My story of sur­vival

In Women’s Month, Kathryn Cleary hears the story of the 23 years a Gra­ham­stown woman fought to es­cape hor­rific abuse.

Grocott's Mail - - WOMEN’S MONTH -

“The sad part of my story is that peo­ple didn’t do any­thing. Even if you cry for help, no­body is go­ing to help you.”

Naidene Ma­hapi stood up slowly from the shaded chair on the porch of her fam­ily’s home on Al­bert Street. She walked into the sun­light and squinted her eyes, look­ing off into the hills near Mary Wa­ters High School. “You see those hills over there?”, she said point­ing, “That’s where he beat me over the head with bricks.”

She begged him to stop for hours in the bush, cry­ing and scream­ing in des­per­a­tion, but he con­tin­ued re­lent­lessly. He phoned the am­bu­lance when he fin­ished and said noth­ing. Ma­hapi was barely alive.

Her hands shook as she lifted up her wig to re­veal faint scars on her hair­line. “The blood was stream­ing,” she said, her hands trac­ing the blood as if it still gushed down her body.

“He nearly killed me... he nearly killed me,” she re­it­er­ated in be­tween sobs.

The in­ci­dent on the hill was in 1990. In 2008, Ma­hapi’s boyfriend, and fa­ther to her only daugh­ter, was finally sen­tenced to prison.

Ma­hapi had spent 23 years as a pris­oner of war in a vi­o­lently abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. She re­calls her first im­pres­sions of the ‘ money-lender’, de­scrib­ing him as a “smooth talker”, “easy go­ing” and “charm­ing”. “Maybe he’s the right guy”, she’d said.

“But af­ter one month, he showed his true colours.”

He wanted to marry her, but she knew from the be­gin­ning that it would be a poor de­ci­sion. Af­ter a year, the money­len­der’s mother en­cour­aged Ma­hapi to move in with him in hope that their re­la­tion­ship would im­prove. This was not the case. When Ma­hapi moved in with the money-lender, she was trapped.

“He’d beat me, he’d swear at me, no­body tried to help be­cause they were all afraid of him,” she said. One evening she was beaten so badly in their home that the money­len­der’s brother phoned the po­lice.

His two broth­ers knew what had been hap­pen­ing, but just as the oth­ers, were too afraid to step-in. “He was above the law”. Ma­hapi stated that the po­lice knew about his abu­sive be­hav­iour, but failed to do any­thing be­cause they had bor­rowed money from him.

When two po­lice­men ar­rived at the home that night the money-lender at­tempted to beat them, scar­ing them away, and leav­ing Ma­hapi to suf­fer. “I felt like a pris­oner,” she said. “How can you be a pris­oner in your own home be­cause of a man?”

De­spite her ef­forts to es­cape, Ma­hapi con­tin­ued to hit a dead end. In 2003, she finally re­ceived a let­ter from court in the post. Hav­ing found the let­ter, the money-lender beat her and forced her to eat the pa­per lit­tle by lit­tle, un­til it was gone. “You take that piece of pa­per, and you chew it bit by bit!” he com­manded her. “Why are you do­ing th­ese things to me!”, she pleaded. But never heard an an­swer.

Ma­hapi worked at Birch’s dur­ing those 23 years and preached at a lo­cal church. “I would cry at night. My pil­low would be wet for all th­ese wasted years with this man.” Cling­ing to her Chris­tian faith, she prayed every night. “I can’t take it any longer,” she would say.

One evening, the money­len­der dozed off and Ma­hapi made a run for it. She ran from the coloured lo­ca­tion all the way to her fam­ily’s home on Al­bert Street, know­ing that her life de­pended on it.

Ma­hapi’s friend told her that she must have had an­gels pro­tect­ing her that night, be­cause he had gone look­ing for her with an axe. “I could have been dead to­day,” she said.

From the night she ran away in 2003, Ma­hapi lived in hid­ing with her fam­ily in Al­bert Street. For five years she was hu­mil­i­ated in court. No­body seemed to un­der­stand why she had waited for so many years to come for­ward about her ex­pe­ri­ence.

In 2003, she went to Gro­cott’s Mail and had her story pub­lished. “I had no other choice!” she said. She had been si­lenced for too long.

“The mag­is­trate saw it,” she said. “I had to go [to the pa­per] be­cause you peo­ple couldn’t help me,” she told them. “The law!” she shook her head dis­gusted. “You study to do the right thing, but where were they when I needed them? They re­ally failed me!”

It was only un­til af­ter the man's sen­tenc­ing in 2008 that Ma­hapi finally felt free. “It was the calm af­ter the storm,” she said, tak­ing a deep breath and slowly re­leas­ing it. “I felt happy and safe, I’m a free per­son now.”

“I’m a free per­son now”, she re­peated, wip­ing the tears from her eyes.

Af­ter the sen­tenc­ing, Ma­hapi said, that the po­lice would check on her fre­quently, mak­ing sure she was safe. It was as if they too felt that they could breathe, know­ing the money­len­der was gone.

He was re­leased on pa­role af­ter serv­ing less than eight years of his orig­i­nal 15 year sen­tence. He has not dis­turbed Ma­hapi, or her fam­ily, since his re­lease.

“As a Chris­tian, I can’t hate him,” she sighed. “I hate my­self for al­low­ing my­self to be hurt like this.” “Thank God I’m still alive!”

Ma­hapi has been ap­proached by other women in the com­mu­nity, trust­ing her to con­fide in their own sto­ries of pain - sto­ries that sound all too sim­i­lar to that of her own. “I’m a much stronger per­son now,” she said.

“The scars out­side heal, but the scars in­side take years to heal.”

“If I can in­spire just one woman with my story, that’s all I want.”

Ma­hapi’s tuck shop will cel­e­brate its one-year birth­day next month. The shop is of- ten busy with school­child­ren, com­ing to buy sweets and cig­a­rettes, al­ways greeted by her warm smile and friendly gaze. Though her friend only told her that an­gels were watch­ing her the night she first ran away, it is clear that Ma­hapi’s an­gels are still with her.

Photo: Kathryn Cleary

Naidene Ma­hapi is the owner of Happy Tuck Shop on Al­bert Street in Tan­tyi, as well as a min­is­ter at Sole Me­mo­rial Methodist Church.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.