10 Years of Abuse

Written by an author who chose to remain anonymous

“Mngani, Fidelis came home this morning, when I asked where he had been all night and why he didn’t answer my calls, he told me ‘what are you, my mother?’ And then he closed the door to the bathroom and took a shower, dressed and left for work without an explanation, nothing.” I was so used to getting these calls from Zinhle every other morning. Complaining about Fidelis, the man she had married without anyone knowing. 

Fidelis is a Zimbabwean man, a very smart and educated man. He studied for a Masters Degree in Economics in the UK and had returned to Zimbabwe’s but when the economy took a bad turn and had no prospects of recovering, Fidelis like many educated Zimbabweans left Zimbabwe for South Africa. He had worked as a security guard, a bouncer at a night club and a waiter for about 3 years and only 6 months ago got a job as a journalist writing for a business, finance and economics monthly publication. 

Zinhle had met Fidelis 2 years ago and they had married 6 months after meeting. Everyone in Zinhle’s life distrusted the smooth talking Fidelis, we all believed he married her to get legal status and get a job. Zinhle believed he loved her. She was extremely excited he wanted them to have a baby already, “which man wants a baby?!” Zinhle would say excitedly as she and Fidelis worked on having a baby.

In the early days of their relationship he was working as a waiter and worked hard and long hours for tips. He often worked double shifts and could make R4,000.00 a week. He was generous with Zinhle and insisted she not work and he would take care of her. She was excited by this because she hated her admin job. She had always planned to study further towards a diploma or degree but there was always a reason she didn’t register even though she had passed extremely well in Gr 12.

I am part listening to Zinhle as she rants on about how Fidelis is treating her, part reflecting on her journey to this point with her man and I am focused on getting ready for work. Zinhle is 6 months pregnant. I am the only one she calls to talk about Fidelis, because I chose to keep my friend than for us to drift apart because I don’t agree with her decisions around Fidelis. Zinhle’s sisters, cousins, friends and mom hardly speak to her because she doesn’t take their calls because they criticized her relationship and choices relentlessly. 
I too had objected to her choices but saw early on she wasn’t hearing us. Now I am the only person she can turn to. She has never met or spoken to Fidelis’ family even though they were married for almost 3 years. 

“Friend, reduce the stress, you don’t want to distress the baby with all your stress hormones” I say to her.
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Zinhle asks me again. “I said as I cleaned after him in the bathroom, his underwear was on the floor and it had his cum and blood!!! He was obviously out cheating on me again!” Zinhle said. She was now screaming and crying into the phone and now had my full attention. I felt pity for her.

“You have to think about the baby, take care of yourself in order to take care of baby” I said to her. What I really wanted to say is pack your bags I am coming for you, you are leaving that bastard! I had done that before, driven from my Fourways apartment to her flat in Germiston to pick her up after Fidelis hit her badly. I had fetched her convinced she was leaving him and she had stayed with me for two weeks. Then one weekend I went away with my boyfriend and when I returned she had left my place and returned to Fidelis.

My boyfriend found the ordeal with Zinhle fascinating. Whenever we went out he always wanted an update and was also the person who made me learn not to internalize what she is going through. At some point I was always angry and anxious about Zinhle. Especially after she started telling me Fidelis beats her. I was always anxious I would get a call that he had killed her. 

Photo by Xiaolong Wong

We end the call as she is deciding whether to go confront him at work. I go to work and put aside Zinhle’s drama. I travel for work for two weeks and I miss Zinhle’s WhatsApp calls because of time zones. When I return it has been a month since we spoke and she tells me she confronted Fidelis at work, it went horribly. He was livid when he got home, he beat her, and she left and went to an abused women’s halfway house for a few days. She returned because he called crying saying he wanted her and his baby back. 

Now she was calling me because she just came from the doctor and she has a horrible case of gonorrhea. I have no words. 7 months pregnant with a horrible sexually transmitted disease. She describes the experience to me and even sent me pictures and I wish I hadn’t looked. I am still traumatised. How nasty is this Fidelis to get such an STD at this stage? He is a learned man and still? 

Zinhle gets treatment for her STD and hopefully the baby isn’t affected. But she is livid. I am so happy she is livid, finally! I am expecting to hear her tell me she is leaving him. Instead I get a call from Zinhle in hospital. She was livid and attacked Fidelis, they got into a fight, he beat her badly and now she is in hospital with an excruciating pain in her back but the doctors won’t test her because she is pregnant. They can’t put her through the scan to check her spine as that would be dangerous for the baby. At least her pregnancy is still safe. Zinhle is bedridden for the remaining 2 months of her pregnancy and in excruciating pain. 

Photo by Daan Stevens

Fidelis is hardly home and sleeps out often. Zinhle eventually confesses to me that she at times goes for two days without food because Fidelis hasn’t come home to bring her food. My heart breaks. But there isn’t much I can do, I have to work. So every second day I send an Uber with some easy food for her to eat. 

Somehow, Zinhle has a healthy baby and is able to start treatment for her back but there are complications and Zinhle had to use a wheel chair for a while. She goes home to Fidelis. I visit her two weeks after she had her baby and she is home alone, exhausted, hungry but deeply in love with her son. She names her son Chamai, which means ‘belonging to mother’ in Shona. Chamai is a beautiful, smiling baby. Zinhle says the arrival of the son has forced her to make a tough decision. She is leaving Fidelis and building a life for her son.

After baby was born and birth registered, Fidelis hardly came home. When he does go home, Zinhle confronts him and he verbally abuses her. He started saying things like, he can’t be with someone who is uneducated, he is bored talking to her, she isn’t smart, he wants a powerful wife, anything to hit at Zinhle’s already low self-esteem. But somehow after having baby she had changed and it seemed as though what Fidelis said was bouncing off.

Photo by Andrea Ricketts

Zinhle was determined to be a good mom and give Chamai a healthy home environment. She stayed with Fidelis whilst she recovered and Chamai grew beautifully. By the time Chamai was a year old Zinhle was back to walking after having charmed a physiotherapist from the government hospital to do house calls for her, since she didn’t have a helper to leave the baby with to go to the hospital for physiotherapy. She stopped asking after Fidelis and interestingly he started leaving her money for the house again and started spending time at home with his son from time to time.

I was worried Zinhle would stay in this toxic relationship but she had a goal and a reason bigger than before to find a way to a better situation. She started giving me money to put away for her, whatever money Fidelis gave her for the house and baby, she tried to save a portion of it. Fidelis never asked about how she spent it. He was just happy to come and go as he pleased. 

When Chamai was about 2 years old, Zinhle felt sickly but held off seeing a doctor for a while. When I noticed that she always had some ailment she eventually agreed to see a doctor. She found that she was HIV positive. She took the news stoically. She didn’t talk to Fidelis about it and didn’t confront him as she would have done in the past, “what’s the point? Anyway I stopped sleeping with him even before Chamai was born.”

She had a determination I had last seen when we were kids. By this time I had around R75,000.00 saved for her. In the new year, she started taking ARVs and took them openly so Fidelis would see them, he never asked about them or broached the subject but he obviously had seen them in the kitchen.

“My friend, Fidelis has not said a thing about the ARVs, what kind of a monster did I marry? He still surprises me!” Zinhle said over the phone about two months after she had started taking her ARVs. She just left him and never asked him. Instead she broached the subject about enrolling Chamai in nursery school.

“I am being practical, I got myself into this situation and I pushed everyone who didn’t agree away. I don’t want to be anyone’s burden. Fidelis will take care of his son and I will build myself up to be employable,” Zinhle responded to my question on her leaving the toxic environment. “We hardly speak Mngani, and he hasn’t hit me since I was pregnant. I no longer love him, thank goodness for that, but I will leave his home when I can support Chamai and I.”

When Chamai turned 3 years old, Fidelis agreed he should start preschool. Fidelis has received a few promotions and was earning well and had bought himself a car. He clearly loved his son and dropped him at preschool every morning and picked him up most days after school. He was always boasting about how smart the boy was, just like him. He still disappeared on weekends and if he stayed out during any week night he would come home in the morning to fetch Chamai and take him to preschool. 

A year later Fidelis started losing weight and brought home all kinds of concoctions in 2 litre bottles. He started coming home everyday and falling asleep as soon as he got home. It was when he broke into shingles that Zinhle stepped in and forced him to stop being in denial and to go see a doctor. 

“Mngani, I think Fidelis is seeing traditional healers instead of facing the truth and getting tested and starting ARVs like me. I could watch him waste away but he is the father of my child and my son loves his dad.” Zinhle was explaining why she still staying with Fidelis who was starting to get sick and I was worried she would get sick too.
Fidelis stabilized and resumed work. Zinhle took on the job of ensuring he ate well and took his ARVs. By this time the money I had been saving for Zinhle was almost R200,000.00. I was surprised she never asked for a portion of it, not even once.

“Mngani, I am 30 next month and I will also graduate as a social worker! I can’t believe it my friend.”As soon as Chamai started school, Zinhle enrolled for social work at Unisa and pulled double duty to finish her degree in 2,5 years instead of 4 years. She had used the money Fidelis had given her of which she didn’t give me.
“Mngani you are my hero and you are Chamai’s hero!” I was so proud of my friend. 6 months after completing her degree she found a job and Fidelis was shocked to say the least. She never told him about her studies because she didn’t want to risk him stopping her and since he was hardly home, he never saw her study or her books. He attended her graduation with Chamai but he didn’t look happy. Whereas, I was beyond ecstatic.

Photo by Rochelle Nicole

Chamai was almost 6 years old when his mom started her first job after graduating. At 7 years old Zinhle asked Fidelis for a divorce. Fidelis now has permanent residence and didn’t need to be “married” to Zinhle anymore. “My friend I want to help young girls who find themselves in situations like mine, that is why I chose social work, it is not glamorous like a Charted Accountant career but it is meaningful to me.”

On Zinhle’s 32nd birthday, it was a Wednesday, I took the day off work. I paid R730,000.00 cash into an account as per transaction papers, for the full purchase of Zinhle’s new 3 bedroom flat not far from me in Fourways. I have never been so happy to make a payment in my life. We celebrated by going to a full massage and pamper session. 

Exactly a week later, the following Wednesday, I sat in the flat in Germiston where my friend had endured a living hell for years, packing up those things Zinhle was taking with her as she moved her and Chamai to Fourways. Her divorce was final and she is truly making a new start. The only difficult part was telling Chamai they were moving and leaving daddy’s home. Chamai who was just passed 8 years fell in love with the complex they moved to as he made friends on the first day.

Zinhle called Fidelis at work and told him she was leaving and had changed schools for Chamai and told him where to find the house key. He couldn’t believe it but couldn’t talk because he was going into a meeting. Zinhle didn’t hear from him for almost two weeks when he asked to come see his son.

“When he walked into the flat he asked how much rent I was paying and why I would want to pay rent when he had always paid rent in Germiston, I could have saved money and he could still see his son every day.  Chamai was the one to correct him ‘mom bought this place daddy.’ He couldn’t believe it.” I hadn’t heard Zinhle laugh this way in years when she told me how Fidelis was when he found out she bought the flat.

“I think he thinks I have a bond, I didn’t correct him just now he starts asking questions and stirring things. My friend, I realized that moment that not only am I completely over that man but I have also forgiven him. I want nothing from him and I wish him no harm. Well, correction, I want him to continue being a good dad to his son.” Zinhle said.

At first Fidelis disappeared for a month and Chamai was being affected. He called out of the blue to tell Zinhle he is now renting in the same area to be close to his son. They have settled into a comfortable co-parenting relationship where Chamai remains oblivious to the fact that he was almost not born due and the suffering his mother went through at the hands of his father.

Photo by Victoria Heath

Zinhle got a better job at a pan African NGO working on women’s issues and is thriving. She completed her Masters Degree part time and this time didn’t invite Fidelis to her graduation, I attended with Chamai and Zinhle’s mother. Zinhle is happy and thriving, living a purposeful life with her work and son at the centre. She recently started seeing a therapist so she can heal and can open herself to being in a relationship again. Fidelis remarried and when the wife was pregnant she tested positive for HIV. She terminated the pregnancy and left Fidelis. 

I learned a few things from my experience with Zinhle. 

  1. Women stay in abusive relationships for varying reasons.
  2. As a friend, I should always speak my mind without trying to force my opinion on someone.
  3. Even if you disagree with a decision, stand by your friend, sister or cousin. They will need someone to talk to and gain strength from. 
  4. Emotions are complex and they complicate situations, often when we are not involved we want to apply a mechanical solution.
  5. A woman will be ready to leave a man when she is ready to leave a man, sometimes it takes long, but the day does come.
  6. No matter how good a relationship seems and feels, always maintain your independence as a full, whole person with dreams and aspirations.
  7. A child will not make a man love, respect or honour you. 
Simi Gumede

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