Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Zimbabwe - I Did Not Let It Happen Again

opinion

SOME things that happen in life cause a need for you to lean on other people, and confide in them. Married life is full of such ups and downs, and the serious down cycles can leave one destabilised.

I am Siphelani, born in 1987, married to Jimmy and blessed with two children, Skullu and Thando. I began suffering abuse when I was pregnant with my second child. Jimmy had an extra-marital affair with a woman called Manyara, who later fell pregnant by him. Serious trouble began, with Jimmy rarely spending time at home. He would leave very early in the morning and come back around 03.00hrs.

Jimmy would send his friend Thokozani to Manyara whenever he wanted something from her. Often Jimmy would leave the beer hall at around 22.00hrs for Manyara's place in a residential area, and at times he would book into a lodge with Manyara.

My husband started denying me conjugal rights, and would rarely have sex with me. I would go for about a week and a half without sex. He would leave home around 08.00 and return at about 03.00hrs. Jimmy would tell me he was tired, and didn't want to be stressed by my demand for sex.

He stopped having meals at home, as well as buying food for me and the child. By then I was pregnant with my second child, and my first son Skullu was two then. I would buy and sell tomatoes for income, but Jimmy would steal the proceeds. He would buy airtime with the money or use it to board a mini bus to Manyara's place.

I ended up having no capital to continue with this income-generating project, and started part-time manual labour to survive. I would till other people's fields with my son strapped at my back, despite being pregnant. I couldn't afford even maheu for my son. Jimmy was now in the habit of coming home angry, I would not ask for or complain about anything.

I gave birth to my second child Thando, and had no baby clothes for her arrival. When I was in labour he left, saying he was going to town to buy baby clothes, but didn't come back until three days after my discharge from hospital. He lied that he had gone for a workshop in Rusape. When I left hospital I didn't have even a candle to light the room, and would stay in darkness.

Manyara also gave birth to a baby girl, four months after me, and moved in together with Jimmy, despite knowing he had a family. After my relatives threatened to take me back, Jimmy moved back in, and briefly cut communication with Manyara. He received a barrage of calls and harassment from Manyara's sister, demanding maintenance for the child.

I would also periodically get insulting calls from her, but she would turn it around and tell Jimmy I was harassing her. Jimmy would then assault me. At times I would sleep in the toilet when he chased me away. I would also frequently be harassed by Manyara's relatives, because of falsehoods spread by Manyara's churchmates. Jimmy would collect money meant for me and my children from my uncle Rob, and give it to Manyara to spite me.

He continued to abuse me because he knew I had no support system to fall back on, as I was an only child and orphaned too. This went on for a long time, Jimmy coming back home in the small hours of the night, and not sleeping until he had hurt me. At times he would spit in my face to show he was bored with me. The neighbours routinely heard the noise of our fights.

One day Manyara phoned on Jimmy's phone, which I answered, and she shouted all sorts of names, including 'dog', just for answering Jimmy's phone. Jimmy turned against me and beat me to pulp, accusing me of scolding the mother of his child. I was so badly injured that I struggled to walk to the toilet. I felt I had no choice but to poison myself.

I woke up in hospital. I just wanted to die. I had tried to get employment but failed. Then I was counselled by the sister-in-charge at the hospital. I cried to my Lord for freedom, and Jimmy got counselling before he took me home.

I wanted to go back to my maternal grandmother, who had brought me up. Jimmy hadn't bothered to inform my relatives that I was in hospital. This did not go down well with them, particularly with uncle Rob and my cousin, who teamed up and came to where we lived. Jimmy had gone to the shops. I went to take a bath, and when I came back I found the whole room bloodied, with Jimmy lying bleeding after a thorough beating.

They instructed me to pack my belongings because they wanted to take me away. Police came and took us to their station, and Jimmy was taken to the hospital. After investigations I was released by police and went to my grandmother's home.

I went to look for work in another town, and found a job at a surgery. I worked for two weeks, but was called back by my grandmother after Jimmy had gone there and apologised, and said he wanted me back. Because I was still angry I refused, and he couldn't come to where I was because he was afraid of uncle Rob.

After much persuasion I agreed to negotiate with Jimmy on how we were to live together, and particularly how we were going to handle Manyara. We agreed, and I took Jimmy back. But it didn't take Manyara long to phone my husband. He passed the phone, which was on loudspeaker, to me, and Manyara insulted me and threatened me with juju and death.

An angry Jimmy snatched the phone and bluntly told Manyara not to insult me, or phone him again. From then on whenever Manyara called, Jimmy would give me the phone. She didn't like it, and eventually stopped phoning. She would run away whenever we met, and finally moved to Marondera. But I was constantly worried Jimmy would become violent again. I would talk to God about this, and He answered my prayers when after three years Jimmy resolved to stop drinking and smoking. He turned to God and became a Christian.

This is not to say Jimmy is now an angel, because old habits die hard. There are times when he harasses me, but it's much better now because we can now talk about it, and he regrets this behaviour.

What stopped me from leaving Jimmy for good was that I didn't want to burden my grandmother with the responsibility of taking care of me again, as well as my children. For this reason coupled with my being an orphan I braved the abuse.

I am now enlightened on what to do as a woman to live an abuse-free life. I progressed to buying and selling goods, as well as distributing Forever Living Products. I also do nutritional gardening and sell underwear, but I still need to do something more profitable, as Jimmy doesn't want me to be formally employed.

WARNING

To anyone experiencing hard times, committing suicide is not the solution. God will provide a way out. All you might need do is confide in other people. Get advice. When I faced this hard patch I faced it alone, and sadly resorted to suicide, but then realised it was a wrong choice. That is why I titled my story I DID NOT LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN.

*Not her real name.

Siphelani lives in Zimbabwe. This story is part of the "I" Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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