'He owns me -- he paid for me'

Lebo Ramafoko is an executive at Soul City, the award-winning NGO that promotes social change through health education and awareness. Lebo is one of the faces of the international campaign, 16 Days of Activism, which calls for action against women and child abuse. But, while speaking out against violence, Lebo herself has been enduring years of abuse from an ex-partner.
She has decided to “walk the talk” and be open about her experiences. She told her story to Belinda Beresford.

For four years I have carried the restraining order and the warrant of arrest around in my handbag. Since 2004 I have tried to have them served on the father of my child, but he has no fixed abode and no work address. So at police stations they just shrug their shoulders.

My son was two years old when I got those court orders against his father for threatening to kill me. He paid part of the lobola for me when I was pregnant and he says that means he can do whatever he likes. After I got those restraining orders the families met to discuss the issue.

I think that gave him an enabling environment to feel that what he had done was not a crime. People kept emphasising that it was in the best interests of the child that he should see his father—no one in my immediate family supported or encouraged me.

I felt I was very selfish about putting my own emotional and physical wellness ahead of my child. He would see the child sometimes even though he never paid any support. In six years he brought the child clothing four times—that was it. Each time he came I watched the excitement on my son’s face, but I still really believed that I was doing the right thing.

In his mind we were in a relationship because he could see the child. In November last year he went to work in KwaZulu-Natal. He promised the child a party for his birthday and a quad bike as a present, but he didn’t pitch and he didn’t call. That period and his behaviour made me see the situation was not about me and the child—it was ultimately about him.

At the end of May his contract in KZN ended and he suddenly started talking about how much he missed us and wanted to be with the family. By then I had met a fantastic man and I told him I had met someone. I said it not knowing that I was putting myself into a nightmare. There were times when I felt I was just an onlooker in my own life. He came to see me; he said I had cheated on him, that I was a slut, a whore, every unspeakable thing.

He behaved in the typical way of a violent, bullying man. He would burst out with threats to kill me and make me scared. Then two days later he would call and be nice, tell me it was my fault because I wasn’t fair to him, that he was so upset because he had such high hopes. Please let him see the child, he begged.

In early June I fell into a trap. I took the child to visit his aunt so he could see him. It was a Saturday evening. I got into my car to drive home and he followed me. He used his car to push mine off the road and then got into my car and tried to grab my child. I don’t know if it was trauma or coincidence, but a few hours later my child was hospitalised.

My child’s father took my phone and went through it to find out who my partner was and he called him. He called my colleagues, he called my ex-partner—both the man and his new wife. He called my daughter (who is not his daughter), who didn’t know what was going on, and told her the child was in hospital. I was sitting at the hospital with a screaming, vomiting child on a drip and he turned up. He threatened to kill the child, but the security came to take him out of the ward.

He still has my phone. I doubt there is anyone in my phone book he has not contacted. He has spoken to my friends, my colleagues, my family members, my business contacts. He tells them lies and makes threats. He is trying to ruin my life. Every bad thing he says about me I have to explain. I have been in meetings and had to justify myself against the things he has told people.

There is so little understanding that what he does is a crime. People say to me he is very angry—‘What have you done?’ It becomes my fault.

He is not supposed to come within 1km of my home or work, to call me or to have any contact with me. But he doesn’t have a fixed abode, so I can’t get the warrant of arrest served on him. I am going to hire a private investigator at R450 an hour plus expenses to find him.

He has called my child’s school threatening to buy a gun to come to take the child or shoot another child. I got to the school and there were three security vans outside.

Since May my child has spent a significant amount of time out of school. I don’t feel safe sending him and he doesn’t feel safe there. The school says my child needs therapy because he is scared and weepy.

The things that get to me are not the insults. It is his assumption that he can do what he likes because he is the father of the child and he has paid some lobola for me. He says I am learning white Western ways. I will not subscribe to a culture that objectifies me—no culture has the right to erode my human rights and my safety.

I have the lobola in my drawer: he paid R3 000 as a deposit, but he had to borrow R1 000 from me to pay for it. So I keep R2 000 in my drawer, ready to give it to him whenever he wants as long as we meet at a police station.

He has never hit me, but the fear he causes and the protection measures I have to take make it feel as if it were physical. I don’t go to Melville or Rosebank because he hangs out there. When my child wants to see a movie I have to think which mall his father is least likely to be in.

When he threatens to kill me and the child I am scared. I believe he will hurt my child just to spite me.

I have a 16-year-old daughter and I cannot let her grow up believing this is how men treat women. One day he called and said he had seen my daughter’s profile on Facebook. My intestines froze.

In November I was in Bloemfontein. He called at 4am and asked: ‘Are you having sex?’ I felt so violated. The next morning I got in the car and switched on the radio and there was an advertisement calling for people to speak out against domestic violence. I felt the universe was telling me something. I decided to speak out, despite my fear.

I cannot reconcile who I am and the work I do with what is going on in my private life. I have always wanted to walk the talk, but here I am talking about the Soul City campaigns and telling people to change their behaviour, meanwhile I realise I am not doing it myself.

The fear and the silence are colluding with the perpetrator.

A violent country by any measure
A quarter of South African women have been in a sexually or physically violent relationship. In South Africa nine out of 100 000 women are killed each year by their intimate partner—the highest reported rate of intimate femicide in the world. The most at risk group are women aged 30 to 44, where 31,7 of 100 000 women are killed by an intimate partner each year, a figure seven times the global average.

The health impacts of domestic abuse go far beyond the obvious emotional bruises and broken bones. Research for the World Bank details a wide range of consequences, ranging from murder and suicide to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and complications of pregnancy.

Battered women are found to use healthcare services more often than women who are not abused, thus adding to the strain on the healthcare system. Indirect costs, such as loss of productivity and long-term mental and health effects are significant for the victims and for society. The World Bank estimates that women lose between one and five years of life as a result of violence.

Paul Pronyk, of the school of public health at the University of the Witwatersrand, says that injuries, fear and stress associated with violence can result in chronic health problems over the longer term—such as chronic pain, usually in the head or back, and gastrointestinal disorders, including eating disorders.

He says that the chronic longer-term effects of violence are the most debilitating and costly because most abuse falls short of death and physical injury. Women often turn to alcohol and drug abuse as a coping strategy and mental health problems are common.

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