In the late afternoon sun, a group of women are busy plaiting each other's long hair. It has been a routine for these women here in Dar es Salaam’s Bunju B village. Under the breeze of a mango tree, they chat away the afternoon as young mothers among them suckle their young ones.
It is a beautiful setting, in an otherwise busy city where some semblance of such enviable company is quickly fading. But beyond the stories, these women are also huddling together for their safety. A mysterious serial rapist has been terrorizing this village.
''Every time we have to lock ourselves in our houses for fear of being attacked by the rapist, whose identity we are yet to find out. He attacks mostly during the night,'' says Aziza Khamis, a 32-year old resident of Mabwepande in Bunju A.
It is difficult to overemphasize the scale of the risk the women in this sleepy village have been facing. According to the women in this area, the fear of the rapist - nicknamed ‘Mahmud’ - has been a nightmare for them.
At one time, he raped and injured a woman in the area, according to the residents. The victim, thought to be his first victim, was taken to Mwananyamala hospital where she was admitted and treated.
''She was bleeding. She had several cuts to her face and other parts of the body. Her body was bruised. She was left to die there as her attacker used a panga to attack her before raping her,'' says Aziza, one of the residents who rescued her.
''The rapist would attack at night, but now, has started attacking during the day. We have reported the case to the police,'' said another Mabwepande resident.
Mabwepande residents now don’t know what peace is. They have always been on the lookout for him.
''We have to walk in groups and alert each other when the sun sets because this man (Mahmud) attacks any woman who walks alone be it at night or day. He even breaks into people’s houses and sexually abuses those he finds alone,’’ Fatuma Iddy, says.
Mwanajuma Athumani, another resident of Mabwepande narrated that, last year; a middle aged woman was raped and almost killed by the suspected rapist who still remains at large.
“That was the first time our village had witnessed such an act where someone stabs you with a knife and leaves you almost dead. The incident made us realize that the man is very cruel,” Mwanajuma said.
In Mabwepande village, the women mostly make local brew and also work as food vendors to earn a living. They make them in their homes and sell in nearby pubs. And that journey to sell their produce is fraught with danger. They have been forced to walk in groups to minimise the possibility of attack
“Every day we have to wait for each other to sell the beer and come back together because we don’t know what would happen to you the next minute you are walking back home alone,'' says Rehema Abbdalla a 54-year-old woman.
''Even though he is not known, we suspect that he is a new person in this area, because we have never experienced such a thing before. But we will get him so that we and our children can be safe,” Rehema says.
Abdalla Kunja, the ward officer at Mabwepande has received reports about the rapist on the prowl.
''I have heard about it and it’s very sad that he even targets old women and young children. We have now put up a group of people on the alert to catch him so he can stop causing fear and agony in our village, we know he has his own informers but we will catch him as his days are numbered,” says Kunja.
Mabwepande residents spoke of peace that was prevailing in the village before the rapist started terrorizing them.
Aziza is so disheartened by this issue and said that rape is the most sinful thing one can do. “I don’t understand why someone can even rape school children. It is very disgusting,” she says.
Even school children are not spared by the rapist and now these pupils are aware of the danger and they now walk in groups when heading home or to school.
“Our parents told us to be careful since the story of the rapist was revealed here. Sisi tunaogopa sana, tumeambiwa tusizungumze na mtu ambaye hatumfahamu kwani anaweza kutubaka. (We have been advised by our parents that we should not talk to strangers because we may be raped),” said Zainabu Sallu, a 12-year-old pupil, who was in the company of her friend Halima Juma.
Cases of rape continue to be reported across the country with police records at Wazo Hill police station in Kinondoni district indicating that a total of 71 rape cases, were reported between January and December 2010. Out of these, 24 were sent to the courts while 47 were thrown out due to lack of evidence.
In 2011, 88 rape cases were reported, 32 were taken up by the courts while 56 were thrown out for lack of evidence. This year, between January and March, 27 rape cases have been reported with 10 being taken up by the courts.
Rape is a very serious and heinous crime that needs collective fighting in the society and at government level. Any one raped should not shy away from reporting the matter to the nearest police station and obtain a PF3 in order to process the case. One is also supposed to stay with the clothes on and not take a shower as this helps the police and doctors to obtain evidence when handling the case.
Corruption has also hindered rape cases from being prosecuted in courts and therefore it’s the role of citizens to come together and fight corruption that denies them justice.
According to Dr Spitla Makeyi, an HIV Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT)/Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) expert at the Mwananyamala hospital, the hospital receives an average of three rape cases in a day.
''Most of these cases are received at night and we are worried about the cases because they are on the increase. The bad thing is that young girls are raped by people whom they trust and know very well. Like now we have a case of a young 22 year old student who was raped and sodomised by someone she knows and on top of that he beat her. We also have others with similar stories,'' says the doctor.
Rape victims risk getting infected with HIV if they don’t seek medical attention within 72 hours. Seeking medical advice enables them to get Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which helps in preventing HIV infection.
''It is important for one to come in quickly for medical attention because it will save your life, we administer PEP that is meant to prevent the infection of HIV when you are still negative, and this helps a lot,” says Dr Makeyi.
Mabwepande residents call upon government to help in the search for the mysterious rapist.
Nasteha Mohammed is an Ff Exchange Programme from AMWIK, Kenya attached at TAMWA.