'Why me?' asks Cape acid attack victim

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  • Saturday, September 10, 2011
  • With bandages wrapped around her face, leaving only her left eye and swollen lips uncovered, a young Zimbabwean woman explained why she thought the men who flung acid at her face in Cape Town last week had not committed a xenophobic attack.

    "I had never seen the two men before. They boarded the same taxi as me in Sea Point, and went to sit at the back. Then they asked to get off the taxi. I noticed a man beside me and I saw him splash my face. It was burning, burning, burning," she said at a press conference this week to raise funds for reconstructive surgery.

    The woman, known as "Susan" to protect her identity, said she didn't know why she was the victim of an acid attack.

    "I say to myself, why me?" she asked in a whisper, weeping under the bandages.

    A man sitting next to her on the taxi sustained acid burns to his legs. After chasing the men down the road, the taxi driver drove the injured pair to hospital.

    It will be a long road to recovery for the young woman who came to South Africa with hopes and dreams, but fell victim to the violence that plagues this country.

    While Susan said she did not believe it was a xenophobic attack, a correspondent for ZimDiaspora newspaper interviewed her this week and described the incident as "a bizarre xenophobic attack".

    Police have arrested a man in connection with the case. He appeared briefly in court this week and has been charged with assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm. The man is in custody, and is due to appear in court on September 14. Police are hunting for the second man who accompanied the suspect.

    'Unusual crime'
    Police spokesperson Andre Traut said he did not believe that it was a xenophobic attack. "We don't want to speculate about what the motive was, but it could have been a case of mistaken identity," he said. "It is an unusual crime. I can't recall a case of acid attack in this province."


    A lonely and bewildered figure, the woman faced the media on Wednesday evening, the night after major surgery by local plastic surgeon Mark Van Der Velder, who performed the operation for free.

    "It was very difficult at first to determine the depth of the acid burn," he said. "Only last night after I removed the dead tissue could I see the extent of the damage."

    The woman has damage to her eyelids, left brow, forehead, left cheek and the worst injury has been to her left ear. The acid had also eaten into her hands and left breast.

    Van Der Velder said she would need extensive skin grafts, tissue expansion, and six reconstructions. He said it would take three to four years to repair the damage.

    Braam Hanekom, founder of People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), urged South Africans to give generously. Medical treatment is expected to cost at least R450000.

    Susan, meanwhile, has little choice but to accept all the help and assistance she is being offered and to remain in South Africa, as her parents are dead.

    Asked why she came to the country, she said she had wanted to move here and to work and raise money to study business administration.

    "My parents have died and the rest of my family are all back home," she whispered. "I don't know how I am going to survive now."

    Her cousin, who lives and works in Pretoria and declined to be named, had come to Cape Town to be by her side. "Her parents died a long time ago. She is only 23 years old. What is going to happen to her now?"

    Susan worked as a receptionist for Cyril Parker and his wife Elisabeth, who are doctors in a healthcare practice in Sea Point. "She is a beautiful person, a wonderful communicator and we want to help her as much as we can," they said. "She has moved for her own safety and is now staying with friends."

    Donations can be sent to: Standard Bank, Acid attack account, Thibault Square branch, Account number 074421395.

    Tags: acidattack, acid attacks in Zimbabwe, law on acid attacks, international, politics, acid survivors in India, Arti Acid case, women, alok dixit, crime against women, crime in India, law on acid attacks
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