“Don’t ask me to smile, I don’t know how to smile,” says Fumana Ntontlo, as she poses for a portrait, hands folded in her lap, on the bed of her one-room shack in South Africa’s Khayelitsha township.
The walls and roof of her tiny home are made from corrugated metal, insulated on the inside with splintered and stained plywood, from which hangs a faded blue fabric pouch holding several pairs of well-worn shoes. Some yellowed and curling magazine pictures are taped at eye-level and a lace curtain flutters in the breeze of a small window protected by metal burglar bars. A bare bulb hangs from the ceiling by a wire.
Ntontlo is a “survivor” – the word used by health workers to describe victims of sexual violence.
She was eight years old and playing hide-and-seek at a cousin’s house when another distant relative, who was about 15 at the time, convinced her to hide behind the couch with him. He then lay on top of her, pressing down hard on her small frame. He lifted her skirt and entered her, says Ntontlo.
“I was crying, but he slapped me and threatened to beat me more.”
Now 30 years old, Ntontlo was too embarrassed and confused at the time of the incident to tell anyone.