When men become monsters
Most of the violence against women comes from their own partners. Here’s what you can do to help
‘Weekends were the worst. I knew that he would stumble home, drunk. Sometimes he would be cheerful and mumble what seemed like an incoherent song, but most of the time it would end with me lying on the floor bleeding and in excruciating pain,” recalls Sihle Mkhabela (not her real name) from Magabheni on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
What kept Mkhabela (34) in this abusive relationship for three years was that she wanted her children to grow up in a home where there were two parents and she hoped that her man would mend his ways.
According to a report released by the World Health Organisation in 2012, men who abuse their partners become worse with time if they do not seek help. The report, titled Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women, also showed that women stay in such abusive relationships owing to a lack of alternative means of economic support, concern for their children and the hope that the partner will change.
“In the morning he would say: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I must have had too much to drink.’ This would infuriate me and I would want to strangle him, but my conscience would not allow me ... I would forgive him, hoping he wouldn’t do it again,” says Mkhabela, adding that he always beat her up again and again. And each beating was worse than the one before.
However, her relationship was not always filled with violence and pain. For the most part, she was happy with her partner.
Mkhabela – who worked at a chain store – decided to stay at home after the birth of their son and her fiancé – who worked at a steel manufacturing company – was more than happy to be the sole provider.
In July 2011, the company started with retrenchments as it was not making money and luck was not on their side. He was retrenched three months later.
For months he struggled to find another job. Frustration triggered by loss of income turned Mkhabela’s fiancé into a drunk, and he became aggressive and verbally abusive.
The verbal abuse later turned to physical abuse. The first time he beat her was after she told him she was pregnant with their second child.
“I went to the clinic hoping to get flu treatment and that’s when I found out I was pregnant. As I walked home, I kept thinking how I was going to break the news to him.”
The day Mkhabela told her fiancé she was pregnant, he left home without saying a word. He came back in the middle of the night – drunk – and accused her of taking too long to open the door when he knocked.
When she asked him why he had left his key, he responded with a slap across her face, asking her if this was the way to “talk to a man”.
“I was shocked. I didn’t know how to respond. As he stumbled past me, reeking of alcohol, I stood there wondering which spirit had taken over the man who once loved me so much,” Mkhabela said.
That slap marked the beginning of an abusive relationship. At first, Mkhabela made excuses for her man, saying that he was frustrated because he was unemployed. When her friends advised her to leave him, she would say her children were too young and her mother had told her to persevere as “challenges do surface in a marriage, but a strong woman doesn’t allow strong winds to blow her home away”.
Mkhabela endured the abuse at the hands of the man who once claimed he loved her, until he beat her up so badly she landed up in hospital with broken ribs. A social worker convinced her to open a case against him and she did.
He was convicted of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm last year. He is currently serving four years in prison.
Mkhabela, on the other hand, is currently finishing a one-year home-based-care course at a private nursing college in Durban. Her children, aged seven and two, are living with her mother in Mthwalume on the south coast of KwaZuluNatal.
What you can do to end gender-based violence
Speak out against woman and child abuse Encourage silent victims to talk and report abuse, and ensure that they get help Report child abuse to the police Encourage children to report bullying to school authorities
Seek help if you are emotionally, physically or sexually abusive to your partner or children
Talk to friends, relatives and colleagues to take a stand against abuse of women and children Try and understand how your own attitudes and actions might perpetuate sexism and violence
What can you do to be safe?
If you feel you are in danger from an abuser, call 10111 or your local police station
When the police arrive, tell them everything. If you have been hit, tell the police where. Tell them how many times it has happened. Show them any marks on your body. Marks may take time to show up. If you see a mark after the police leave, call the police to take pictures of the marks. They may be used in court
If your abuser has broken any property, show the police
The police must write a report saying what happened to you. Police reports can be used in court if your abuser is charged with a crime
Get the officers’ names, badge numbers and the report number in case you need a copy of the report
Get a protection order against the abuser. If he violates the order, he will be arrested