Raped doing her job - but it won’t stop her

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Raped doing her job - but it won’t stop her

Health worker and colleagues were on their way to check on patients when they were attacked by panga-wielding thugs

Belinda Pheto and Katharine Child


A 28-year-old community health worker was raped in Olifantsfontein, a town between Johannesburg and Pretoria, while walking to the homes of HIV and tuberculosis patients who had fallen behind on taking their medicine.
Community workers visit patients in their homes and find those who have not returned to the clinic to collect their antiretroviral and TB drugs, and encourage them to do so.
The woman and three other workers walked through open veld from the Olifantsfontein clinic near Midrand to visit patients at L & J township on Wednesday.
The group used the veld as a shortcut to get to the township as quickly as possible because they had many patients to see. Two men, armed with knives and pangas, approached the group.
The woman said she knew they had not taken the safest route but added that she and her colleagues believed they would be safer in a group. She was taken away and raped by one man, whom she does not know, while the other man held the three women at knifepoint.
“I will keep going back to work. I love my job,” she told Times Select.
She said she told the rapist she had HIV, as he didn’t have condoms, in a desperate bid to prevent him from raping her. He told her “he will just get ARVs if he contracts HIV”. She is, in fact, HIV-negative and has been given medication to prevent contraction following the rape.
She has opened a case with the police.
Zama Mthunzi, spokesperson for the Gauteng Community Health Care Forum, a group of community workers, said their jobs were not easy. The many difficulties they had to deal with included being sexually harassed and even bitten by dogs.
He said he understood why the women had taken a shortcut through the veld.
“The workload is high because of the high burden of disease in the community. We have too much work.”
Community health workers “are the first line of defence against HIV and TB, as they visit clients and ensure they have gone to the clinic to get their medicines”.
Health MEC Gwen Ramagkopa said: “I’m greatly distressed and saddened by this attack on our community health workers in this manner. This is one of the worst forms of human rights violation in the face of the national declaration against gender-based violence.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a declaration on Wednesday to deal with violence against women. A colleague of the woman who was raped said this was the third crime incident in a year involving health workers in L & J township.
Kenneth Ntsoane said community workers from the Olifansfontein clinic were robbed of R12 and their phones in June, and robbed of their phones again in October.
Community workers often use cellphones to record visits with clients, or use standardised software that helps them ask relevant health questions.
“I am afraid to go back to work tomorrow,” said Ntsoane, adding that the criminals were not believed to be from the community. “We don’t know them.”
Captain Phendulwa Skoti, spokesperson for the Olifantsfontein police station, confirmed a case of rape and robbery of four cellphones was opened on Wednesday.
“The two suspects had a panga and knives but no firearm.”

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