The power of the pen


The Citizen (Gauteng) - - PROFILE - Earl Coet­zee

Leg­end in her for­mer em­ploy­ers’ news­room has it that she could make even the tough­est, most jaded thugs cry like babies, while bar­ing their souls in in­ter­views.

Dur­ing her time as a tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist, her raw, emo­tional sto­ries of tragedy and tri­umph be­came some­what of a call­ing card, and over sev­eral years, her name be­came vir­tu­ally syn­ony­mous with tear-jerk­ers fo­cus­ing on the ev­ery­day tri­als of or­di­nary South Africans.

And while she may have dis­ap­peared from our tele­vi­sion screens sev­eral years ago, thou­sands coun­try­wide have in re­cent weeks been rein­tro­duced to the sto­ry­telling tal­ent of Vanessa Govender. This time, how­ever, the story is her own, but also that of mil­lions of other women around the world.

She now goes by her mar­ried sur­name of Ted­der, and her mem­oir,

Beaten but Not Bro­ken, tells the tale of her own abuse at the hands of a for­mer part­ner, who of­ten left her blood­ied and bruised.

Since be­ing re­leased in Au­gust, the book has been steadily climb­ing the coun­try’s best-seller lists, and in­tro­duced us to the other side of the tough jour­nal­ist we all thought we knew.

Com­ing from an im­pov­er­ished com­mu­nity in Dur­ban, Ted­der says her pas­sion for telling the sto­ries of the down­trod­den was al­most pre-des­tined.

“As a child we lived in a two room tin house, one was the kitchen and the other the bed­room. Both my par­ents had very lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion. My fa­ther was a waiter, a bus driver and even­tu­ally a long dis­tance truck driver. For a rel­a­tively un­e­d­u­cated man and in a time where our com­mu­nity and so­ci­ety deemed the girl child a bur­den to be mar­ried off as soon as pos­si­ble, my fa­ther en­sured our ed­u­ca­tion was pri­or­ity.”

While her two sis­ters opted to be­come doc­tors, she says of her own path, from a jour­nal­ist, to au­thor: “It was in­evitable that I would end up here at this point shar­ing my deep­est and most in­ti­mate part of my life with count­less strangers, that I would shun the shame of this evil that pre­vails in our homes and com­mu­ni­ties, place my­self at the al­tar of pub­lic per­cep­tion so as to em­power other women to take back their power”.

Ted­der says she quit jour­nal­ism in or­der to be a bet­ter mother to her first child. Two more babies later, and she still marvels at those who jug­gle the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of moth­er­hood and em­ploy­ment daily.

“There are thou­sands of women who jug­gle jobs and chil­dren and I am in con­stant awe of them be­cause they are re­ally the re­mark­able ones,” she says. “You see, I could never be a good mother while car­ry­ing the grief and sor­row of oth­ers, be­cause it was tak­ing its toll on me emo­tion­ally and

I would strug­gle to cope. I could not, in all fair­ness, sub­ject my chil­dren to the ter­ri­bly dark places that jour­nal­ism would of­ten take me to.”

Her nat­u­ral pas­sion for telling sto­ries didn’t sim­ply van­ish though. Shortly be­fore the birth of her third child in May 2017, she pub­lished her first book, a chil­dren’s story called The Self­ish Shon­gololo.

But while she was writ­ing that, she had also started pen­ning her mem­oir, re­call­ing her time as a cub re­porter at the SABC in 1999, while in a re­la­tion­ship with a star DJ at Lo­tus FM.

And she lifts the lid on the punches, kicks, be­ing stran­gled, as well as the emo­tional and ver­bal abuse she had to en­dure at his hands.

“I have been car­ry­ing this secret for 13 years. And for as long as I re­mained silent about what had hap­pened to me I was pro­tect­ing some­one who re­ally didn’t de­serve my pro­tec­tion,” she says about the rea­sons she de­cided to pour her story onto pa­per.

“Writ­ing this book was in­evitable. From the very first punch, to ev­ery slap and kick, ev­ery vi­cious word, this story was de­liv­ered to me. It has bided its time but it was al­ways go­ing to come spilling out.”

But while the story came pour­ing out, so did the deeply buried scars.

“Re­mem­ber­ing and writ­ing took me to some pretty dark and des­per­ate places that I had care­fully hid­den away and masked with a farce of a strong, feisty woman. All these years later, the trauma of those events and vi­o­lent en­coun­ters still has the abil­ity to cat­a­pult me into a state of ab­so­lute sad­ness. I stopped writ­ing al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter I started. My sec­ond at­tempt went a lit­tle bet­ter.

“But as the pub­lish­ing process neared the fi­nal stages I be­came in­creas­ingly de­pressed and de­spon­dent.

“I would con­stantly break down and weep in­con­solably. I was barely cop­ing. Own­ing one’s truth and speak­ing one’s truth is both a de­bil­i­tat­ing and lib­er­at­ing thing. Thir­teen years af­ter wak­ing up face down in the car park of the SABC, and two months be­fore my book was due to hit the shelves, I was fi­nally forced to seek pro­fes­sional help to mend my mind and my soul.”

And, Ted­der says, she also de­cided to tell her story in or­der to show other women in sim­i­lar po­si­tions that it is pos­si­ble to change their plight.

“I took some­thing ter­ri­ble and turned into some­thing that would hope­fully play even a frac­tion of a role in lift­ing stig­mas and stereo­types about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“That I made it out alive, and I sur­vived, I was obliged to speak for the all thou­sands of women who can’t, those who have taken their truth to their graves and the thou­sands more who are look­ing for a way out. I am here. You are read­ing my story right now. Let me tell you noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble.”

Along with the is­sues of abuse, Ted­der also ad­dresses colourism in the In­dian com­mu­nity and racism in SA.

“Dark skinned peo­ple are of­ten shunned and ridiculed, and grow­ing up I was taunted and teased by kids for be­ing dark, to the point where I tried to end my life at 10 years old!

“Fast for­ward 30 years later, and if you were to ask me what is the most beau­ti­ful thing about me, with­out hes­i­ta­tion I would say my shade of brown. I found ac­cep­tance and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for who I am , for my shade of brown, for my dark skin out­side of my com­mu­nity and with other race groups …

“In my home we have shown race and re­li­gion is ir­rel­e­vant be­cause we are a mixed race fam­ily. And when naysay­ers are vent­ing about how hope­less this coun­try is, I know it is fur­thest from the truth. Our lit­tle mixed race home epit­o­mises all that is pos­si­ble, and all that is pro­foundly great and beau­ti­ful about South Africa.”

While for­mer col­leagues and friends at Lo­tus FM have con­firmed their com­plic­ity through al­low­ing the abuse to hap­pen, Ted­der has a mes­sage to oth­ers out there.

“This was a book not writ­ten on a whim. This book is an in­dict­ment on ev­ery per­son who looks the other way. It is also a mes­sage to per­pe­tra­tors of this evil, your vic­tims are no longer go­ing to keep your filthy se­crets.”


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