How Winnie’s Brandfort house turned into a rapists’ den

Many girls have been raped inside the house, which became a hub of crime, according to a neighbour.

Anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela fought against injustice while inspiring many women of Brandfort in the Free State.

But in the 30 years since she left the home to which she was banished by apartheid authorities, the dilapidated house turned into a hub for rapists who attacked women in the community Madikizela-Mandela had once inspired.

Walking through the main door of House 802, a three-room conjoined structure in Majwemasweu township, one is met by the stench of human faeces coming from the floors, an indication of recent activities by those who freely entered the home.

The small building, which housed Madikizela-Mandela for eight years since 1977, was meant to be converted into a museum, but has since stood bare, since the restoration project has yet to commence.

Until December last year, the house was open to criminality since it was not fenced or guarded. It was used by local drug addicts and those in the nearby taverns as a venue for criminal activities. Used condoms were often found on the floors, while vagrants slept in the neglected house.

“Most of the people who go to the tavern across the veld drag people and women that walk by to rape them and rob them. This mostly happens in winter, when it is quiet and people are back in their homes by sunset,” said resident Keneilwe Sethabo.

“Mama Winnie fought against such things and now they are happening in her house. These people hide in her house and prey on people that walk by.”

Stephen Molaoa, who lives next door, recalled hearing screams of an elderly woman over an Easter weekend several years ago while sitting in his home watching TV.

“It was between 9pm and 10pm and I was sitting in the living room when I heard a scream. Then I heard someone screaming my name. When I went outside, I found several young men had been dragging her into the house. But they fled once they saw me come outside. This woman was walking home from church when this happened,” Molaoa said.

It was only four months ago that the local government erected a fence around the house, with 24- hour security. The house has been crime-free since.

But had the municipality and local government secured the house many years ago, much of the crime could have been prevented, said Sello Segalo, a retired Brandfort police officer and chairperson of the community policing forum.

“Many girls have been raped in that house and a lot of things have happened in there, but we have managed to make some arrests. I spoke to the community and reported this to the municipality, to at least fence it for the house to be saved.

“Since it has been fenced, it is quiet. Security is working around the clock.”

In honour of Madikizela-Mandela, the Free State government now plans to complete the museum and erect a statue for her.

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