Nokubonga Qampi became known as the “Lion Mama” in South Africa after killing one of three men raping her daughter and injuring the others. She was charged with murder, but the prosecution was halted after a public outcry, and she was able to focus her efforts on her daughter’s recovery.
The phone call came in the middle of the night, waking Nokubonga up.
The girl on the other end of the line was only 500m away, and she said Nokubonga’s daughter, Siphokazi, was being raped by three men they all knew.
Nokubonga’s first reaction was to call the police, but no one answered. She knew they’d take their time getting to her village in the rolling green and brown hills of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
She was the only one who could assist.
“I was terrified, but I had no choice because it was my daughter,” she explained.
“I was afraid she’d be dead by the time I arrived… Because she knew the perpetrators, and they knew she knew them, they may believe they had to kill her so she wouldn’t report them.”
Siphokazi had been visiting friends in a group of four small houses in the same village but was left alone, sleeping, when her friends left at 01:30. Then she was attacked by three men who had been drinking in one of the other houses.
Nokubonga’s hut has two rooms: a bedroom where she had been sleeping and a kitchen where she had picked up a knife.
“I took it for myself, to walk the distance between here and where the incident was taking place because it was unsafe,” she explains. “It was dark, and I had to use my phone’s torch to light the way.”
As she approached the house, she heard her daughter’s screams. When she entered the bedroom, the light from her phone allowed her to see the horrifying sight of her daughter being raped.
“I was terrified… I simply stood by the door and inquired as to what they were doing. When they realised it was me, they charged at me, and I felt compelled to defend myself; it was an automatic reaction “According to Nokubonga.
Nokubonga refuses to elaborate on what happened next.
The judge in the court case against the attackers stated that Nokubonga’s testimony showed she had “become very emotional” as she witnessed one of the men raping her daughter while the other two stood nearby with their trousers around their ankles, waiting for their turn again.
“I understood her to mean that she was overcome with anger,” Judge Mbulelo Jolwana continued. But when she tells the story now, all Nokubonga will admit to is fear – for herself and her daughter – and her face only shows sadness and pain.
When the men charged at Nokubonga, she fought back with her knife, and as she stabbed them, they tried to flee, with one even jumping out a window. Two people were seriously injured, and one died.
Nokubonga did not stay to see how badly they were hurt. She drove her daughter to a nearby friend’s house.
When the cops arrived, Nokubonga was arrested and taken to the local police station, where she was locked up.
“I was thinking about my child,” she explains. “I received no information [about her]. It was a harrowing experience.”
Simultaneously, Siphokazi was in the hospital, worried about her mother, imagining her in her cell and heartbroken about the prospect of her mother being imprisoned for years.
“I wished that if she had to serve time in prison, I would be the one to do it,” she says.
She couldn’t remember much of the attack because she was still in shock. What she now knows she learned from her mother two days later, when she arrived at the hospital after being released on bail.
They have been each other’s emotional support since that time.
“I didn’t get any counselling, but my mother was able to help me,” Siphokazi explains. “I’m getting better.”
Nokubonga’s efforts are aimed at ensuring that life goes on as usual.
“I’m the mother, and she’s the daughter,” she says. They laugh about their closeness, joking that Siphokazi can’t get married because then Nokubonga would have no one to look after.
They’ve come a long way in the 18 months since the attack.
Buhle Tonise, the attorney who represented Nokubonga, recalls that when she first met them a week after the attack, both seemed to have given up.
“The mother was upset,” she says.
“When you meet with people in that level of poverty, you know that most of the time they believe the mother is going to jail because she has no one to stand by her side. The justice system is for the wealthy.”
Siphokazi stood silently watching Buhle as she spoke to Nokubonga, as if the attack had taken away her ability to speak.
Although Buhle was confident Nokubonga could prove she acted in self-defense, she feared it would be difficult to overcome her client’s overwhelming pessimism. What neither of them anticipated was the assistance they would receive from the media, which resulted in the legend of the Lion Mama.
After the case was completed, she decided to give up her anonymity in order to encourage other rape survivors.
“I would tell someone that there is life after such an attack, and that they can return to society. You can continue to live your life, “she claims
Nokubonga also exhibits an unusual lack of rage for someone compared to a lioness by the media.
In fact, she has hopes that her daughter’s rapists can achieve something positive in the future. “I’m hoping that when they finish their sentence they’ll come back as reformed or changed people,” she says, “to tell a story about it and be a living example.”