For as long as she can remember, Sister Nomana Ntshakaza (51) wanted to be a nurse. “My main motivation was to help people. I grew up as someone who wanted to better the lives of the people in my community.” This vision turned to hell within a few minutes at her place of work in rural Mthatha – a clinic where wellbeing and care are supposed to be at the forefront. Instead, rape took centre stage.
On 17 December 2001, she was raped at gunpoint. The horrific sexual assault changed her life and threatened to jeopardise the vision the Qunu-born nurse had mapped for her life.
“Life had no meaning,” she recalls.
“I enjoyed working in a primary healthcare setting, especially with youth and young mothers. I loved motivating them, I even established youth groups … but today I cannot work at the clinic.”
A nurse’s worst nightmare
Ntshakaza is a professional nurse and obtained her qualifications in general nursing science, psychiatry, community nursing and midwifery at the Lilitha College of Nursing in Mthatha in 1995.
A widow, a mother, and a grandmother, Ntshakaza was the breadwinner for her family. “I was this nurse who was very much keen to work in a primary healthcare facility,” she says. “During our training we knew we would be working in rural areas to prevent the occurrence of diseases.”
The task of being a woman in healthcare and offering services in a rural community, is no easy feat.
Normal night turns into a nightmare
It was a normal nightshift like any other. Ntshakaza was on duty with a female colleague and an unarmed security guard.
“He was just an old man from the location, he had no training, no weapon nothing but a wooden stick,” she recalls. “There were no safety measures at the health centre like burgler bars at the doors and windows, armed security or electric fences.”
“It sounds like dream, neh?” she asks with sarcastic laughter. “The health centre was a normal 24-hour service health facility. Luckily on this night there were no patients.
“We heard this noise and thought it was emergency patients, it sounded like there were many people coming in. As we opened the door, there were two young men, one was wearing a balaclava and the other was wearing a sporty (bucket hat) and they had guns.”
‘Three hours of hell’
The armed men took their money, and cellphones and proceeded to cut the telephone lines. “They also asked for car keys, but none of us had a car,” she says.
The hostage situation turned into a nightmare for Ntshakaza as the aggressors separated her from her colleagues. She was shoved into the maternity ward where she was gang-raped by the two men.
“He told me that they were going to rape me, all of them. I trembled and I thought of fighting back and trying to resist, but he had a gun,” she says.
Her perpetrators eventually instructed her to get up and shoved her into another room where they had kept her colleagues hostage. “I was instructed to get into one of the beds and face the wall because they were going to kill us …They were all over the place. They had taken our lives into their hands,” she says.
“We were held hostage for three hours until we were rescued by police.” Her attackers escaped.
A survivor pens her story
After her attack, Ntshakaza says that she hated men and felt as if she had “invited” her attackers to rape her.
“I lost my dignity as a human being and as a woman.”
After her attack, she resigned from the department of health due to the trauma. “I was not protected at work and I am still fearful of working in a clinic today,” she says.
Today, Ntshakaza is an author and activist. She also has a certificate in victim empowerment and support, and published her book, Life Can Change In A Moment, this year.
Through her self-published book, Ntshakaza relates in detail the horrific assault that took place in December 2001. “I looked on the shelves for any literature on rape survival, but I could not find anything until eight or nine years later,” she says.
“That on its own drove me to write so that people could see and understand the impact and effects of rape through the survivors’ eyes, not a person who has read about it. It is a different story when you say I have first-hand experience. I wrote my book so survivors could not feel alone. Also, to sensitise government leadership on how serious the impact of rape is on the survivor.”