At age 9, she was gang raped. At age 18, she was sold into sex slavery. And so begins the story of the remarkable, Grizelda Grootboom.
Grizelda was a fairly happy child growing up with her father and grandmother in the Coloured area of Woodstock. However, at the age of 8, they became homeless when the apartheid government decided to forcibly remove them. In order to cope with homelessness, her father turned to alcohol and eventually became an alcoholic. It is at this time that he decided that she had to go and live with her mother in the townships.
The township was a difficult place to grow up in and her mother already had her own family, but Grizelda tried to make the best of it. Things would however, not become better for Grizelda. When she was nine, on her way to fetch some water down the road, Grizelda was approached by four teenagers. They placed a knife to her throat, dragged her to a shack, and raped her. The anger that she had felt starting on that day, led her to leave her home for a life on the streets. She had spent a better part of her years moving between shelters and the streets, but Grizelda tried to make the best of it, despite the horrors that would follow.
To survive, Grizelda stole to eat and used drugs to cope on the streets. She was arrested several times but the police let her go if she performed oral sex on them. Of the oral sex, Grizelda says it “was just something we had to do if we wanted to leave jail”. When she turned 18, the shelter kicked her out and she was now permanently on the streets, homeless, hungry and dependent on the solace of drugs. Grizelda tried to make the best of it, by living under a bridge and making friends on the streets. One of these friends was an older girl that often bought drugs from them, someone that she trusted and someone that eventually sell her into sex slavery.
This friend, that she trusted, told Grizelda that she could find her a job in Johannesburg. Once they arrived in the Johannesburg, the friend brought Grizelda to a room in Yeoville and that was the last time she saw her friend. Grizelda fell asleep and was awoken with a punch in the face. She was undressed, tied up, injected with drugs, and sold to various men for the next twelve days. Grizelda could not make the best of such a situation. Nobody could. She was raped from 10 in the morning until late at night, smelling of condoms, semen and drugs. After they were done with her, they put on her the streets and in the brothels where she was pimped out up until the age of 26.
The final chapter in Grizelda’s torment began with an unimaginable horror. Six months pregnant, Grizelda wanted out. Instead of allowing her to leave, her pimps forced her into an abortion and 3 hours after the abortion, she was told to go back to work. She refused and they beat her into a coma. She woke up a month later in the hospital and having had enough, she entered herself into a drug rehabilitation programme. She got clean and that might seem like the end of Grizelda’s story, but not yet.
You see, when Grizelda was raped at the age of 9, she wasn’t the only one. There were three other girls with her, and they were all raped. When was let out of that sex slave room at the age of 18, she was replaced with another girl who would suffer the same horrors. Before she was forced to abort her baby, she had already given birth to a baby boy which she gave up for adoption. The horrors of her past haunted her and it was made worse by the fact that she kept on seeing girls like her on the streets, girls that would be sold, raped, impregnated, forced to abort and forced back into work as if their pain meant nothing. It bothered her that so many horrors were still happening and so, at the age of 35, she sat down and went back to the darkness of her past by writing a book. She called the book, Exit, and it detailed all the horrors of the sex slave trade happening in South Africa. It was her way of taking back her power and giving a voice to the voiceless.
A mother of one, Grizelda has built her life around fighting for the rights of those that are trapped in the sex slave trade and trying to make sure that there aren’t more girls being trapped in the trade. An incredibly intelligent woman, Grizelda believes that all women are “intelligent and gifted” and have the potential to be so much more.
One of the things that Grizelda did was to testify in parliament about what is happening in the sex slave trade in South Africa. When she looked up at the podium, she saw some of her clients and they seemed shocked that she was still alive. Perhaps it can be said that the reason she is still alive is because she never lost her power. As a woman, perhaps she always had her power, and that kept her from dying. She was raped, sold, beaten, and left for dead, but perhaps, deep down inside, the remarkable Grizelda Grootboom knew that her power burnt bright and that she would live to see another day.