A few weeks back, I wrote an article about brave women who inspire us, celebrating leaders of our communities and the less celebrated – our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters who stand up for us daily. Celebrating and acknowledging the women who are secretly abused and murdered and those who endure abuse and torture.
It was this article that divided the Gcilishe household, my family. In the article I mentioned briefly my grandfather’s abusive behaviour towards my grandmother and her children every time he was intoxicated.
My grandmother got married at the age of 26, enduring 54 years of marriage to a man who disrespected and disregarded her. My grandfather continually embarrassed my grandmother and all of us.
His pastime was spent drinking at a nearby beer house after which he would come home and threaten all of us; sometimes with knives, other times with a cane with which he enjoyed massaging meat or cooking fat. He somehow believed that it made his stick stronger and more hurtful on whomever he used it. That on its own was and is evil.
My grandfather’s level of abuse was so extreme that he earned himself a name “dlokova”, which is what the horse does when it rears and strikes and gets out of control.
I didn’t have all these details in my previous article. About how my grandfather always chased us out of the house when drunk and had us sleep at different relatives’ homes. How he at times pepper sprayed the entire house so we would run outside and sit in the cold. How he manhandled my grandmother at every chance he got.
Yet I am the one who received the tongue lashing for airing my family’s dirty laundry for all to read, dragging my family name down as a result. One person even asked why I did not state that my grandfather was no longer doing all of those things, that it was the alcohol that had him behave in that manner.
The woman who gave birth to me was the most upset, leading the pack, questioning why I chose to write about her father and not mine.
These are toxic people in our society. The enablers and apologists of abusers. They insist on caring more about the abuser’s reputation than any damage they have caused to those they have traumatised through their abusive behaviour.
As a fighter I need to stay true to my commitment and declaration of oath to strive towards the emancipation of our people. Ours is to make the comfortable uncomfortable.
The story of my grandmother did not make it to the news, but it proves that many men in our country are at war with women.
We require a radical response and it starts with each of us. Our problems will not be resolved by us denying and being quiet about them. These men, like my grandfather, are in our families. They are our brothers, fathers and grandfathers. There should be no space in our country for their behaviour. We must deal with their masculinity and confront their women-hating behaviour.
I could not know how the violence of my grandfather affected my grandmother. I don’t know what else he did while we were not looking or not around but I do know that I have cried for her more than I have for me. Every time she got between my grandfather and I, she took punches and beatings meant for me.
I want to tell my family who believe I should have made my grandfather a hero that no abuser will get sympathy or applause from me, even if they are no longer being abusive. I’m sad it happened while I was young and helpless. I would have turned my grandfather in and I would have begged my grandmother to leave his abusive out-of-control self. I would have done everything possible to save all of us from his horrific conduct.
Gcilishe is the national communications manager for the EFF