Author tackles ‘haters’
Vanessa Govender, an award-winning former TV and radio journalist, officially launched her book, Beaten But Not Broken, on Thursday. In a candid interview with Latoya Newman, she speaks about her journey since releasing the book, healing and dealing with
RELEASING her book, which reveals abuse she suffered in a relationship, has been a mixed bag of emotions for Vanessa Govender. From having to deal with the psychological journey of putting the book together and releasing it, to the fear she had to overcome of exposing herself publicly and now managing the reactions to her book.
“For so long I was alone and trapped with my own trauma. I was deliberately isolated from family and friends by my abuser and for all that time I was in that abusive relationship I believed I was alone.
“I believed no one would believe me because he was really the cliched abusive man: charming on the outside, but behind the scenes and out of the public eye, a monster with absolute disregard for my life or my body.
“I allowed him to instil fear in me. I allowed him to do the things he did to me by buying into his threats and also his promises of never doing it again.
“He ate away at my self-esteem. Confidence was a thing of beauty that I did not possess and he worked subtly to chisel away at it. But I am not that girl that I was back then,” she says.
“I have an army around me. I am a woman with a mission. And I have an army of family, friends, some of the country’s most influential people on my team. I found them the moment I spoke out and admitted to the things that happened to me. I welcome criticism. In fact, I demand it.
“I want people to understand what it is like to be in an abusive relationship. It has become all too easy for people to stand on the sidelines and pass judgment on victims, to chastise us for staying and not walking away.
“I am here, I have put myself out there for people to ask the relevant questions, because empathy is the first step to understanding why looking away or saying ‘it’s not my business’ is not an option.
“But while I welcome criticism, I will not tolerate bigoted, misogynistic comments that aim to blame victims and condone abuse,” she asserts.
“I break every stereotype society has of an abused woman. When you stand up for yourself and when you speak out, please accept and understand you will get those who try to discredit you, who will try to shame you and who will try to silence you. Your power lies in your voice. Your power lies in speaking your truth.”
Since coming out with her story, Govender said she had mostly had the support of the majority behind her, barring two negative comments on social media. Both were from men who she believes are linked to her abuser.
“One disputes the veracity of my story, saying he was getting the other side of the story and the other, a so-called activist, venting spleen about me, trying to ‘expunge myself of my sordid past’ by writing this book.
“He even went so far as to suggest I was a willing participant in my abuse,” says Govender. ‘Housewive’s gossip’ is what the self-proclaimed activist called it. Housewives gossip that he evidently had a great deal of interest in reading. Again a line that serves to diminish women: we have no brains, we are incapable of anything but gossip, cleaning the house and taking care of children.
“That these sorry excuses for men exist is worrying. They are no better than the perpetrators of abuse. I think fellow social media users dealt with these comments appropriately and intelligently.
“Personally, I have no interest in entertaining the negative comments or those who seek to diminish me as a woman and as a survivor. I started this journey fully anticipating this.”
Govender says she also found out that her abuser is trying to do “damage control” by sending text messages to former colleagues, saying her story isn’t true “because – and here is the shocker of the reason why this entire book isn’t true – I (apparently) phoned him on his wedding day begging him not to get married”.
“I have pondered this line of defence and it’s so ludicrous that I have nothing to say to it.
“This book is my final word, it will last for all eternity. Nothing anyone says or does is going to erase the power, the message and memory of this book and of my written word. I think this book will also help to shed light on the level and degrees of sexism and the blatant oppression of women,” she says.
“That women are finding their voices and that women are owning their truth, however sordid some may deem it, is clearly going to irk and stir the men who prefer their women subservient and silent. So to them, the men who seek to diminish and dispel gender-based violence, I apologise, because your positions of dominance and arrogance and the fear you wish to instil in women to be quiet and to be nothing more than vessels for your sexual gratification and objects on which to exact your anger is disappearing every time a woman stands up for herself and those around her.”
She said women, survivors and those looking for a way out need to know that disbelievers come with the territory.
“Their disbelief cannot define you, nor can it diminish what you have endured and endure. The moment you open up is the moment you find you are not alone and you have never been alone. It’s almost as if people around you have been waiting for permission to show you love and support, and that’s what speaking out does. It gives people the permission to help you.”
On the flipside, Govender says she has had overwhelming support from men and women across all race groups.
This includes DA leader Mmusi Maimane who wrote her a letter of support.
Govender said: “The book has been both a beautiful and profound revelation that when we own our truth and speak our truth, people are willing to listen, people are willing to share their own anguish and pain. Some of South Africa’s most influential people have thrown their weight behind this book, from legendary news icon Debora Patta, Devi Sankaree Govender, Iman Rapettie (all former colleagues) to powerful men like Peter Ndoro, Thabiso Thema, Thabiso Sithole, Shahan Ramkissoon.
“And it is the endorsement of these men, real men, that will reach to the core of the male population who can stand alongside women and stand up for women, because there are far more great men than there are these monsters.”
Govender is prepped for more negativity. “I have no doubt there will be negative comments from people who will question how I let this go on. Until you have read the book and understood the psyche of an abused victim’s mind you can never appreciate this.
“Both Devi and Iman gave me the best possible advice regarding negative comments and criticism: this is my story, it is my final word. It is mine, it’s not up for debate. People can say what they want but they are never going to change this story, they are never going to alter what was done and they will certainly never wound me,” she says.“You see I have been to the depths of hell and back, I kept courtship with a monster who nearly killed me. I am still standing. I have taken every shameful sordid thing that was done to me and laid it out before the country, do you really think a few haters passing their ill-informed judgments and trying to crucify me for this is going to define or diminish me?
“But make no mistake, and have no doubt, my abuser used his fists and his legs to send me his message. I use my words and my experience to share my message. Words will always outlast the abuse, words that carry profound depth and breadth that serve to empower, shame and shun those words that seek to destroy and demean. And women must allow this simple fact to sink in to the deepest parts of the hearts and heads, and know the rest of us are building an army, waiting to welcome you to it,” she says.
Do you really think a few haters passing their ill-informed judgments and trying to crucify me for this is going to define or diminish me? VANESSA GOVENDER Author and abuse survivor
Vanessa Govender signing her book during the launch at Vovo Telo restaurant in Ballito. Lesley Jargensen, left, and her daughter, Mandy Jargensen, were at the event.