[TRIGGER WARNING: rape]
During the 70′s and 80′s South Africa had compulsory military training (conscription) for all white males, if you refused, you would go to jail for between 10 and 15 years. At the age of 18yrs I was sent to the Air Force for two years and was trained as a radar operator, as I was based close to home and was doing work as an assistant air traffic controller, it was tolerable. Everybody knew I belonged to a very small liberal political party; most white South Africans supported the government with their policy of apartheid. I got used to being ridiculed, on a number of occasions the officers would call everybody for a talk and they would say ” watch out, anybody could be a spy… even..then they would mention me by my rank and name”.
It was in my nature to take up leadership roles (now I know why, for my safety I had to have control). I became the spokesman for the conscripts, I discovered fraud taking place on our base, the head of the kitchen was selling our rations, when this was pointed out he was transferred from the base and shortly after that I was sent to go on active duty to South West Africa (the name of the country when the apartheid government occupied it. – now called Namibia)/Angola border, everybody thought we were fighting the communist onslaught, I knew better they were trying to keep the status quo – apartheid.
Active duty was stressful, anybody in the military will know, people get killed while on active duty. South Africa was at war, as conscripts we were forced into this war, if we believed in it or not. The stresses got to me one night and I got very drunk in the bar, stumbled back to my quarters on the other side of the runway, as I passed the mess (canteen) I was grabbed by some guys (not from the air force, the base also housed the special forces, army and medics) pulled into a room and was violently raped by a group of males, I was drunk and they were bigger and stronger than me, I tried to fight then off but I was overpowered. It was violent, today I can still remember the smell of their sweat, I was too drunk to remember their faces.
That was the last time I have been hopelessly drunk. My trust for males disappeared, so did my tolerance for people who were tipsy or drunk. I felt uncomfortable in an all male environment.
When it was over I was in shock and dumped like a dead animal. I got back to my quarters and showered for hours, the bleeding finally stopped. I felt as if I was no longer a man, I was damaged goods. I was in pain for weeks. The next day I pretended nothing had happened.
The next 6 weeks I felt so lonely, nobody to talk to. I had a loving family at home and a girlfriend, my childhood sweetheart that I was madly in love with (now my wife) waiting for my return – that is what got me thru the nightmare. Everybody knew I was against apartheid and they all thought I was a “commie “. I have always wondered ….. was the rape random or was it because I was perceived to be so liberal. I never hid my liberal political thinking.
I could not report the incident, I would have been court marshalled for trying to put the military in disrepute or sent to DB (detention barracks) as a deviant – I would not be believed – no member of the military would do such a thing (the only law was military law) remember this was still in a country where you could be detained for 6 months, if you were perceived to be a threat to the state.
I had flashbacks for years from both the rape and what I witnessed while on active duty. The flashbacks were incomplete, blurred, as I had blocked the rape out of my mind, I knew what happened but was in denial. I used to wake up paralyzed, my eyes were open and I could see everything in the room, I could not move, my wife would hear me mumble for help, she would wake me up. This happened quite a few times it was worse than a horror movie, I never recalled the dream just the physical reaction to it. I can understand that dreams can cause heart attacks. My heart was pounding I asked my wife to feel the pounding and she could see the fear on my face. I still did not join the dots. I did some internet research, it could have been anything from evil spirits trying to take over my soul, to brain tumours (sometimes the net is full of bullshit) or sleep paralysis.
I kept my mind busy, ensuring it was in overdrive, I lived for work, became a serial entrepreneur and workaholic, got involved in organizations, took on leadership roles and did everything to ensure my mind was active. Gave my family all the material things, but little time. I was emotionless, no highs, no lows. You can’t spend your life on a roller coaster pretending everything is fine, something will eventually give. I never drank or did drugs I had to be in control to protect myself. Only if people knew I was a time bomb waiting to explode.
At 39 everything came to a head, I spent 18 months in therapy, was fortunate I could afford one and hit the luck the first time; she was the leading expert in this field. The anti- depressants worked while I started to put the puzzle together! It started like I had a puzzle of unknown pieces, but did not have the picture, so I did not know what the outcome would be. The edges were not there and pieces were missing. I thought it would be an impossible task. Just like a puzzle, once you find one piece, it gives you a clue for the next piece. Up to today the puzzle is not complete but it is complete enough to be a survivor.
My wife stuck with me. I told my wife and later my daughters when they were 18 about being sexually abused as a child and they know I was raped.
That was 10 years ago and I became a thriver over time.
For more information and support for male rape survivors, please go to South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Samsosa).
PLEASE NOTE: The “Why I didn’t report” stories are submitted by rape survivors and victims from around South Africa (and a couple from abroad) as well as by their family members and friends. These stories are published anonymously at the request of the authors. Please do not re-publish these stories outside of this website without my permission, as I have to clear this with the author of the story. This is in order to maintain the integrity of the authors’ stories, as well as respect their privacy. Please help me create safe spaces for survivors to tell their stories by respecting this request.
If you would like to include your story in this conversation, please email me: michelle at journoactivist dot com. I will assume anonymity for all submissions unless specified otherwise.
If you are rape survivor and need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call the ‘Stop Gender Violence’ helpline at 0800 150 150.