When abusive relationship becomes toxic

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Sharon Kavhu

Windhoek - If recent incidents of men abusing their sexual partners are anything to go by, then surely there is a real danger of slowly militarising the once revered marriage institution.

So bad is the situation that hardly a day passes without reports of harrowing incidents of women torture of some sort in intimate relationships.

According to UN Women, an estimated 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.

The high rates are against the backdrop of enabling legislation, which seeks to make provisions for the protection and relief of victims of sexually related violence.

Deterrent sentences and fines designed to curb incidences of sexual violence crimes seem to have failed to produce the desired results.

A case in point that quickly comes to mind is that of Thembi Maphanga from the Mpumalanga province in South Africa, who was set alight by her boyfriend after a mere disagreement.

Her loving and forgiving heart kept her convinced that her boyfriend was going to change for the better. It took several months of emotional and verbal abuse before the relationship went toxic and fatal.

“I never thought someone I loved so much would set me on flames without even thinking of our innocent daughter,” narrated Maphanga, who still bears the scars from the burns on her face.

It is almost a decade ago but she still remembers it like it occurred yesterday, even though she forgave the culprit.

Their love story emanated from what many would call ‘love at first sight’, and turned sour when her boyfriend lost his job.

According to Maphanga, her boyfriend misdirected all his aggression on her, insulting her, calling her names and depriving her of socialising with other people.

She shared her story with The Southern Times.

“It happened on 14 March 2010. We had had a disagreement a day before and he did not come back home. In the middle of the argument, I told him that I was fade up and tired of fighting and wanted out. So, we both agreed to take a break,” Maphanga said.

She said her boyfriend only came back to their home the following morning to collect his staff. Upon arrival, the man asked if he could talk to her privately and she agreed.

The two went into their bedroom and their two-year-old daughter also tagged along.

“I thought he wanted to apologise and initiate fresh beginnings. All his negative intentions came as a surprise,” she said.

“When we entered our bedroom, he locked the door and I did not have any problem with it because it was a norm for us when we intended to have a private conversation.

“However, he seemed restless and in the middle of our dialogue, he pulled out a five-litre bottle of petrol from under our bed. Then I saw him taking out a box of matches from his pocket. I knew something ugly was about to happen.

“The next thing I saw was petrol all over me and we started to physically fight for the matches but, he overpowered me. I could not see very well because my eyes were burning from the petrol, so he set me on fire, and jumped through the window and ran away. He left me and my daughter to die,” said Maphanga.

She said she jumped out through the window to cry for help and extinguish herself. The neighbours then came to help. Her daughter’s body did not have many wounds from the flames, but the smoke had severely damaged her lungs. She could not make it.

Maphanga was rushed to the hospital where she was in a comma for four months. She kept fighting to be alive because of her daughter, not knowing that the daughter had already passed on.

When she was told the sad news about her daughter, suicidal thoughts started tormenting her. She thought there was nothing to live for following her daughter’s death.

The wounds from the fire distorted her ears, lips and facial skin close to the eyes and her thighs as well as arms.

“When I recovered from the comma, my face had turned pink, I had no skin pigmentation. I started refusing medication and food because I wanted to die.”

However, through counselling, she resumed her medication.

Today she lives to help other women who are exposed to gender-based violence and domestic violence.

“Being alive is now a therapy for me because I now help other women who are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a big thing and people should not take it lightly. 

“My message to other women out there is that domestic violence is real and it does not get better, even if he promises to change. The best is to walk out alive rather than being carried in a coffin. It can start with a slap, then the next thing is it turns into something deadly.”

Every time she fought with her boyfriend, he always came back to apologise, promising to be a better man, but never changed.

“His comeback excuse will be that he wants us to raise our daughter together. I sacrificed a lot for him because we had a child together and I hoped that one day we were going to settle nicely,” she said.

After the unfortunate events, Maphanga’s former boyfriend handed himself to the police and later wrote a later of apology to Maphanga.

There are several women, like Maphanga who are victims of domestic violence but their cases are not reported. Some fear walking away because of social status associated with marriage while others fear to face life after divorce.

According to UN Women, more than 30,000 women were intentionally killed by their current or former intimate partner in 2017.

The extent of the damage in some instances has extended to innocent children and other unfortunate individuals as victims vent their anger on whoever they come across on their paths of destruction.

 

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