – I knew I had to leave this place. All I could think about was getting back to my dad.
Author image: Afternoon Express