Saturday, September 26, 2020

Just good friends?

When at 10:03, the unmarked police car eased out of the parking lot of the Broadhurst magistrate court to take Sergei Pastouchenko to a place where there are no school girls to prey on, the one he had molested was settling into a new life.

She has a new school, new uniform, new teachers, new home, new custodian ÔÇô new life basically. The girl’s custodian notes with satisfaction that she is becoming livelier in character, that her school grades have improved tremendously and, most importantly, that she is learning to be a child again.

Sitting on a bench outside the courtroom, Sholila (pseudonym) pauses mid-sentence and follows the car carrying the Russian with her eyes. It comes to a young Motswana woman holding a small child and stops briefly. The woman is Pastouchenko’s girlfriend and the child is theirs. Taking cue from the mother, the small boy waves goodbye to his father, completely oblivious of the unusualness of this day and the significance of this wave.

Sholila says that she is relieved to see Pastouchenko go to prison. A chapter that began with her stark naked in her bedroom and the child victim probing her nether region with a stick of roll-on deodorant has finally been closed. It has been a long and very traumatic year not just for her but her family as well. One of the most painful episodes of this saga was when the defence lawyer grilled her own child who testified in camera because she is a minor.

She has a business in Gaborone West that requires her full attention but throughout the trial she made sure that she was present at every hearing.

Had it not been for this woman, the abuse of an underage primary school pupil could still be going on behind a tree or outcrop deep in the Broadhurst Industrial bush. The abuse stopped at the beginning of the year when she learnt that a neighbour’s daughter was ‘friends’ with what, during an interview last year, she described as “a raw-boned, bushy-haired white man” who occasionally dropped the girl off at home in his car three or four hours after school.

The man would collect the child from school and instead of taking her straight home, drive into the bush where he would molest her. There were also times when the mother would come along and wait in the car while the man took the child for ‘a walk’.

Last year, just when the school year was about to begin, Sholila decided to stay home in order that she could get her children ready for school.

Something struck her as odd when she saw the neighbour’s daughter, who is only nine years old, being dropped off at her house by a white man driving a Mercedes Benz. Upon enquiring from her own children (the victim’s playmates) she learnt that the white man was the child’s “friend” and that the pair often went out together. When they got back, the child would be laden with children’s treats like yoghurt, fruits, sweets and crisps. To Sholila’s horror, she learnt that at one point the man had sent her own nine-year old daughter to fetch the abuse victim from her house.

She later sought and found the right time to call the little girl over to her house, took her into her bedroom and sat her comfortably on the bed.
“When I asked her about the man, she immediately burst into tears. I propped her against a continental pillow and comforted her. After she had calmed down, I gave her a pen and piece of paper and asked her to write down everything that happened when she was with the white man. When I read what she had written I cried,” said Sholila, tears welling up in her eyes as she recalled that moment.

In between sobbing and wiping her tears, Sholila also learnt that the man had told the child that she was not to tell anyone what he did to her. On days that the mother accompanied them, the man would buy the mother cans of Hunters’ Gold on the way home. In one instance, the child saw the man give her P20.

In the note she wrote (which was given to the police as evidence) the child described in very graphic detail how the man sodomised her each time he took her into the bush. The child told Sholila that when the man was about to withdraw his penis, he would ‘cry’ ÔÇô an unsuccessful attempt by a young mind to understand the unfamiliar (orgasmic grunt) within the context of the familiar.

Immediately after learning of the abuse, Sholila sent word to have the aunt come over in order that she also could hear every little detail from the horse’s mouth. When the trio was locked up in the bedroom, Sholila took all her clothes off. From her dressing table, she took a bottle of roll-on deodorant, uncapped it and with the aunt watching, asked the child to demonstrate (with the bottle) how the man had molested her. Sholila had determined that an uncapped bottle would be an exact replica of a man’s penis.

However, during cross examination, the defence punched holes in her testimony but whatever was ultimately subtracted from her story, Sholila feels that her efforts have paid off.

What began as random whistle-blowing has now become a crusade that Sholila wants to take nationwide. At the moment she says that she is working with four abuse victims. She says that the abuse pattern of one in Tlokweng fits Pastouchenko’s case in every respect.

The victim is an eight-year old girl who is being abused by his mother’s boyfriend. The man reportedly plies the mother with cartons upon cartons of alcohol ÔÇô Chibuku ÔÇô and when she falls into a stupor he takes advantage of the child. In another case, she is counselling a young boy who contracted AIDS after being sexually abused by a much older woman.

Lately, Sholila has been thinking about establishing a shelter for abused children and has received encouragement from many people and organisations. A group of businessman in Gaborone has donated P2000 to help her get started. GabZ Fm has offered her transport to Mochudi where she has a client, a 15-year old school girl, who was abused by her brother over an extended period of time.

Surprisingly, not everyone thinks that Sholila is a heroine. Somehow some women ÔÇô Batswana ÔÇô got hold of her cellphone number and she says that they have been calling to both threaten and heap insults upon her with regard to her role in the prosecution and imprisonment of Pastouchenko. She says they claim that the Russian showed them a good time and that she has spoilt the party for them.

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