At the Is’thunzi Sabafazi (the Dignity of Women) event in Soweto on Thursday, Josina Machel again recounted her vicious assault at the hands of her boyfriend in 2015.
Hers is not a unique story, though she, unlike many others, survived it.
Also on Thursday, the Constitutional Court was hearing an application by Freedom of Religion SA to overturn a finding in the Johannesburg High Court that all forms of corporal punishment were unlawful.
Just read that again – a group of religious folks want the right to decide how much to beat their children. Children who are, like so many of their mothers around the world, at the mercy of the violent men they live with.
These stories of abuse are often masked in violence-enabling language, which Redi Tlhabi, who was the MC at the Is’thunzi Sabafazi event, called out.
Terms such as “sex with a minor” used to describe rape, or “sex pest” used to describe a man who was found guilty of more than 100 counts of child molestation – to take two recent examples.
Similarly, the use of the word ‘spanking’ to refer to the act of hitting a child aims to make the act sound less abusive than it is.
Oprah Winfrey was the keynote speaker at Is’thunzi Sabafazi and one of the topics she raised was that the school she founded in South Africa is now a “trauma-informed school”.
The pupils at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls – a staggering number of whom arrive having been subjected to an average of six traumatic events in their lives already – are encouraged to tell their stories and harness them for strength.
This approach stems from Winfrey’s recent visit to Dr Bruce Perry, who is doing ground-breaking work in early childhood trauma in Winfrey’s hometown of Milwaukee in the US.
In an interview with TV show 60 Minutes in March, Winfrey explained: “See, we go through life and we see kids who are misbehaving. ‘You juvenile delinquents,’ we label them. And, really, the question that we should be asking is not ‘What’s wrong with that child?’, but ‘What happened to that child?’”
In South Africa, we are traumatised, we are abused and we need to break the cycle of violence that, all too often, begins in our homes.
If you are physically abusing your children, you are teaching them that violence solves problems; you are normalising the idea that someone stronger than them has the right to physically attack them.
Sure, many kids survive it, but let’s rather help our children thrive in a loving and non-threatening environment so they can take that lesson into adulthood and then, perhaps, our society will become a little less deadly for its most vulnerable members.