“My mother chose her boyfriend over me”

Cape Town: A young woman from Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, battled to contain her tears when she spoke about her abusive mother during an interaction with Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan, as part of government’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign.

The moved Deputy Minister told the woman she had turned out to be "great" nonetheless.

The Deputy Minister on Tuesday interacted with women and religious leaders at the Saartjie Baartman Centre in Athlone in the Western Cape, as the country marks the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

The campaign runs from 25 November until 10 December and is aimed at raising awareness about taking action and fighting against the violence and abuse of women, children and all other vulnerable groups in society.

Government and civil society have been encouraging women to come out and report abuse. The 2015 campaign is carried out under the theme, “Count Me In: Together Moving a Non-Violent South Africa Forward.”

After listening to first-hand experiences of abuse at the centre, which looks after abused women and children, the Deputy Minister told the young woman, who cannot be named to protect her identity while she is sheltered at the centre, that any mother would be proud to have her as their daughter.

“Any mother would be so honoured to have you as their daughter. You are articulate, you are brave to share your stories, it takes enormous courage and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You are the most beautiful person that you were meant to be.”

She told the women at the centre that while they may not have been lucky enough to have good role models for mothers, they could break the cycle.

“We don’t want your children to live out that cycle of abuse and you have made that decision already by your bravery and courage you have decided ‘not for my children’ and you have taken that step, you came to the shelter and you asked for assistance,” said the Deputy Minister.

One of the young women shared a story of how her mother was abusive towards her emotionally. Her mother made her feel worthless.

The 22-year-old explained that when her mother’s boyfriend almost raped her, her mom chose to take her boyfriend’s side.

“The only thing my mom said was that the guy must not be arrested because she loves him. My mom chose her boyfriend over me. My mother is alive, but I don’t have a mother. She is not on my side. She hates me. She abused me so many times and did terrible things to me and I tried to kill myself so many times,” she said.

The Deputy Minister later told the young woman that she should not think of herself as a victim. She encouraged all the women of varying ages that they should empower themselves so that they do not become overly dependent on their abusers.

Speaking to journalists, Deputy Minister Chohan said during her visit, she picked up that in most cases of abuse, the identity of the woman was often at question, with men feeling that women belong to them.

“They are individuals and they don’t belong to anybody. They are capable of not being victims but being powerful,” she said.

The stories shared by the women had been encouraging.

“I have met women who are heroes in my book. They have decided to take their lives into their own hands, take control over their destinies, bring their children along, come and seek help and rebuild their lives and stand on their own two feet.

“So we are here significantly in support of the initiative of government to highlight violence against women and children in our society but also to say that we can’t just deal with the symptoms; ours is to change society and we believe very firmly that women have it in their power to change society,” said the Deputy Minister.