Drivers for sexual violence survivors: changing lives in South Africa

27 Sep 2019

Told through the eyes of a driver working for MSF’s sexual violence project, a new short film called ‘Driving Change in South Africa’ shows that everyone has a role to play in a survivor’s journey to care, especially men.


Lebogang Seketema, MSF Driver - from Klerksdorp. © Tadeu Andre / MSF

"I don’t see myself as just a driver; I’m helping protect people’s lives. Often the clients we collect are women who have been raped by men. I’m not a social worker or counselor but on the way to the clinic, they’ll start telling you all these things that happened to her. With our psychological first aid training, we can change their journey to the care centre. I recently picked up an old lady who had been gang raped. Her granddaughter accompanied her. The grandmother was mostly mute, but the granddaughter was in shock and crying hysterically. I was able to talk to her and calm her down, and this was better for both of them, especially the grandmother. This case made me emotional because it took me back to when my sister was molested as a child. Raping an old lady, a young child: what has happened to our nation?"

Lebogang Seketema – known as Lebo - knows the pain and suffering that sexual violence can cause those who experience it. His sister was molested by a neighbor when she was nine years old. There was little access to care back then, and the family chose to put it behind them.

Lebo has also worked for three years as a driver in a sexual and gender-based violence project run by Doctors Without Borders/MSF in Rustenburg in the heart of South Africa’s platinum mining belt. In the informal settlements that lie sprawled around the area’s mines, men outnumber women by 120 to 100. A potent mix of historical structural violence, economic hardship and traditional gender dynamics mean many women, especially those with children, are dependent on male partners for survival. This leaves many vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.


Mike Ramoshaba, MSF Driver - from Rustenburg. © Tadeu Andre / MSF

“When I joined MSF I didn’t know anything about humanitarian work. I’ve learned a lot about staying calm and doing the right thing. If I go and collect a client, and there’s someone throwing words at me, I don’t answer. I just protect my client and take her to the right place. The worst part of the job is collecting small kids. When you collect them, some are very scared to go in the car with the driver. Someone accompanies them. I can see on their faces, they’re thinking that because I’m a man I can do the same thing to her. Working in this project has changed my relationship with my daughter. I want to see changes in our community.”

Each day, Lebo and seven other male drivers, rotate to collect and transport survivors of sexual violence – or clients as they are referred to - for emergency medical and psychological care in addition to social support in one of four ‘Kgomotso Care Centres’ (KCC) run in partnership with the North West Department of Health across the area’s largely informal settlements, often returning them home again. Kgomotso means “place of comfort” in the local Setswana language. Each centre is staffed with forensic nurses, registered counselors and social workers, who offer clients a package of care to treat injuries, help prevent HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies, provide psychological counseling and critical social support.

As first responders, MSF drivers are often the first person a survivor meets following an incident. Their role in the survivor’s journey of care is seen as a vital part of the approach MSF is developing that ensures humane, non-intrusive and supportive care for survivors from the start. 


Ofentse Goodwill Monare, MSF Head Driver – from Rustenburg. © Tadeu Andre / MSF

"Even though I’ve been here for some years, we hear different stories every day. Often when you pick clients up, they start talking about their challenges, their problems. It won’t be any ordinary conversation. I want us all to start speaking out about sexual violence. I want people to see this as completely unacceptable, this is abuse. Many times we’ll see a client who comes for medical care doesn’t want do anything about it afterwards, thinking it’s normal. When the husband is beating his wife, it’s seen as normal."

Yet like Lebo, all the drivers have become acutely aware of their identity as men for victims, where the vast majority of sexual abuse across South Africa is caused by male perpetrators. In 2015, an MSF survey of 800 women in the Rustenburg municipality found that one in four women had experienced rape in their lifetimes, with 11,000 women and girls being raped from this area alone.

Tragically, 95% of women in the study had never reported their rape to a healthcare worker, many out of fear and shame, and limited knowledge about the importance of seeking immediate care. While South Africa is already known for some of the world’s highest rates of rape and femicide (female murder), with 52,420 sexual offences reported nationally in 2018, the data suggests that this figure may be much higher. 

As such, MSF’s drivers have received psychological first aid training on how to engage survivors with compassion while avoiding any secondary trauma. The principles of psychological first aid, which offers first-line support to anyone facing a crisis, entails assessing the immediate situation, building trust and rapport with clients, and helping to link them safely with the next stage of care.

For survivor Poppy Makgobatlou, from Babong district in Rustenburg, her first encounter with an MSF driver left a lasting impression. After many years of abuse from her now ex-husband, Poppy finally gathered the courage to seek help from MSF. After logging a call with the 24-hour hotline for survivors to report her case, an MSF driver came to collect her.

As awareness of the Kgomotso Care Centres grows, an increasing number of survivors are seeking care. In 2015, the first Kgomotso Care Centre in Rustenburg received 62 cases of sexual and gender-based violence. This number has grown, with the four centres in Rustenburg and Madibeng receiving a combined total of 1,266 new cases in 2018, and 657 new cases within the first half of 2019. Many cases are now referred from MSF’s growing community activities which raise awareness around sexual and gender-based violence and train local leaders as ‘first responders’ to identify survivors and provide immediate support while linking them to care.

“I was crying, then [the driver] says, “I don’t know how much pain you feel, I cannot tell you it’s going to be okay, because I don’t know for how long have you been living like this, but what I can tell you is just try to be strong."


For Lebo and the other drivers, working for MSF and meeting survivors has changed their own understanding of violence, and the role each of them can play in changing other men’s mindsets. Beyond their day job, each driver is taking an active role in driving change in their communities.


Watch Driving for Change in South Africa below

MSF's response to sexual violence in South Africa

Since 2015, MSF has been working with the North West Department of Health to expand access to free, high quality and confidential care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Rustenburg’s Bojanala district through four dedicated clinics, known as Kgomotso Care Centres. MSF teams, including forensic nurses, psychologists, registered counselors, social workers and social auxiliary workers and support staff including drivers provide clients with an essential package of free emergency and follow-up care. An increasing number of survivors are being referred from MSF’s community-based initiatives in Rustenburg’s Freedom Park and Sondela areas. This includes a schools program that educates learners about sexual and reproductive health as well as gender-based violence. The program, which screens learners for signs of sexual violence as they are a vulnerable group, has reached 25,500 learners across 20 schools in the district since early 2018. From 2017 to 2019, the four MSF-supported Kgomotso Care Centres (KCCs) in Rustenburg provided care for 3,007 clients. In South Africa, MSF is calling for all survivors of sexual violence to have immediate and longer term access to complete medical, psychological care and social support.