A republic of misogyny: ‘He set the house on fire and left us to die’

2018-08-29 00:47

Violence against women is a serious problem and has drastically increased in less than 24 months.

Stats SA’s Crime Against Women in South Africa report, released two months ago, shows the number of murders has increased by 117% between 2015 and 2017. 

Rosetta Msimango tells stories of survivors of gender-based violence

Thembi Maphanga (40) from Middleburg, Mpumalanga, is a petrol-attack survivor.

Thembi Maphanga. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

She was set alight by her baby’s father after they separated.

Maphanga says on March 14 2010, her baby’s father came to the house to collect his belongings.

She recalls everything being normal as he packed his things, but soon afterwards he began asking for forgiveness.

“I refused, then his behaviour changed. He told me if he couldn’t have me, no one else would. He locked us inside the house, together with my two-year-old daughter and poured petrol on us. I could see the anger in his eyes and I knew he was going to kill us. He managed to get out the house through the window, then he set the house on fire and left us to die.

“We suffered third-degree burns and 99% of our bodies were covered in scars. I was unconscious for weeks and my daughter passed away after a few days in hospital. This was the hardest time of my life. I couldn’t attend her funeral.

“I was hospitalised for six months. I blamed myself for allowing the abuse to go on for years. I was blinded by love and convinced myself that he was jealous because he loved me. But now I know better.

“I didn’t only lose my daughter, I also lost my job. I’m a qualified artisan but because I have a disability, I had to be moved to a different position.”

Pontsho Serumula from Katlehong is an acid-attack survivor.

Pontsho Serumula. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

She has been married since 2002 and during that time she was beaten and attacked on several occasions by her husband.

She says the abuse started around 2004/05.

“When the beatings started, I reported it every now and then. We attended counselling for almost two years but he insisted we stop after realising I was opening up during the one-on-one sessions.

“In 2014, two weeks before the acid attack, I called my family for help. I wanted to leave him but I was told I was exaggerating. My last words to them were ‘next time you come here, you’ll be taking my body to the mortuary’.”

She says she had a bad feeling when he came back early from work that Monday. He doused her with a half a litre bottle of acid when she tried to leave the house.

“I rushed out of the house, went next door and rinsed myself under the tap. I was screaming, asking for help. I was in hospital from April until September. I couldn’t open my eyes for almost two weeks.”

She says she opened a case in May 2014 at Eden Park police station.

“It’s 2018 and nothing is happening with my case. Every time I go back there, I don’t find the person who is handling my case.”

She says he has been calling her, asking for forgiveness.

Zanele Nhlapo from Soweto is another acid-attack survivor.

Zanele Nhlapo. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

“I was in a relationship for four years before the attack in 2014. He was a taxi owner; his language was abusive but I just dismissed it.

“When the attack happened I was no longer with him because I couldn’t stand his disappearing acts any more.

“According to him, I was wrong to question his behaviour. He said ‘no, you won’t leave me, I will hurt you’, but I didn’t think much of it. I said ‘well then if you are going to shoot me, I’ll just die’. He said ‘no I won’t shoot you, I’ll hurt you badly’.”

She alleges that he sent someone to cause her pain.

“On June 30 2014, as I was coming back from church in the afternoon, I noticed a guy with dreadlocks walking beside me.

“He then walked past, then came back, pretending to be on the phone while holding a flask cup in his hands. When he got closer he poured the cup’s contents on me. I asked him why he poured alcohol on me. I soon realised my skirt and shirt were disintegrating, but I still had no clue what was happening.”

Nhlapo was rushed to hospital where she spent about two years.

She thinks pressing charges would be a waste of time: “This might put my life or my children’s lives in danger,” she says.

She wants to sew pressure garments for hospitals as she feels staff are not properly equipped to make them.

Sinoxolo Manjati (24) from Katlehong also survived an acid attack.

Sinoxolo Manjati. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

She was burnt by her son’s father in 2014 after she separated from him.

It has been five years but she has not recovered emotionally and physically from the incident.

“I was at home preparing to go out with my current boyfriend when my baby-daddy came over.

“He asked me why I was leaving and who would take care of our son. I told him not to worry about that as he does absolutely nothing for him.

“He then asked me to accompany him outside. I told him the way he came in [alone] is the way he would leave. He left the room for a minute or so and came back. When he returned, he threw something at me and ran away.

“My neighbour took me to hospital. I’m the one who asked to be discharged as I didn’t see the need to be in hospital for so long. The place was frustrating. I feel like hospitals don’t care about burn victims because I didn’t receive any form of counselling.

“It’s hard. Half the time I don’t want to leave the house because people stare.

“Getting a job has been a mission because people look at my burns.

“I asked God ‘why me?’; I just want my skin to be fixed. I don’t want much; I want these scars to be removed.

“It breaks my heart when my son asks why his dad burnt me.”

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March 17 2019