For most of her life, 39-year-old marathon runner Ntombesintu Mfunzi has spent years preparing her body to train, run, and train. Days in and nights out, she focused, and in November of 2016, her routine was no different as she ready herself to compete in a race the following day.
However, during her practice run, she suddenly realized something. “I was on my way to a race when I got lost in another village, Mhlakulu in Tsolo, and asked directions from this guy who turned out to be a serial killer,” she told writer MATSHELANE MAMABOLO
“He hit me with a hammer on my back and then took me to his place and raped me.” She added, “He was going to kill me afterward, and as I lay there, I saw all the different weapons he clearly used to kill others. But incredibly, he looked at me and said, ‘you know, for the first time, I feel pity. I convinced him I would not report him, and he bought my story.”
Her attacker left the scene, and Mfunzi eventually sought help and was transported and admitted to a nearby hospital.
According to Maxine Betteridge-Moes, who also interviewed Mfunzi, said South African data indicates that they have the highest rate of sexual assaults; in 2020, Betteridge-Moes said there were 53,000 reported cases to the police.
For Mfunzi, running against the odds and overcoming is her lifestyle, and after the rape, she wasn’t going to remain silent; Mfunzi is part of an awareness program called Gender-based violence (GBV); the organization’s goal is to advocate for systemic change. Mfunzi works as a human resources officer at a prison in Port Elizabeth.
Amazingly, the day after the rape, Mfunzi, who grew up in Ntsimbakazi – a village about 130km (80 miles) from Mhlakulo, summoned the courage to compete in the event in which she finished in the first place.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to let the devil win again. I’m going to do what I came here for, which is running’,” she told Betteridge-Moes. With the help of local law enforcement, Mhlakulo’s attacker was located and is now serving 22 years in prison.
“From that day in November, my life changed completely,” she said. “I was supposed to die. But maybe God wanted me to save other survivors, to inspire them to fight.”