Trigger warning: please note – the following stories contain sensitive material about sexual and dating violence and may cause physiological and psychological symptoms for people with anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These are first-hand experiences as told by women affected by gender-based violence. Some stories are unedited and published with their full consent. Please read these stories with empathy and know that these women are survivors.
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Written by Elize Parker, Ambassador #HearMeToo. For more stories, visit our #Toolkit.
For Davine Witbooi healing from years of abuse came through her search for justice, education, and friendship
WHEN Davine Witbooi moved out of her familiar surroundings in Paarl, it was because of a promise her husband made: He will look after her.
Nothing came from this. It is with this disappointment that she had come to live. On a day she could not wait anymore for these promises to come true. That was the day the abuse became too much.
There were two factors that would pull her out of a life empty of opportunities and full of suppression. The power of the friendship between women and education.
Both had to be under a guise because she was still a housewife who had to do all her housework and a mother. Nevertheless, she was also a student who studied with a friend and that kept her going.
“I had to get away from having blue eyes from all the physical abuse in a way,” says Davine.
It was not all that easy. The town in which she found herself was small. Abuse that she reported to the police was ignored. The local board member turned a cold shoulder.
“People in authority don’t believe women like me,” she says.
One of the major constraints in her battle for personal freedom was that the company for which her spouse worked, was clear about the conditions under which they received company housing: The man is the boss in the house, especially if he held an influential position.
So, the doors to improve her situation on all levels increasingly closed against her.
Meanwhile, the physical and psychological abuse continued.
“If he hit me and the blows fell, I had to find a new place to stay,” says Davine, explaining how she always had to make friends to whom she could flee.
She decided there was one way out against the wall of resistance she experienced to improve her situation: she must empower herself through education.
By the end of the nineties, she trained and became a forklift-driver. She held on to this position, and five years later she held a leadership position in the trade union.
Davine now had to fight no more only for herself and her own rights but had to learn to protect others’ interests too. Soon she started working for discrimination to be addressed in the workplace. All women should be treated the same. One of her fights was about overalls, and when it came to wearing these, it must be the same rule for all. She was successful in changing the rule and an activist was born.
Her sense of justice was awakened more than ever.
In the meantime, women’s friendship strengthened her against the abuse at home that continued. Davine still believed in the power of education to improve herself so that her circumstances could change.
She and a friend discussed their future countless times over a cup of tea and a piece of cake and decided to pass their matric. But, also for her friend an interdict against her by a husband had arrived and she was asked to move out of her house.
“She was in the same boat as I was. A woman’s needs were not taken into consideration, “says Davine.
With this sword of being put out of her home, losing a friend, and the physical abuse that became more prevalent, Davine once again had to flee. This time it was different because she had acquired her Matric certificate. She left her husband at the turn of the century when he stabbed her in the arm with a knife and she was almost killed.
She saw a lawyer and was divorced. She found happiness in someone else’s arms, but this relationship was also full of things she could not tolerate. Once again, education was the way she would follow out of her life of abuse. In 2006 she obtained a certificate in office practice at the West Coast College.
“I had to go on with my life despite everything that was happening to me.”
With her new qualification, she had the opportunity to help others. Davine by now knew helping others advances your own healing. In 2007 she obtained a certificate in Farm Management at the Agricultural College in Clanwilliam. With this, she entered a new phase in her life that made her travel to different countries to attend conferences.
She joined the Landless Peoples Movement and the Surplus Peoples Project’s campaign, taking a leading role with groups of women who wanted to make their own gardens to put food on the table.
The woman who formed from her hurt an awareness that freedom and equality would come through her own empowerment, now began to move forward with her own life as she always wanted to.
From her experience of working with so many groups, she established a group of her own that uses vegetable gardens to deliver communities from the yoke of dependence on the state, the West Coast Food Sovereignty and Solidarity Forum.
But the years of helping others and the fight for personal survival would come at a high price. Her son had not lived with her for a while and his life was full of hardship that she did not know about. Her daughter had fallen into drug addiction. For the time being, Davine had to take a step back, re-evaluate her life and get her children under one roof to get their lives back on track. Her youngest was still in the care of a family member.
With the same courage that she left her failed marriage and abuse, with which she tackled her qualifications, Davine began to stabilise her family’s wavering boat.
She got a living unit in an informal structure township and took the children back to her home. She again earned money with her sewing machine and put food on their table out of their garden.
But the activist, the woman who fought for the rights of others, could not sit with her hands folded. Today, her advocacy for these rights is employed in her immediate surroundings and she helps victims who struggle to get ahead with charges at the police station or court and especially helps with filling in forms. She attends femicide court cases to give support to the victims and their families. She directs women to their rights if they are abused.
“We do not all know how to make a court appearance or how to handle the police. I learned how at a price and am unwilling to give up this fight for justice at institutions who should know better. Women should know they are nobody’s punching bag, be it a man, policemen, or the courts. You also cannot allow a politician to hijack your life. “