Police mistreatment

Ming Lai He was arrested last week under charges of contravening the Disaster Management Act.
Photo: WP Paarz / Flickr

Xolelwa Witbooi: PE woman acquitted for killing would-be rapist

The court found that Xolelwa Witbooi only killed the man to protect herself from being raped.

Police mistreatment

Ming Lai He was arrested last week under charges of contravening the Disaster Management Act.
Photo: WP Paarz / Flickr

After considering all of the evidence presented by the State and the defence, The Port Elizabeth Regional Court found Xolelwa Witbooi not guilty of murder.

What happened to Xolelwa Witbooi?

The story of the young girl from Theescombe, Port Elizabeth, has inspired many advocates of women’s rights. Xolelwa Witbooi, aged 21, was a victim of constant sexual harassment from a man who eventually took it too far and attempted to sexually assault her.

She was only 18 years old at the time, living on a plot in Theescombe where her mother worked at a nearby farm as a domestic worker.

According to reports detailed in a recently published Herald Live report, Witbooi had been a victim of sexual harassment from men who lived and worked around the area, particularly a 38-year-old named Sivuyile Tshona.

Because there were no ablution facilities where she lived, Witbooi and other females in the area were forced to use a wooded plot nearby to relieve themselves, opening themselves up to dangerous and uncouth men.

She testified in court that it was common for women to carry knives and other weapons along when they went to the bushes to relieve themselves.

This, according to the 21-year-old, was due to the fact that men, who lived and worked nearby, would attack exposed women and attempt to rape them in the bushes.

However, what Tshona had not counted on that fateful December evening, in 2016, was a 21-year-old who was not going to become another rape statistic.

What was the motive behind the killing?

While the murder case was never pursued against Witbooi three years ago, when the incident happened, the State — seemingly out of the blue — felt that it had enough evidence to prove that the 21-year-old had purposefully murdered Tshona for reasons that could have been avoided.

However, Witbooi maintained, throughout the trial, that kicked off in August, that she had no intentions of stabbing Tshona to death on that December night, three years ago.

She stressed that she had brought a bread knife along with her to the bushes that night because; firstly, it was common practice for women in the area; and secondly, her encounter with Tshona earlier that day had spooked her.

Earlier on that Saturday, an inebriated Tshona had attempted to make unwanted advances towards Witbooi who had fought him off, with the help of onlookers who’d seen her in discomfort.

That evening, when she went to the bushes to relieve herself, she had just crouched over and pulled down her underwear when Tshona jumped in front of her, waving a R10 note in her face.

He offered to give her the note if she agreed to have sex with him. Of course, Witbooi refused and a scuffle ensued.

“I got such a fright. He had a R10 note in his hand and offered to pay me for sex I started screaming, telling him to leave me alone. That’s when he grabbed me and started attacking me.

“He became angry. I was scared. I thought I was going to die,” she recalled.

Without thinking twice, Witbooi pulled out the bread knife she’d carried for protection and stuck it in Tshona’s torso.

“He fell n the spot. I ran home crying and screaming. I told everyone that I had stabbed someone and didn’t know if he was dead,” she added.

Tshona died on the scene and initially, the police had escorted Witbooi to the Kabega Park station to submit a statement and spend the night.

She appeared before the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court the next day, where she was released with no formal charges laid against her.

However, three years later, the State returned with murder charges and the 21-year-old was placed under arrest. After weeks of hearing evidence from both sides, the court ruled that Witbooi could not have premeditated the murder, nor had she had any reason to kill Tshona.

Going with her version of events, the court acquitted Witbooi of murder. The 21-year-old is now a free woman without the dark cloud hanging over her head.

She has since gained the support of the Bambi Sandla Sam Foundation, an NPO that supports women and children. The foundation’s head, Looks Matoto, has criticised the State for pursuing criminal charges against a victim of sexual assault and harassment.

“She stood trial n society as a woman by almost being raped and now she must stand trial in court. What was expected of her? Should she just have allowed herself to be raped?

“Women are being hunted by men — they are not free to walk in the streets without being scared,” Matoto said.