Page last updated at 07:06 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 08:06 UK

South African rapist: 'Forgive me'

Dumisani Rebombo
Dumisani Rebombo says peer pressure led him to rape

Dumisani Rebombo and his friend raped a young girl in their village in South Africa when they were teenagers.

Years later, he returned to the same village to find the woman he attacked and begged for her forgiveness.

Mr Rebombo, 49, is one of thousands of men in South Africa who admit to having carried out a sexual assault - one in four, according to a recent survey.

He told BBC News why he feels so many young men in his homeland engage in the ill-treatment of women.

When I was 15 years old, I took part in a gang rape.

Before the incident, I was constantly jeered for not being man enough.

At the time I was not ready to have a girlfriend when all my friends did.

I did not tend the cattle or sheep, nor did I attend the initiation school [where South African teenagers are circumcised in traditional rites of passage].

This fuelled my daily jeers.

My friends sang and clapped as if we had done something right
Dumisani Rebombo

A friend and my cousin pressured me to prove that I was man enough, by taking part in the rape of a teenage girl in the village.

This was termed "straightening her up", since she did not want to go out with any of the local boys.

I succumbed to this daily pressure and on the day of the incident, when they saw me trembling with fear, they ordered me to take marijuana and beer to defeat my fears.

I did just that and the two of us [my friend and I] proceeded to rape the girl.

Guilty and scared

Afterwards, I was terrified.

I felt guilty but also scared that the news could reach my mother who had a high standing in the community.

The following day, when we went for our soccer practice, this incident was reported to all the other football players.

Dumisani Rebombo
Dumisani Rebombo said he was prepared to face jail

On hearing the news, they sang and clapped as if we had done something right.

This helped to stop the jeering somewhat and I was allowed to associate with the other boys.

I still felt guilty, at least partially so, especially when I saw the girl in the village. Sometimes I tried to avoid meeting her.

But slowly, over time, I began to think less and less about the incident.

I left my village in Limpopo Province and went to live in the city and joined a religious group from which I learned a lot about love and respect for all.

Strangely, I did not think much of the incident - I just went on with my life.

I started work with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) where I mostly worked with unemployed mothers.

Every Monday morning, the women reported incidents of abuse in different forms.

Every time I heard of a negative act by a man, I was forced to go back to my own incident
Dumisani Rebombo

As they did this, I could not help it but give way to introspection.

It was as if every time I heard of a negative act by a man, I was forced to go back to my own incident.

I then asked my employers to train us in a methodology which would target boys and men.

They did this and very soon, I felt challenged, self-consciously, to set an example to the men I was teaching.

Seeking forgiveness

I took a decision to go back to find the woman I raped.

I realised that the woman needed justice.

But also, I wanted to ask for forgiveness, now that I understood the effects and consequences for someone who has been raped.

Anti-rape protesters in South Africa
South Africa's government has been urged to solve the rape epidemic

I went to my pastor about this. His response was: "You are saved now, you were once in the mud, but now you know the truth and you are therefore OK."

He also asked me if I was ready to go to jail. He said: "What if the woman went to the authorities?"

My answer was: "If I go to jail, that would be justice for that woman."

I therefore took the journey to the north.

I wanted her to know that I felt bad about what I had done to her, that I was a changed man and I was working with other men to prevent rape.

When we met, she showed a wry smile on her face.

Since we were at a public clinic, she thought I was a doctor or someone from the Ministry of Health.

I related my story to her. She looked at me and revealed that she had since been raped on two other occasions.

She told me how she often cringes when her husband touches her
Dumisani Rebombo

She started crying. She told me how she often cringes when her husband touches her.

She told me that her life was never the same emotionally following these incidents.

Worse still, she was not ready to tell her husband of what had happened.

Finally, she said that she forgave me, and thought that I had meant well with all that I had said.

I left that room with a new burden - to do something about rape in my community and my country.

Machismo feelings

If you asked me: "What motivates so many men in South Africa to engage in un-consensual sex?" I would say that it is the machismo feelings and beliefs, coupled with patriarchal processes and tendencies.

I think that we raise boys in the wrong way, but later on in their lives we want to see them as different men who care and love.

My advice to young men who feel under pressure to rape, is to surround yourselves with good friends.

Learn to talk to someone about what is going on inside.

For with this, one can teach the young men to have other means of solving conflict.

And above all, to grow up respecting girls.

Dumisani Rebombo is a community development worker and public speaker, working for the Olive Leaf Foundation, in Johannesburg.

Here are some of your comments:

As a woman, I was shocked as I read this account. There needs to be a change in how we raise our boys in Africa. And that change needs to start with women because it is women who raise children in Africa. We allow our boys so many liberties under the notion that "boys will be boys", and then we're shocked when these boys grow up into rapists, wife beaters, cheats and the likes.
Nana, Ghanaian in the diaspora

I commend Mr Rebombo unreservedly. In South Africa we are trying to make sense of our world, and this is part of that process. We have to make space, for young people in particular but also adults, to talk about their real lives so we can all learn from each other. Imagine the social cost of putting 1 in 4 South African men in jail? Some problems are too big for our formal justice systems to deal with usefully; this needs new ways, and this is a brave manly step on that path
Anthony, Cape Town, South Africa

Not sure simply regretting your actions and an apology really makes up for rape. It's a step in the right direction but a small one. Don't really buy the excuse of peer pressure, if you are that easily talked into something so major then you aren't safe to be in normal society. Sympathy and empathy should always be totally and irrevocably with the rape victim and never with the perpetrator.

There can be no excuse for violent crime. A simple apology is too easy. We must be sure that the criminals are truly sorry for their despicable acts, and that the victims are compensated. That said, I think that Dumisani Rebombo is truly regretful. I can see that he was more or less forced into his crime by his peers. The whole culture of rape in S. Africa (and everywhere) must change. Rape must never again be tolerated, much less encouraged.
Richard, Pasadena, CA

I was raped by a male 'friend' who had deliberate intentions to impregnate me, which he did. I was 19 and he took my virginity, impregnated me, gave me a STD which is in my system for the rest of my life, and after the termination I contracted an infection that has now made me infertile. I cannot stand the thought alone of a man being near me let alone close as in a one-to-one relationship as it makes my vomit impulse kick in. Although what this man did was wrong, what has to be acknowledged, even by me, is that he knows what he did was wrong and has in his own way put that wrong to right. I wish the guy who raped me thought that, which I doubt very much he does. DAVID, USA: Counselling is good I agree, but sometimes the scars go way too deep.

With Held, Britain

A more honourable man would have turned himself in to the police. Sorry, but an apology decades later just doesn't cut it.
Steve, Newcastle, UK

Dumisani was 15 when he committed the crime. I'm sure the justice system in SA at the time would probably have laughed it off had he given himself up to the authorities. A lot of comments here are borne of western ignorance that doesn't factor in the locality of the crime. She forgave him. Period. That is humanity. We don't have to always rely on the "authorities" to solve our issues. One more thing; this is the land of Mandela; the man who forgave his jailers for incarcerating him for 27 years, for believing in freedom and justice. Can we consider at least be contextual when we comment?
Sura, San Francisco, CA

I'm an ex South African, having left due to the crime and the government's nonexistent policies to tackle it. The rural communities in South Africa cannot be policed - they are far too isolated and geographically diverse. The responsibility lies with parents to educate their children from a very young age about what is and what is not acceptable, and the consequences for an high-level crimes should be dire. As it is there are vigilante mobs who hunt down criminals in their villages, but still the rapes continue. The law needs to be tighter.
Bob, Oxford, UK

How about harsh prison sentences for all sex offenders? that will send a clear message. The nameless woman that was victimized is the real hero here, Why are we idolizing Mr Rebombo who felt the need to confess because of a guilty conscience?
Palang, St Louis, USA

Completely agree with Mr Dumisani Rebombo as he was pushed and bullied into proving his manhood and you are human enough to understand and correct your wrong. There should be education among the masses to teach equality of sexes and there should be mutual respect among them. Its simple, misery begets misery but guidance and awareness is the ray of light in this dark hour. All the best Dumisani.
Sameer, India

I also think the man should be commended for coming out, but not all African women would have forgiven. I have friends in south africa and i hear the cases of rape is on the raise and what the government should do is start the education against it right now before if spread like the AIDS epidemic.
Folarin, Lagos

The lesson is that as women activists, we need to involve men in our campaigns and also target them to be part of the crusade to educate and change the attitude of fellow men. Remombo's story is a classic example indeed.
Agnes, Ghana, Accra

This crime will be seen as something to be ashamed of when more men like Mr Rebombo stand up and say "I hurt someone, and I am ashamed." Because of this, sexual exploitation will be understood to be a failure of manhood, rather than a legitimate expression of it.
Kevin, NW Florida, USA

I want believe that everyone that reads this will agree that rape is a terrible crime. However, I disagree with the comment from Matthew in the United Kingdom. I do not think that Dumisani Rebombo is portrayed as a "martyr" even in the most loose definition of the word. I believe that he has taken responsibility for his actions. In fact, he has made an example himself.

Connor, Toronto, Canada

I agree with Julian. These cases are not specific to South Africa. These problems happen worldwide. In my home city of Philadelphia you can find the same story both in the poorest slums and the richest suburbs. Society still oppresses women and teaches men that they must act as the masters and treat women as servants. There is not a country in the world where this is not an issue. The solution is better parenting, more positive influences for the youth in their community, and education.
Mike, Philadelphia, USA

If Dumisani Rebombo is genuinely remorseful he should hand himself into the police and pay for his crime in prison like what anyone else would have to do. Until he does this he has not paid fully for his crime.
Joanne, Glasgow , Scotland

I was shocked beyond words reading the story of Dumisani Rebombo. Its true boys are raised the wrong way in some countries in Africa and Asia. women need to come out instead of keeping the issues hidden. these boys and men need to be put to shame in their society. and these women needs the support of every other women. they shouldn't be isolated because they came forward.
Sabina, India

Four of my five sisters were raped when they were children. I was 7 when I first witnessed this heinous act by my father onto his daughters. Today, 40 years later, I still think about the trauma and how this destroyed their self-worth. None of them had a successful life in work or marriage. If this happens to you, get counselling. It is not your fault. Know that each of us are valuable and your life has meaning.
David, USA

I am touched with this story. I wish all men were like this man above who i think has repented and would never do the same thing again. Please men rape is not a solution to any problem that you go through but if you rape someone no matter how many years you would live on earth this bad feeling will ever remain in you. Lets respect women, surely if we do rape will be the thing of the past.
Loreen, Zambia

I hope that Mr Remombo feels remorse as he definitely should. It is so sad that in such a lovely country such as South Africa no women (and not only women) feel safe anywhere anymore. I lived in RSA 10 years and trust me, i know what i am talking about.
Zoran, Limassol, Cyprus

What Mr Dumisani Rebombo did by coming out to let people know about the "real" cause of the epidemic (Cases of Rape) in South Africa should be commend. At least the Government and the NGO's should now know where to focus their attention, mostly in the area of young people sexual life and the communication gap in the family. If all former rapist can come out and disannounce it with remorse.
Nnamdi, Abuja, Nigeria

It seems we seem to make a martyr of this man rather than actively make an example of this terrible crime. I don't think it is the role of this man to preach social change, even if the offence was committed many years previously
Matthew, United Kingdom

Teaching young boys about the feelings that will come up during adolescence would be a good start. If you raise young men to be independent, honest and compassionate men they will give back to society not destroy it. Men need to start these discussions with other men so they can be forthright, honest and exemplary leaders for their communities.
Joan, USA

A lot of youths these days engage in unwholesome acts due to peer pressure. It is only a handful of them who actually have the will power to counter peer pressure. While growing up, I had friends who were petty thieves, smoking weed and raping girls during inter-house sport competitions. But I was able to avoid moving with the bandwagon because of my uncle who is a disciplinarian till date.
Omorodion, Boston, USA

Rape is not a problem specific to South Africa. People like Remombo should tour secondary schools talking about such issues that often - not always - do contribute to our world society of rape. It is shocking to see how many men and women raise their boys to be macho from young ages, attempting to install sexual difference as the basis for such behaviours. In the end, the consistant pattern of the rape of girls and women worldwide, is a problem not born sterily within the rapist. Instead the fact that women and girls are systematically abused in 2009 is a societal problem that stems from deeply misogynist elements in all our societies.
Julian, New York, USA

To the nameless woman from his story, how amazing you are to move beyond what happened, even to offer forgiveness so that you too may heal. Blessings to you.
Marie, Vancouver, Canada

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific