While working in West Africa earlier this year I met a rapist.
Actually, I employed him in the company I was running in the rain forest area of Western Ghana. Let’s call him Jacob. He arrived to work one day with his face swollen, and deep cuts around his eyes and cheeks.
His demeanour was unusually sullen. Never the liveliest of workers, this day he was particularly inactive and this began to irritate me. I noticed the lacerations around his face, but feigned disinterest and moved away from him. I walked a distance down the road to Moosa’s farm house, and sat myself under a cocoa tree. Ten minutes later Jacob crept up behind me and sat on a rock some five metres away.
“Nana (a Ghanaian honorific meaning “chief” or “elder”), I am sick,” whispered Jacob.
“What happened to your face Jacob?”
“I got into a fight.”
“With some boys in the village.”
I plied him with more questions, but the answers were vague and indistinct. The most I could get out of him was that it had something to do with a woman. I knew that Jacob was a drinker, despite his theatrical averments to follow the path of righteousness while working for me.
I decided to get to the bottom of this and called Steven, a devout Muslim and de facto chief of the village known as Ten and a Half where the beating had been ministered with evident relish. My natural revulsion for violence cried out for justice.
Steven arrived some minutes later looking solemn and slightly disgusted.
Nothing happened in Ten and a Half without Steven’s knowledge. He was often called on to mediate disputes and adjudicate matters of village justice. He was well liked and had a reputation as a fair man. He would surely tender the truth.
“Steven, Jacob says he was beaten up by some boys in the village.”
“Is not telling you all,” snapped back Steven in anger.
In his broken English, he then started to fill in the details. Jacob had snuck into a woman’s room and raped her. What made it worse was that she was both deaf and mute, a disability that prevented her from crying out for help. Jacob was caught by some youngsters and was given a choice: either we call the police and you spend the next 15 years in prison, or you submit to village justice. Which will it be?
Jacob opted for village justice and was beaten within an inch of his life there and then.
I then understood why he had been absent from work for the previous two days. On seeing Jacob limping around the next day, the youngsters decided their beating had not been severe enough, so they repeated it.
As the story unfolded, I turned to Jacob, his eyes now focusing his shame on his feet.
“Is this true Jacob?”
Jacob replied that it was not rape, and that he had been flirting with the woman, who evidently reciprocated the interest.
Not true, snapped back Steven.
“Jacob, I think you need to go home and rest, and I need to think about this.”
The next day I asked Jacob not to return to work. He complied.
Months later I would see him in the village, stumbling from one bar to the next, smiling at me with no obvious embarrassment. On one occasion he summoned the courage to approach me for money, and I blasted him for his drunkenness.
“You told me you would stop drinking.”
“I forget,” he replied.
“You didn’t forget, you just lie.” His eyes turned once again to his feet.
Ten and a Half is the last of a line of villages straddling the main road from Tarkwa to the Iduapriem gold mine operated by Anglogold Ashanti in Western Ghana. The villages are spaced roughly a mile apart, hence the names: Mile Five (or Mafive in local pidgin), Mile Six, Mile Seven, and so on.
Of all the villages on this road, Ten and a Half is the only one without electricity. Its inhabitants are mostly farmers and artisanal gold miners, known locally as galamsey – a corruption of the English “gather and sell.” The better-off have generators to power light bulbs, music systems and TVs. The others get by with candles.
In the absence of technological distractions, alcohol and fecklessness abound. Hence, Ten and a Half has a reputation for attracting low-lifes. The galamsey place their faith in black magic, rather than prospecting, to sweeten nature’s endowment of gold.
A few months later I again met Jacob in the bush near the Bonsa River. “Crazy sample,” he said, beaming at me. He was now working as a galamsey and had found rich alluvial gold-bearing gravels near the river. Rich gravels in local terms is called “crazy sample.”
A week later I saw him again drunk in the village. He obviously cashed in his gold and spent it on liquor for himself and his new friends.
Such is the life of Jacob, the rapist. He is free to roam the village where he raped a woman and still participate in its meagre pleasures. He accepted his beatings and managed to avoid prison. The village, by all accounts, accepts him as one of their own. He begged for forgiveness, and it was given.
I doubt he will rape again. Perhaps village justice works. It is swift, brutal and effective – and, unlike prison, short-lived.
As for his drinking, I fear there is no hope.