A South African woman alleges suffering a double blow after being sexually assaulted at an airport in Egypt
It is every traveller’s worst nightmare – to be sexually assaulted in a foreign country, and, worse still, have your harrowing ordeal handled with hostility and disregard by that country’s officials.
For local paediatrician Dr Legodimo Madihlaba, that nightmare became a reality that has left her traumatised.
She is haunted by the assault and constantly replays in her mind what happened to her on March 10 at Cairo International Airport in Egypt.
Madihlaba (40), who lives in Gauteng, spoke to City Press last week.
Despite having suffered the alleged sexual assault, she has chosen to reveal her identity because of the scourge of gender-based violence plaguing not only this country, but the world at large too – and, she says, “to ensure that no other South African woman, or woman of any other nationality, travelling through Cairo will suffer the same violation and humiliation that I did”.
Rewind to March 10: Madihlaba was on her way back to South Africa, having attended a medical conference in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Her return trip entailed a four-hour layover at Cairo International Airport before boarding a plane headed for OR Tambo International Airport.
After passing through customs, Madihlaba said she approached the transfer desk and asked for directions to the airline’s (Egypt Air) lounge.
She was directed to a lift and told to select the third floor for the business lounge.
As she entered the lift, two men – one wearing a blue coat, the other a white shirt and uniform – got in with her.
She asked the uniformed man to assist her in finding the lounge.
She had assumed he was an official, given that he was wearing a uniform.
When they reached the third floor, the uniformed man led her to another lift, where he selected the lowest floor.
They were the only two people in the lift.
That’s when he allegedly started groping her buttocks, asking her to kiss him and wanting them to go to the toilet.
But Madihlaba repeatedly said no.
When they reached the bottom floor, she realised that there was no sign of a lounge and that the area he had taken her to was deserted.
He then removed the facial mask she had on and tried to kiss her while fondling her breasts and touching her private parts – all while she repeatedly said no.
Madihlaba managed to escape the man’s clutches.
“It’s horrible … it’s as good as if it did happen (being raped), even though I escaped. I feel so scared. To some extent now, when I have to go out, I look at myself and ask: Am I decent? Am I right?” she said, her voice quivering.
But just as she thought she had escaped one horrific experience, her ordeal was about to take another traumatic turn.
Madihlaba reported the incident to airport authorities, who she alleges were stand-offish with her, asking: “So what do you want to do?”
Their tone was hostile, she alleges, and they told her that if she wanted to take the matter up, she would miss her flight.
“They kept asking me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I was in tears … There was no sympathy, or at least some empathy, from the police. I asked them: ‘Are you going to give me another ticket? Are you going to give me a place to stay?’ No one answered; they just looked at me. So, I said: ‘I want to go home; this place is horrible.’”
At that point, Madihlaba phoned her husband, who got in touch with the department of international relations and cooperation.
She said that a Mr Malgas from the South African embassy in Egypt then assisted her.
City Press confirmed with South Africa’s ambassador to Egypt, Vusi Mavimbela, that Madihlaba had tried reporting the incident to officials at Cairo airport.
Mavimbela also confirmed that he had sent a diplomatic note on March 15 to the foreign affairs ministry in Egypt.
In the note, which City Press has seen, Mavimbela asks for assistance in the matter and for a police case number.
He also writes: “The mission noted with concern that during the process, the South African female citizen was not afforded the assistance of a female police officer to assist her in her ordeal. It further appears that the officials assisting Dr Madihlaba were not giving the matter the necessary attention that it required.”
Madihlaba has also reported the matter to the international relations and cooperation department headquartered in Pretoria.
But she was yet to receive a progress report – 18 days after reporting the incident.
“I went to the international relations department on March 11, when I arrived. I did not sleep all through the flight home. This thing replayed in my mind over and over and over…” she said, her voice breaking.
Mavimbela said: “I sent the note on March 15. I then followed up by phoning the foreign affairs ministry. The assistant foreign minister assured me on Friday that he would follow up the issue at the highest level.”
City Press understands that the international relations department also wrote to the Egyptian embassy in Pretoria about the matter.
“I am told that it is not the first time this has happened to a woman there, and I want justice,” said Madihlaba.
“It is going to happen to another woman. It’s so painful … it is a scar that is with you for life. I’ll never feel the same, you know?” she said, crying.
City Press could not reach the Egyptian embassy for comment.
Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for the international relations and cooperation department, confirmed that Madihlaba had reported the matter.
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