South African Sea Cadet Found Dead Hours After Rape Allegations Were Filed

by Cara on July 19, 2010

in Africa, International, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls, work

A young black woman wearing a v-neck yellow tee-shirt looks at the camera and smiles a close-lipped smile in front of a blue background.

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.

Her death, which has just today been released to the media, is now being investigated to determine whether it was a murder or a suicide.

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.

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{ 5 comments }

1 zubair July 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

This also happened to my girlfriend she is also a kadet in Congo she was almost a victim of this transnet needs to make sure these kadets are strongly supervised by the captains etc.. To prevent this in the future transnet should make sure these kadets are safe an secure before actually putting them on a vessel

2 mezu July 20, 2010 at 5:48 am

I saw this story on the new last night and I am just sad. Reading what they have had to endure at the hands of their superiors makes me real mad.

How do such animals live with themselves? Such a beautiful soul cut short :(

3 Social Worker July 21, 2010 at 5:08 am

I think I got cut off again…

My comment was that, after reading the article, it STRONGLY seems to me this was murder. I’m not one for jumping to conclusions, but, given the facts present, suicide seems highly unlikely. As does some form of accident that just happened to occur after she reported this.

I would be sickened, though not surprised, to learn that her commanding officer had something to do with it in order to protect the other senior officer.

4 asanda July 21, 2010 at 6:12 am

so tragic,akuhlanga lungehliyo (my deepest condolencies) my heart goes out to her family and friends.saw the story on the news monday and imediately knew something is just no right a 6 year old can tell you that,this doesn’t make any sense and i have opinions and comments on this case which may offend some people.RIP Akhona me not knowing you is not the point right now,I pray that who ever is responsible gets what he deserves and that doesn’t not happen to anyone again doesn’t matter who,how,why,when….i think a march needs to be mobilised to this effect i mean we as SA community need to unite against such nasty events….

5 Anon (for today) August 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm

How exactly was she “unwilling to report” the rape? Did she want the rape to go entirely unreported, or did she want the rape to be reported but didn’t feel like she’d be able to do the reporting herself?

The reason I’m being anonymous right now is so I can say that I’ve been in both positions. In the former position, I felt that my life would be destroyed if anyone knew what was happening. Also, there were adults that thought something else was going on and if I reported the supposed something else, I would get sent to foster care (I was a minor at the time) and just be beaten and neglected and raped and wouldn’t be able to get into college and in general implied that I’d be an uneducated failure working at fast-food restaurants for the rest of my life if I even survived. Naturally, if I thought those were the consequences of reporting something not-so-bad, I’d have rather died that reported what was really happening.

I’ve also been in the latter position. When I was older, something else happened, that may not have been “assault” but was still unwanted forcible sexual activity on a continued basis. I had tried to report this to “adults”, but had never been able to complete the sentence that started my confession, but I could tell my best friend. I had hoped that she’d offer to report it for me, but sadly, she had no clue how to respond. At this time, we were about 18, so probably the same age that those two cadets were – although, if I’d gotten as poor of a response from my friend’s hypothetical report as Ms. Geveza got from the leadership on her boat, I might’ve attempted suicide again myself.

Ugh. Bad trip down memory lane but I felt like I needed to get it out there so I just didn’t just sound like an insensitive victim-blaming/apologist jerk with my question.

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