Many of us have direct or indirect experiences with gender-based violence and very few of us know where to go for help
Growing up, I witnessed my father beat up my mother daily. My childhood memories are filled with images of my father hitting my mother and my younger siblings and I trying to intervene. I often asked my mother why she stayed. Her responses were always, “if I had a choice I would leave him” or “if I leave him who will pay for your education?”. The retorts paralysed me. She was a dedicated and loving mother and wife of ill-health who was fervently looking for a job and pursuing an academic career at the same time. All my dear mother wanted was a better life for her children. “Get educated, get a great job and then think about marriage and kids so that you don’t end up like me”, she would always say.
Those words lingered in my mind until her last day on earth. Although I managed not to date throughout high school, I took a leap into that world for the first time at the end of grade 12. I had known my boyfriend for years because we went to the same primary school. He started asking me out when we were in grade 5. After finishing high school, I decided to give him a chance.
Themba* was a sweetheart of note. He was gentle, loving, had a great sense of humour and we had a lot in common. We were best friends. Our relationship lasted for seven years. Tragically I endured abuse for five of those years. There were times when he would become a monster and I could no longer recognise the man who was once my gentle best friend. He would beat me up all the time and anything would provoke him. I thought about leaving him many times but my fear of being alone hindered me from pulling the plug on our toxic relationship. I wanted to believe that he would change. Also, who would let seven of their good years go to waste?
On 20 January 2013, I was on my way home from town when I received a call from Themba* asking me to meet with him. When I arrive at his home he was drinking with his brothers and friends. I greeted them and headed straight to his cottage, which was located next to the mango tree that they were sitting under. We chatted for a while until I told him I wanted to go home because some of the groceries I had bought in town were defrosting. Those words unleashed the monster in him in beloved. He slapped and punched me just for saying “I want to go home”.
His friends and brothers heard the commotion inside the cottage but they continued jovially with their conversations. He left me in there still crying to join them and locked the door behind him. He would come back after a few minutes and fight with me again and lock the door again on his way out. At some point the fight got so intense that he went to the main house to get a grilling fork and threatened to use it take out my teeth. He believed that my beautiful smile would attract other men. It was his grandmother calling him back into the house that stopped him. He put the fork on the dressing table and locked me in again. That is when I realised that he was going to kill me. It dawned on me that I was reliving my mother’s life. A life that I hated deeply.
I took that brief window of opportunity in that locked room to take out my phone and try to call someone who could rescue me. My battery was dying quickly and I only had R1 of airtime left. I had to think and act fast before he came back to finish what he started. The only person that came to mind was my father.
My father did not know that I had a boyfriend. To him, I was his innocent baby girl that was focused on her studies and not dating. It took so much from me to even dial his number because I was very embarrassed. I had nothing to lose, right? Wrong … my life was on the line. I got through to my father and pleaded for help telling him exactly where to find me with the fork carefully hidden in my bag.
Themba* came back and continued the fight. I told him that my dad was coming to rescue me which infuriated him even more. He started pulling my hand, trying to get me out of the cottage so he could hide me at his friend’s house. I held on tightly to the windowsill as he tried to drag me. His brothers and friends did nothing except chat about soccer. None of them even flinched. A sense of relief overcame me when my father arrived – much like a superhero – wielding a ‘knobkerrie’ (a wooden stick with a knob, traditionally used as a weapon). Themba* loosened his grip and fled.
My father helped me gather my bags and took me home. The man who rescued me from my beloved abuser was the same man who caused me, my siblings and my mother years of unbearable pain. The irony! That afternoon in Themba’s* cottage left me vulnerable and hurt deeply but boy was it a victorious moment! I decided to leave Themba* and the seven-year-long relationship I cherished so much. That was the day I made the courageous decision to end the cycle of abuse that began with my parents and never to allow a man to abuse me again.
This article was written by a young woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa. All names* have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.