From gang-rape to human trafficking and homelessness, Grizelda Grootboom has survived it all. Read her heart-breaking and inspirational story here.
Warning: This article contains gruesome details and sensitive language
Grizelda Grootboom, 37, grew up a “happy” child in Woodstock, Cape Town. Her father raised her on his own after her mother abandoned them.
But Grizelda’s “happy” childhood was ruined when the apartheid government removed her family from their home. This led to Grizelda and her dad living on the streets, moving from shelter to shelter.
“He would just chill with me and make me feel like a princess. He would put me on his shoulders and he would say “look up to the skies and enjoy the view”, while we were trying to find a place to sleep. He always used to sing this song ‘I would be so lucky’ because my lips were big, and kids used to make fun of me. He would sing ‘I would be so lucky, lucky, lucky lips’ and he would say that he was so lucky to have a daughter like myself,” says Grizelda.
But sadly, her dad was killed in the very streets they lived on. “When he died on the streets, it was the most painful time,” she says crying.
It was after her dad was killed that Grizelda embarked on a search to find her mother in Khayelitsha. Her mom, who was then married to another man and had two more children, denied her as her daughter, telling her husband that Grizelda was “one of those extended family kids”.
Apart from having to deal with living with a new family, Grizelda also had to get used to living in the informal township of Khayelitsha, and she says it was a “culture shock” for her. Not only did she not know the language, but she also had to travel a great distance just to fetch water.
One afternoon when she was sent to fetch water, her life was turned upside down. Grizelda was gang-raped by four men from her neighbourhood at the tender age of nine. But instead of finding comfort from her mom when she went home, she was beaten for coming home with an empty bucket.
“My mom beat me up. She didn’t care about the blood stains,” says Grizelda.
This made her pack her bags the next morning and take a train back to Cape Town. She chose to return to a life on the streets rather than go back to her mom.
At the age of 18, she met a young lady who promised to turn her life around. Grizelda describes her as “a very nice girl” who came from a rich family. “She used to come under the bridge and smoke with us,” says Grizelda.
After the two established a good and trusting relationship, the friend promised to give her a better life in Johannesburg. Grizelda didn’t even think twice.
“We went to Yeoville. I still remember the house she took me to. It smelled so clean. Gave me so much hope life was about to change,” says Grizelda, who had shared with her friend her desire to be a singer or an actor in Johannesburg. However, her friend left her in an empty room saying she was going to get food and never returned.
“I was woken up with a kick in my stomach. Kicked, undressed, dark tape on my eyes, injected with crystal meth,” says the young survivor.
“In my mind I’m thinking the house is getting robbed.”
She then says this went on for twelve days. Different men would come into the room and sleep with her “and every client was another ecstasy, it was another drug, just over and over,” says Grizelda.
“I was exchanged with a younger girl in the middle of the night. They threw me out of the house. I got out of the house looking like a prostitute, smelling like a drug-addict,” says Grizelda.
She then walked all the way from Yeoville to Park station “half naked”.
“No time wasted, I got myself a client, got myself a fix, and joined the rest of the girls in Berea. Of course, I was welcomed by a pimp. If you are new, first thing you are taken by a pimp. And I told myself I’m going to work so hard and please my pimp, so I can just get a fix every sixteen minutes because crystal meth and cocaine was all I could feel. This was from age 18 until 26,” says Grizelda.
She says sometimes they were moved to a house “for like three to four weeks with different men from different countries. Some months we were taken to some other province. Some months we were taken just to park at the boarders.”
At age 26, Grizelda says she “was exchanged to some other madam who was helping some guy get drugs into the country. So, every time he gave her drugs, she gave him a new girl, and I was a new girl,” says the emotional Grizelda.
After many months passed, Grizelda says she fell pregnant. “I got pregnant with my baby girl. I called her ‘Summer’ because we had to work every day being pregnant. Usually abortions would take place when you were two months pregnant, but my madam let me carry on until six months.” Her madam said the clients enjoyed the pressure that was brought by the pregnancy, but at six months, in the presence of the other women and a doctor, Grizelda was made to abort the baby.
“I got my shot on the left side of my womb and the tablet,” and her baby was taken out. “About an hour or so later I was asked to use sponges, so it could hold the blood because I needed to get back to work. That’s when I thought this is it. I’m done,” says Grizelda.
When she refused the client, she was beaten and dropped off in Yeoville. A month later she woke up in hospital.
She says in hospital a pretty, young girl said to her “you better find out why you are still alive because with the drugs in your system, your heart was not supposed to be beating.”
Grizelda was then taken to rehab for three months, which she says was the most suicidal time of her life.
She then went on to work in a church making soup and answering the phone at the church’s reception. One of the pastors of the church then asked her to transport drugs to Cape Town for him.
“I knew this was an opportunity for me to go back home. I did the drop, got my money, and I went straight to Khayelitsha to my mom and gave her the money. It was the safest place compared to where I came from,” says Grizelda, who was then 32-years-old.
Five years later, Grizelda is now travelling the world fighting human trafficking and helping young women get out of the sex slave industry. She has also received a scholarship from the UN to study Human Rights Law in Canada.
Grizelda says more should be done to protect victims of human trafficking.
“There needs to be a law that protects women where women can just walk freely. We need that, that change needs to come,” says the 37-year-old activist.
“We have enough stories, it’s time to fix these stories. I’m here fighting, creating policies and structures for victims to get a safe house.”
She says ordinary citizens can help victims by joining a local NGO and sometimes having a small talk with girls they meet on the street and just asking, “how are you doing, do you need a trip to the local clinic etc.” She says the girls’ answers might give clues as to whether they are there by choice or have been trafficked, but she warns that this should be done with caution because in most cases pimps might be around watching.
She also advises parents to pay close attention to who their children speak to on social media.
“Young people get trafficked in 2-3 hours, because the conversation they are having with the trafficker is all about them. Kids are looking for that attention. So, if you let your daughter find the attention on her device, she could end up with a trafficker on the other line,” warns Griselda.
And to the victims who feel trapped in the industry, Grizelda says it’s possible to get out. She advises victims who want to get out to first get hospitalised, checked, and then rehabilitated.
Grizelda’s book, ‘Exit’, can be bought on Amazon.