Latest News and Analysis
End Gender Based ViolenceSithandekile Sibanda
15 June 2020
For Sarah, receiving punches from her husband was now a norm. The lockdown imposed by the government to curb the transmission of COVID-19 only made the punches land more frequently on her. The announcement of the extension of the South African lockdown did nothing but prolong her real-life nightmare.
"Perhaps that's how it feels like to be denied bail," she thought to herself. That announcement meant she had to be trapped with her abuser even longer. As she deep in thought, the banging of the door as her husband Josh entered the house brought her to reality, and signaled that it was going to be another bloody night. Sometimes, a warm hug or a wet kiss planted on his lips would pacify his fiery heart. Tonight was not one of those.
Instead, her attempted hug was met with a series of un-replied blows, just as Mohammed Ali would float like a butterfly while stinging like a bee. Nothing could hold back the fountain of tears gushing out of her crimson red eyes. How could it be possible for the hands that once made her body vibrate in pleasure, now make it shudder in pain and fear?
Now it was clear that she had to run for her life before it was too late. But where to when Josh was her ticket out of the devastating poverty back home in Plumtree, Zimbabwe, together with their three children? Just a few months back, she had been over the moon when her husband had finally sent them bus fare so they could join him here in Johannesburg. The three years apart had been so lonely and miserable.
Now, she was left herself wondering whether this reunion was even worth it. She found herself pondering which stung more: a) the hunger back home or b) the punches in a foreign land?
What was better: a) her children enduring the dangerous long distance to school daily or b) her children seeing their mother turned into a punching bag regularly?
Josh had never forgiven his wife for "falling pregnant and conceiving twin babies at a time when he could barely make ends meet to support their first child." He could not shake the feeling that she was solely responsible for his life's downturn. After all, before he met her, he had no responsibilities and could manage to take good care of himself. After all, before she came to Johannesburg, he had a job. Her bad luck was negatively influencing his life, he believed.
But what could she have done? It was not her fault that he had always insisted that they don't use condoms arguing that "he would not eat a sweet in its plastic wrapping paper." It was not her fault that it was almost impossible to access other contraceptive methods from the rural clinic. It certainly was not her fault that the pandemic and the lockdown had resulted in his husband losing his job.
Even if she wanted to report him to the police, she thought that would only be a one-way ticket back home since she was an undocumented foreigner. Besides, what would she and her children eat if she sent the man who provided food for them to jail? That was not even an option for Sarah, who although she is in her twenties, now looks way older owing to the battering and possibly the stress she is going through.
It is disheartening that such horror stories that seem like they are plucked out a fictitious novel are still being told even up to today. Although I have changed names and places in this harrowing tale, it is as real and raw as the scar on Sarah's left cheek. It is as accurate as it can be without revealing the identity of the strong black woman who emptied the contents of her heart to me in confidence while we were queuing for food parcels in somewhere in South Africa recently. I sincerely wished there was something tangible I could do for her then. I was devastated, to say the least. My encouragement to seek help from NGOs and shelters fell on deaf ears as she lamented about horrid the conditions at the shelters. My urging her to consider going back home was met with equally strong rebuttals. She had noted how squalid the quarantine centers welcoming returnees back home were, back to an even tougher life after quarantine. Yet she thanked me for taking to listen to "depressing life story at a time when everyone is stressed and is looking for some positive and good news." That did not help ease my feelings of helplessness.
As the days that ensured passed, efforts to hear from Sarah were fruitless. The phone number she had given me would either go unanswered or on voicemail. However, nothing could have prepared me for a pleasant WhatsApp message that she sent me just the other day. She told me how she had got in touch with her relatives who had sacrificially agreed to take her and her children despite the economic struggle they were also facing. As happy as I was about the good turn of her circumstances, I was a bit disappointed because she said she was still not planning to lay any charges on the "father of my children." She reasoned how "bad that would look to my children when they grow up to discover what an evil thing I had done to their father."
Well, what can I say? The proverbial lump on my throat was had! I realized how crooked the system we live in is fertile to sweep a lot of dirt under the carpet. It was with sadness that I reflected on how women and children still have to silently let injustice slide. I realized how invaluable organizations like POWA are in sour society, and how urgent collaboration between African countries is in public health, gender and social justice issues.