Trigger Warning for descriptions of sexual violence, poor responses to rape allegations, and discussion of a possible murder, possible suicide.
Last month, Akhona Geveza (above), a young South African woman who was participating as a cadet in the Transnet National Ports Authority’s Maritime Studies Programme, was found dead, floating overboard.
Only a few hours before she died, a report was made to the shipmaster that Geveza had been raped by a senior official.
Geveza’s stint aboard the Safmarine Kariba ended tragically on June 24. At 10am that day she told Shipmaster Klaudiusz Kolodziejczyk that she had repeatedly been raped by a senior officer aboard the British-registered ship. According to a report by Kolodziejczyk, he immediately confronted the officer and convened a conference with him and Geveza for 11am.
When she failed to arrive for the meeting, a search was conducted. Kolodziejczyk, alerted by some pills and a bottle of thinners found on the forecastle of the ship, sounded the alarm and called sea rescue from the port of Rijeka in Croatia.
Three hours later, Geveza’s body was found floating in the sea.
Her father, John Geveza, said the career of the bright young woman – his only child – had represented hope for her unemployed parents.
“I won’t rest until the person or people responsible for my daughter’s death are in jail,” he said.
On the night before she died, Geveza confided in a fellow cadet, Nokulunga Cele. Cele made a statement, a copy of which the Sunday Times has seen. In it she explains how Geveza had told her that the chief officer had forced himself on her several times.
Cele said the Ukrainian officer, whose name is known to the Sunday Times, apparently first tried to kiss her while he was teaching her to swim early in May. The officer later apologised to her and called her to his room where he allegedly raped her.
Cele said Geveza was not willing to report the matter to the shipmaster because she feared that nobody would believe her.
The article details how Geveza’s experience with sexual violence on board the ship was not at all unusual — many other Transnet program cadets, both male and female, report being raped by senior officers, being sent home because they refused to perform sex acts, and/or being forcibly impregnated.
I think there’s a really good chance here that we’re looking at a murder case. Frankly, at first glance, the thought that officials were considering any other possibilities seemed ludicrous and offensive. But after looking at the details, a suicide does indeed seem just as likely as the alternative. Not only because sexual assault itself usually results in horrific, profound trauma, but also because the situation here was handled absolutely abhorrently.
First of all, there’s the detail that is included in the above article excerpt: Shipmaster Klaudiusz Kolodziejczyk’s solution to the report of Geveza’s rape was to convene a meeting between her and her alleged rapist (whose name has not been released). To repeat, the alleged rapist was also her superior officer.
What on earth was anyone thinking?
There’s no word in any article I found on whether or not Kolodziejczyk’s actions followed standard protocol. If they did, this is a dangerous, inexcusable system. If there is no standard protocol, that’s even more dangerous and inexcusable. And if there is a different protocol that Kolodziejczyk failed to follow, he needs to be out of a job immediately.
Setting up a meeting between an alleged rapist and alleged rape victim as though the situation constitutes some kind of “personal problem” is rape apologist in the extreme. There are indeed some cases where a victim would like the opportunity to privately confront hir accuser — it certainly doesn’t seem to have been the case here, though, and that decision should never be made for the victim. It should never be a default option. A “meeting” between two officers, the superior officer having been accused of rape, is not the same as an investigation. It is the same thing as retraumatizing the victim, and expecting hir to “work it out” with hir alleged abuser.
Of additional concern is a fact often left out or only expressed vaguely in most articles I found. It turns out that Geveza never reported the alleged assault at all. The friend she confided in, Nokulunga Cele — who admits above that Geveza was unwilling to report — reported it for her.
Let me repeat that: Akhona Geveza never reported her rape. She never wanted to report it. She expressly said that she did not want to report it.
And yet, it was reported on her behalf, regardless. Against her wishes. Without her consent.
I can’t bring myself to unabashedly beat up somebody who was most likely only trying to help, and who is likely already beating up herself worse than I ever could. But look. This needs to serve as an example, because people need to stop doing it. You can think you’re helping a rape survivor all you want. You can really, truly believe that you’re doing the right thing. But if your version of helping is doing exactly what the rape survivor told you she didn’t want to do, seemingly without consulting her, that is the very last thing from helping. It is putting her physical and emotional safety at extraordinary risk. It most likely won’t end with her death, as it did here. But it will result in damage. Betrayals of trust and violations of personal agency, especially when it comes to matters so incredibly dire, always, always do.
Akhona Geveza is dead. Whether she was murdered because she dared tell anyone what was done to her, or whether she committed suicide because she was raped and then severely revictimized by those who didn’t take her wishes and autonomy into account, we will have to wait to find out. The investigation might be biased to protect those in power; and in any case, it might take a while. But no matter what the outcome of the investigation into Geveza’s death, there is little doubt that, one way or another, rape culture is what killed her.
The ultimate goal here for the future ought to be and has to be to end the Transnet culture of sexual violence. But as much as I wish it weren’t true, that’s going to take a while. So in the meantime, and as a part of achieving that ultimate goal, non-rapists in the Transnet program need to start acting responsibly, too. Setting up a private meeting between an alleged rapist and their alleged victim — unless specially requested by the victim — is not how you deal with sexual assault claims. When someone tells you as a friend that they’ve been raped, your job isn’t to make decisions for them, it’s to listen and ask them how you can best be supportive. Not bullying, not prying, not taking away their autonomy. And setting Transnet aside for a minute, these are rules that people could frankly stand to learn just about anywhere. They’re lessons we all need to learn, lest we risk putting other people in life-threatening danger.