Every year from November 25, the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10, Human Rights Day, the world marks 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. South African media mark this either by giving statistics on different forms of abuse and the number of women affected or by men speaking up about their history of gender-based violence and their reform.
Done well, abusers’ confessions can educate other abusers and potential abusers. This is how a confessed abuser, actor Patrick Shai, became the face of Brothers for Life. Done badly, it can trigger a lot of pain for anyone who has lived through gender-based violence.
Some years ago I ended my relationship. Because we shared a child, I kept my door open so that he could visit our child whenever he wanted to. One day he visited while my cousin was visiting. Their conversation resulted in raised voices and her departure. My attempts to convince her to stay yielded no results.
After she left, I turned to him. Though I’m a well-known loudmouth, those who know me well know that my voice becomes quieter when I am at my angriest. And so it was on that day. I turned to him said: “Listen. I do not appreciate what you may have said to my cousin which resulted in her departure. This is not your home. It’s mine and our son’s. I need to calm down now because I do not want to say things to you I will regret.” I then walked to my bedroom and lay down on the bed.
I was not sure what part of my monologue set him off, but next thing that happened was he walked into my bedroom and punches started raining on me. It was winter and my heater was on. He threw me against the heater and my breast was seared. This man did not stop beating me until I had passed out. Then he took the key, locked my bedroom door from the outside, packed up a few of my son’s belonging and took him from his room where he was having an afternoon nap.
After what felt like hours, but what was probably minutes, I came to and found my bedroom door was locked. Fortunately, my flat was on the ground floor. I went to the window and asked one of my neighbours to let me out. Then I called the police. We found him just as he was about to arrive at his mother’s house where he had decided to take our son.
Perhaps that’s what is so sad about abusers. Even when they do something like take a child away, it’s not because they are planning to look after the child. It’s because they are being vindictive and want to hurt the other parent.
He was arrested and I got a protection order. It’s been 11 years and I now live in another country, but sometimes something will happen and I relive that fear and become so petrified that I don’t want to leave the house or allow my son to go anywhere without me.
This weekend was one of those times.
It was set off by an article in the Sowetan by writer Bhekisisa Mncube, who is also a senior manager at the department of basic education.
In the article, written as a letter to South African women and girls, he starts off by giving his name and then writes: “I am an experienced woman abuser.” In a following paragraph he notes: “I am not at all sorry nor do I seek sympathy.” He goes on to say: “My career as a woman abuser began …” Mncube then recounts abducting and raping a former girlfriend — except he chooses not to use those actual words, but instead says: “I took her against her will to my home for my sexual pleasure.” Finally, he asks other men to own up and hashtags #MeTooIAmAnAbuser.
That hashtag was perhaps the most sincere words in the whole article because, in writing it, he was abusing all those of us who have been in abusive situation or have been witness to abusive fathers. Nowhere in his article does he mention an apology or any form of restitution towards the 100 women he says he has abused. It seems enough, in his opinion, that he has told us that he is an abuser.
As a communications specialist, Mncube knows that words matter and so the use of words such as “career” to describe abuse were chilling. The article read as though he was bragging about his past and in many ways it was akin to watching an unapologetic Hannibal Lecter cold-bloodedly talking about his killings.
I have not met Mncube. He was my Facebook friend based on mutual acquaintances. After reading his article, I unfriended him and I hope I never meet him. It will take me a while before I recover from what his article did to me.