“I thought he would end up killing me”
Statistics on domestic abuse in South Africa are staggering. Thousands of women are physically, emotionally and financially abused on a daily basis and recent data from the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa’s femicide rate is almost five times higher than the global average. October is Domestic Violence Abuse Awareness Month and Lesego Linda Plank interviewed several women about the tough decisions they faced when choosing to leave their abuser.
When growing up, my grandmother told me that she was abused by her ex-fiancé because she was financially dependent on him. From there I decided I want to be independent and have my own money, so no man can ever physically abuse me. Back then I believed that women who were independent and middle class never experienced physical abuse, it was only poor women. But in 2015 my Aunt Zestah was killed by her boyfriend. My aunt was the most beautiful person. She was independent, educated, hardworking, drove a nice car and had good taste. The family was heartbroken, and I could not understand how she ended up being killed by her boyfriend.
In 2016 I enrolled for my Masters’ at the University of Johannesburg and I decided to research middle class women in Soweto who have faced abuse. Intimate Partner Violence has become dangerously prevalent in South Africa and most of the women in my study were physically, emotionally and financially abused by their partners and for the sake of their loved ones they opted to leave their relationships. But it became clear that intimate partner violence is not linked to class. Yes, women who are poorer or less educated are more prone to being victimised and most do not leave their relationships because they are financially dependent on their partners. However, it is essential to understand that abuse is experienced across different class categories.
One of the women I interviewed is Nthabiseng* who lives in Protea Glen. She shared how she was physically, emotionally and financially abused by her ex-boyfriend while she was pregnant with their son:
He started being emotionally abusive and by then I was pregnant with my second child. It was a hell of an experience because I was pregnant. He would always hit me and call me names. I ended up learning how to fight back for myself… I remember there was a day I poured boiling water on him and he went to the police station, I was tired hey, I couldn’t do it anymore. He was just too much for me, I thought he would end up killing me.
Some of my participants remained in abusive relationships hoping that with time their partners would change. Some feared leaving for the sake of their children. Lucy* works as an assistant director and hoped that with time her ex-husband would change his abusive behaviour. She shared her thoughts:
There is this thing of saying a person might change. So, I thought maybe with time he would change, the behaviour would change but instead of changing it got worse and worse. …I didn’t want to hurt my sons, we tried to reconcile for the sake of the children, but it never happened.
Another participant, Lelo*, shared her experience about staying together with her partner for the sake of her children:
You want the best for your child, you know, you want your child to have that family with both parents. I mean with time I felt everything will be fine. My unborn daughter needed a father. I would have to work on him as my man. It was going to be okay. But …he would manipulate and take advantage of me. Then he drags the “you’re just stubborn” card on me.
Lelo remained in a toxic relationship while she was pregnant because she feared being a single parent and believed that with time everything will be fine. Through speaking to these women, I learned that women have been socialised to believe that they have the ability to “fix” men. Lelo felt she could “fix” her ex-boyfriend and internalised his failure to change.
Intimate partner violence is experienced by women across class barriers. It is therefore essential to document all women’s experiences regarding intimate partner violence and not disregard them, as all women need to be given the platform to voice their experiences and interventions should cater for all.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of participants.