Old wounds refuse to heal

Old wounds refuse to heal

Grannies burst into tears as they relive abductions, forced marriages

LERIBE – Hurdled in a school hall to watch a documentary film, a group of grannies burst into tears.
“Why have you opened our old wounds?” ’Mamolato Lemao says, tears rolling down her ageing cheeks.
Lemao is among women who were abducted, bundled into marriage and forced to endure decades of marital abuse.
Now, a local organisation is telling their story through a documentary film.

Last week, a group of women, many of them now in their 50s and 60s, were invited to watch the documentary and discuss how they can help stop violence against girls and women.
Old wounds that had healed were ripped open. Some women sobbed and commiserated with each other as they recalled how they nearly lost their lives due to domestic violence.

“We had forgiven and forgotten about the pain we endured during our times as young girls to being mothers,” she says.
Mollong is a 21 minute documentary film by Steps for Sesotho Media & Development. The film covers sexual and gender based violence, cycle of abuse within families, gender, culture and tradition, breaking the silence about abuse, access to support structures, psychosocial support, healing, women’s rights and children’s rights.

The documentary centres on the lives of She-Hive members, who gather to share experiences of abuse, comfort each other and equip each other with skills to live normal lives. She-Hive is a non-governmental organisation that works against all forms of domestic violence.
Like Lemao, most women at the screening said they were abducted into marriage and in most cases forced to marry strangers.
Lemao narrated how she nearly died from the beatings by her husband.

Illiterate and living in Maliba-Matšo, Ha-Konstabole, one of the remotest areas in the country, Lemao was abducted when she had just entered into her teens. She no longer remembers the exact year when she was abducted and married by force. But the events are vividly etched in her memory.
“I was too young, very much early into my teenage stage when I was abducted by two unknown men when I was coming from the field,” Lemao says.
It was late in the afternoon.

Lemao was walking between corn fields when the men appeared from nowhere and suddenly grabbed her.
“I screamed and kicked but it was in vain,” she says, adding that the men beat her into silence such that no one could hear her cries for help.
That evening they brought her before the family of a stranger where her “husband” was waiting.
“I had not planned to be a wife, especially of a husband unknown to me,” she says at the screening of the film.
“When I arrived his mother welcomed me and traditional practices were performed on me. I could not return back home because at the time it was taboo to do so,” she says.

Lemao bore 12 children, including three sets of twins, to a man she felt no love for, a man who treated her like a slave.
“He would beat me thoroughly. I had actually adapted to his abusive behaviour until it all seemed normal,” Lemao says.
At one point, he stabbed her after she visited her maiden family for an ancestral ritual.
“He was so furious. I didn’t know why because he knew where I was. He took out a knife, stabbed me on the hip and started punching me on the head,” she recalls.

“I lost consciousness. I don’t know what happened thereafter. I was only told hours later while in hospital that I lost a lot of blood and had serious head injuries,” Lemao says, her voice shaking with emotion in between sobs.
When the village chief heard of the incident, he arranged that the husband be beaten up by other village men.

“When they found him, they beat the hell out of him,” Lemao says.
Her children were not spared the violence.
“All of my children were physically abused by this man. He would beat my son like he was beating a dog. If I tried to intervene he would beat me too,” she says.
Lemao escaped by finding a job in Hlotse as a housekeeper.
“I had to make a living for my children. I was tired. I felt I would never see the next day” Lemao says.
But as time passed her husband fell ill and asked for forgiveness for having treated Lemao badly.

“Before he died he confessed that he was wrong to have treated me that way,” Lemao says, this time almost weeping.
Lemao’s husband died in 2015, a few weeks after confessing and asking for forgiveness.
As Lemao narrated her ordeal, some of the grannies present shed tears.
Lemao’s story had a striking resemblance to their experiences – experiences they hoped no young girl would ever have to endure.

Rose Moremoholo


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