Exploring invisible scars of domestic violence

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pulaneBy Tsitsi Matope

MASERU — Keneoue Mohale is inconsolable as she narrates how her only 23-year-old daughter was shot several times by her ex-boyfriend in South Africa two years ago, killing her instantly.

The former boyfriend also shot and injured a friend who had tried to stop the shooting, before he turned the gun on himself and also died on the spot.

“Part of me died the day she left me. She was my best friend and most of all, the only daughter I had,” Mohale said in an interview.

Mohale is a local businesswoman and also the Deputy President of She-hive — a Maseru-based organisation that fights domestic violence and advocates the rights of women and children.

According to Mohale, her daughter, Pulane, had been pursuing Psychology studies in South Africa when she met the man who would eventually take her life.

“Every day, I ask why because I don’t believe there could be a reason good enough for such gruesome violence or for anyone to take another person’s life,” Mohale said.

On Monday, Lesotho joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Day, marked on November 25 each year, traditionally kick-starts the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence — a global campaign which ends on December 10, Human Rights Day, and seeks to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at local, national, regional and international level.

Lesotho, just like every other country in the world, has not been spared violence against women, which is also blamed for fuelling poverty and HIV and Aids.

Years of violence have also seen many women maimed both physically and psychologically, while the girl-child remains vulnerable to various forms of abuse, which include sexual abuse.

Violence is another form of discrimination against women and this can either be through legal structures or practices that promote inequality between men and women.

Globally, more than 70 percent of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime.

It is a worrying trend to society in general and the Lesotho Government which, through the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation this week launched the country’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Activities denouncing violence are expected to take place in various parts of the country for the duration of the campaign.

Mohale on Monday also attended the launch and afterwards lit some candles and prayed for her daughter and also the man who took her life.

“I miss her. Nothing can take her place; that’s all I can say.” Mohale’s becoming a member of She-hive, which was established in September 2012, is also another way to heal herself from her loss.

A widow, Mohale also survived domestic violence and says her experience could help free other women in violent situations.

“I was lucky to have survived domestic violence because I realised early that I was going in circles.

“Like my daughter, some people might not be so lucky.

“As She-hive, our mandate is to end domestic violence by breaking the silence and urging victims to seek help.”

Through counselling of both men and women, the organisation has been able to restore a few marriages that were on the verge of collapse, according to Mohale.

“The prevalence is high and what is sad is that many of the incidents are preventable if only couples could learn how to communicate.

“Poor communication is one of the causes of conflicts in many homes,” Mohale said.

 

Thato Malebane

 

Hers is a tale of how a union can be so twisted and empty of all the elements that qualify it to be called a marriage.

After bearing four sons and a daughter, hers was supposed to be a happy marriage as the family also had a thriving business and all the money it needed.

But Malebane, 59, likened her married years to “living hell” — a nightmare that caused her pain and left her with scars and a series of chronic diseases.

Apart from the many scars that have now become part of her body, Malebane is now paying the heavy price of hanging on to a dead marriage.

“Some of the marks are invisible because I now suffer from hypertension, diabetes and heart-related ailments caused by the many years I suffered from depression.

“On countless nights, I would lie awake and cry and some days, I could not eat.”

Malebane also showed an ugly mark on her breast, which she said were teeth-marks inflicted by one of her husband’s lovers.

It is part of the evidence of the violence she endured.

According to Malebane, she stayed with her husband for 14 years before they separated in 1986.

“The children did not change him.

“I think the marriage was not meant to be because it was because of my pregnancy that we got married and not love, on his part.

“Many times, I had pleaded with my parents to allow me to leave him but they could not hear of it.

“They told me, ‘It is a taboo, a woman never gives up on her marriage and children’”, she said.

As a result, Malebane’s only choice was to separate with her husband but continue sharing the matrimonial home to please her parents.

Yet this only worsened her situation. Despite being officially married, they both started dating other people, Malebane said.

“It was not a healthy arrangement because the violence just got out of hand.

“He became jealous and at one time he would follow me to the university where I was studying and assault me.”

Later, Malebane rebelled against her parents’ wishes not to leave her husband and moved out of the matrimonial home to stay at a government-owned residence.

“I moved out because our children were also caught-up in the violence.

“They became like the police as they tried to protect me.

“I remember one day, my husband threatening to kill one of our children for questioning his violent behaviour.

“I decided it was enough and moved out with my children.”

But despite moving out, Malebane said her husband kept following her.

“That time, I reported him to the police but he was always released after spending a few days in jail.”

Malebane said her husband had invested part of his money in the lives of the women he dated, seemingly while searching for the love of his life.

He died at his home in 2000, where he had been staying alone.

 

’Malebohang Tšoele

 

When her late husband started cheating on her, Tšoele said she had advised him to marry his new lover if he believed he had found real love.

Her husband, a businessman, had enough resources to support a large family, so Tšoele said she could tolerate this side of her husband — a side she had not known when they got married.

But the affair had ended after a few months and Tšoele, 62, heaved a sigh of relief, thinking her husband would become a changed man.

However, after he started dating for the second and then third time, and then continually until she lost count, Tšoele says she even stopped asking where he was when he did not come home for weeks.

Not only had he openly cheated, he had also become violent and difficult to live with.

“I understood him — that he was a different kind of man. He loved women, and I was prepared to welcome other wives if he wanted to marry and become a polygamist.

“After all, those women were not going to be my wives but his.

“As a traditionalist, I believe a man who formally informs his wife that he loves another and makes plans to marry, in accordance with our traditional values, is a respectful man.

“The kind of man I was married to was not respectful, not just to me but to the scores of other women he used to satisfy himself,” Tšoele said.

The couple had married traditionally and was blessed with two sons and two daughters, who are all university graduates.

Tšoele, who is also a member of She-hive, said although she remained married and stayed with her abusive husband until his death in 2008, her strength to say “NO” to unprotected sex saved her life.

“My husband was very sick before he died. By the grace of God, he had agreed to using protection.”

Tšoele explained she had endured the violence to protect her children and reduce the temptations, which she thought might come, with single motherhood.

“I know that a violent home is not a safe place to raise children but all I wanted was for my children to grow up with a mother and father staying together.

“I thought if step-parents were to be involved in their lives, they would be in a worse predicament.”

With all her four children employed, Tšoele believes while she was deprived of love by her husband, she was there for her children who now shower her with love.

However, She-hive President, ’Matsietsi Tsephe, said her organisation had since introduced new strategies that seek to promote harmonious families.

The involvement of men in the She-hive interventions, according to Tsephe, is to ensure they understand their role as the protectors and providers of their families.

“The concept of men being protectors seeks to promote an environment free of violence.

“It says ‘the protector cannot turn around and become the abuser of those they are supposed to protect’,” Tsephe said.

She cited poor communication, poor financial management, infidelity and interference by other family members as major causes of conflict and violence in many homes.

“The challenges in each home are different and solutions that can be applied are also different.

“All we advocate is for women to speak out and also help their partners to become open about their concerns. That way, a solution can be found. We believe divorce should be the last option after all interventions have failed,” she said.

Tsephe further said because some couples are unable to communicate their concerns, this could result in violence. “Small issues can degenerate into big problems if ineffective strategies such as suspicion, nagging and drinking beer to resolve or forget the problems, are used.

“The issue really is for both men and women to be committed to building their marriages, understand the realities of their lives and live, plan and work together in honesty.”

Meanwhile, She-hive will hold an anti-domestic violence fun-walk in Thaba-Bosiu on December 6 before a candle-light event to remember all the people who lost their lives due to domestic violence in Maseru on the night of December 7.

 

 

‘I want to see my mother smile again’

 

By Tsitsi Matope

 

MASERU — A Lesotho’s high HIV and Aids-related death rate has left many children orphaned, vulnerable and living under difficult conditions.

Currently, there are more than 200 000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in Lesotho and a significant number is looked after by elderly people.

It is not an easy task, according to the chairperson of the Maseru Senior Women Citizens Association, ‘Makarabo Makhakhe.

Cases of grandparents who are struggling to look after their orphaned grandchildren may not be a new story. But this is a story that various stakeholders cannot ignore either.

In an interview this week, Makhakhe explained the need for more interventions to help the frail caregivers who, in most cases, are unemployed.

She said the elderly also struggled to help the children cope with their losses as they lacked appropriate counselling skills.

As a result, the need to better understand the needs of such children and, at the same time, find ways to encourage young people to help ease the burden has inspired a new innovation.

The association this year partnered with the Bristol Myers Squibbs Foundation (Secure the Future Foundation), to carry out a series of life-changing training programmes targeting vulnerable children and caregivers in some parts of the country.

“We need to implement multi-faceted interventions if we are to secure a bright future for the children. Many are devastated by the loss of their loved ones. It is important that we know how to deal with them, especially those struggling to cope after their losses,” Makhakhe said.

She said the situation in some areas they visited was depressing. Some children, she explained, had dropped out of school to beg on the streets or to become domestic workers while others were involved in criminal activities and prostitution.

“This is the reality confronting us and as elderly people; we feel we need to do something. The challenge is that we are tired and cannot live forever. We therefore call upon all young people to join us and work with us to sustain these efforts.”

Through the Bristol Myers Squibbs Foundation some vulnerable children from selected districts are going to receive life-changing training that will equip them with survival skills and boost their confidence.

The trained children are then expected to train and share their own experiences with other vulnerable children.

The first group to be trained this week by the Namibia-based counselling trainers, Philippi Trust, comprised nine children aged between 11 and 17, from Maseru and Leribe.

The training sought to equip the children with skills that can help them deal with various life situations.

The training also placed much emphasis on education and responsible behaviour — if the children are to achieve a brighter future.

“We are happy that the training allowed the children to pour their hearts out,” Makhakhe said.

One of the children who received training, Mamathealira Mohale, 17, lost her father two years ago.

“I have no recollection of my mother and no idea what happened to her. I stayed only with my father and my elder sister,” she said.

However, after the death of her father, she was taken-in by a neighbour in Thetsane, while her sister left to look for a job.

“I don’t know where my sister is and have not heard from her.”

She said although she is saddened by her loss, the training made her see a flicker of hope if she behaves responsibly.

“I have just written my Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) examinations and I am optimistic that I will pass and make it to university,” said Mohale.

Since she does not have any close relatives to be there for her in hours of need, she said she hence appreciated all the support and love she was receiving from well wishers.

“I have learnt that the world is not all doom and gloom. There are good people who have been there for me and this is comforting. The Girl Guides Association has been paying my school fees since I was in standard one. I thank God for the support I am getting especially through this training.”

She explained the importance of understanding life’s challenges and not allowing them to sway her the wrong way.

“I have learnt from the grannies too, that life is like a river, when it turns and rains — the flow and volume of water changes, so does life. They have taught us the importance of knowing how to respond to the good and the bad that can confront us in life.

“For example, I would like to share with other girls that getting married early or prostitution, are not good solutions to pressures experienced by many vulnerable girls.”

Another participant, Katiso Nyai, 15, from Qoaling said since the death of his father, life had not been easy.

His mother makes and sells clothes to sustain a family of five.

Seeing his mother work so hard breaks his heart. He has also mastered the tailoring skill to help her out and ease her burden.

“The only choice I have is to help her look after us. I don’t know why this happened to us (death of his father) but I would like to help my family survive the challenges.”

He said education meant a lot to him and he had just sat for his standard seven examinations.

“With a good education I know I stand a better chance in life. I want to see my mother smile again.”

In a separate interview, the facilitator of the training, Marianne Olivier, who is also the founder and director of Philippi Trust, said the government, private sector, non-governmental organisations, communities and other stakeholders should invest more in the creation of an enabling environment that supports the development of children and also builds the capacity of caregivers.

“The creation of structures that respond to the needs of the children at community level is critical for the sustenance of care and other interventions.

“This training is the first step towards ensuring the creation of such communities that are empowered to understand that caring for children is everybody’s responsibility. More importantly, this initiative seeks to also build the capacity of the children to be able to tackle various situations,” Olivier said.

She said the training had brought out the pain, anger and uncertainty in some of the children.

“Some children are in pain. We would like them to try and dwell on their good memories or the good and opportunities they can expect from life if they work hard in their education and behave responsibly. This is a process, but we hope with more support, we shall be able to help them break free from the pain. It is important that we make a breakthrough, so that they can also help other children.”

She said the training also sought to help the children believe in themselves and understand they have the capacity to shape their own destinies.

“All the children living in difficult circumstances in the country need to understand that if they work hard in their studies, stay away from sex, drugs and alcohol, they will one day look back and marvel at their resilience, ambition and determination to change their temporary circumstances.”

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