Actress Busisiwe Mtshali plays a remarkable role in the local film Thina Sobabili.
She bravely reveals that her real life is not far removed from her role.
Like her character who is molested by a step-dad in the film, Mtshali tells us she too was raped once at gun point.
But she says that this Woman’s Month she is proud to be a survivor of the ordeal. “I was a virgin and this person took something that I cherished. He took away my innocence,” says Mtshali.
She describes her Braamfontein flat in Johannesburg, where the rape happened, as the darkest and scariest space.
“The act itself was one thing. But having to relive it in my mind was the worst thing I could ever go through. Not many women who get raped are fortunate enough to tell their story. It doesn’t make me sad, it’s not painful anymore, and it’s not something I’m ashamed of or hide from. I’m blessed that I walked away from that without contracting any diseases and I’m alive,” she says.
She says she was preparing for class one morning in December 2011.
“I left my key outside the door as I was quickly swapping bags. Then I see this man standing inside with my key in his hand, locked the door, pulled out a gun and told me to shut up, take my clothes off and lay on the bed. I did as I was told. He put the gun by my head and said if I do anything stupid he will pull the trigger. When he finished he tapped on my chest with the gun and said, ‘Nice and tight’, then left.
“I lay in bed motionless. After what felt like forever I got up, got dressed and went to campus. I was not shaken or scared or moved, I had an out of body experience,” she says.
When she returned home after lectures, reality hit.
“I called my room-mate and she took me to Milpark Hospital. I had to be on ARVs for the next three months.
“I was OK, but in March, 2012 I started acting out. I cut myself because the internal pain was so unbearable that I needed to feel external pain.
“After passing out in school she woke up in a psychiatric hospital with no recollection of what happened.”
She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on suicide watch.
“In the beginning I didn’t want to deal with it, but now I really feel like I’ve healed, released it from my spirit and my soul. It’s no longer something I carry with me. I refuse to be a victim,” she says.
She says that it angers her when women feel ashamed when they get raped.
“What helped me was speaking about the ordeal, writing and reading my thoughts out loud. I was never a believer of therapy but it helped me,” she says.
She explains that growing up was just as tough.
“After my parents got divorced when I was 14 years old, my mom was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and no one was telling me why. I only went to see her once through a glass, she was strapped like a crazy person in isolation. It was a very traumatic experience for me. I had to make sure that nothing fell apart in her absence.”
Her eyes light up when she speaks about her mother.
“My mom is like my best friend, there’s very little that I keep from her. She’s been my greatest support and if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have gone into acting,” says Mtshali.
She says her mother taught her what it means to be a black African woman.
“I have a really thick skin, I got the strength and resilience from her.”
She says she was made for the Thina Sobabili character because all she had to do was channel her own memories.
She never yearned to be an actress, until she read about the Grahamstown Arts Festival and developed an interest in drama.
“Seeing someone stand on a theatre stage is magical. The way they are able to take me on a journey, the way they speak and move, it was interesting and blew my mind all the time. My first love is theatre and if it was a sustainable career, I would be doing only that.”