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Six years of abuse: Surviving gender-based violence

Busi* was hospitalised several times for injuries during the six years that her intimate partner brutally abused her physically, emotionally, and financially.

She considers herself and her three children lucky to have escaped this situation alive.

“He was everything I had prayed for.”

Busi was thrilled when she met Trevor*. The two divorcees hit it off immediately.

Busi wrote off any initial red flags hinting at Trevor’s abusive nature as a symptom of his being in love: Trevor didn’t want Busi to have her own friends and always wanted to know who she was speaking to on the phone and about what.

“I was in a happy place because he was everything I had prayed for. He was a God-fearing man, so that ticked a box for me,” she explains.

When Busi was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Trevor became even more controlling.

He frequently bandied around his favourite phrase: “Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m always right.” He worked abroad for long periods of time and Busi was expected to report her every move to him.

If she got to work or home late, she had to explain herself.

“I was so scared of him,” she says. “I would do everything he said I must. I had to come up with excuses to ask the security guards at work for my access reports so that Trevor could see exactly when I arrived and left the office.”

“I’d use my hands to cover my face.”

It wasn’t long before the beatings started.

When their daughter was three months old, Busi found Trevor, whom she calls a serial cheater, having sex with one of his colleagues.

When she confronted him as he was leaving their house, Trevor beat her for the first time. This opened a floodgate of beatings, which would continue for years.

“He loved beating my head. He wanted to hit my face, so I’d use my hands to cover my face. He would kick me while I was on the ground and pull my hair,” says Busi.

Desperate to make her marriage work, she would always apologise for whatever misdemeanour she was being accused of, to keep the peace.

“I came from a failed marriage. And if this one also failed, it would seem as if I was the failure. So I tried so hard to make it work,” she adds.

Busi frequently landed up in hospital because of her injuries, where she lied to hospital staff about their cause.

Trevor prohibited her from telling family or friends that she was hospitalised or about the abuse at home. In addition, Busi wasn’t sure anyone would believe her if she told them about the abuse.

“Around people, Trevor’s the best person ever. He laughs a lot and is very giving,” she says.

Listen to Azania Mosaka chat to Sasha-Lee Olivier, Miss South Africa 2019, about surviving gender-based violence (Episode 10, Part 1). This podcast is part of the Discover Healthier podcast series.

The financial abuse starts

Things got progressively worse for Busi and her children.

One day the couple’s toddler daughter found pictures of naked women on a phone Trevor had given her to play with.

When Busi looked through the phone she found that her husband had a pregnant girlfriend abroad who had a sexually transmissible illness.

Concerned that Trevor’s sexual exploits were putting her health at risk, Busi insisted that she and Trevor get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. After going for blood tests together, Busi was violently beaten again.

“I’m a dark-skinned person and I’d turn navy-blue from the beatings,” she says.

Then Trevor started rejecting Busi’s eldest son, whom he called a “bastard child”, from her previous marriage.

When Busi defended her son, the beatings increased. Trevor also wanted her to choose between their marriage and her relationship with her mother.

He began to withhold financial support for Busi and their children, making her beg for money for food once she’d used up her salary.

“The protection order was just a piece of paper.”

Soon after Trevor bought a large house for the family, Busi’s beloved niece committed suicide.

Busi arranged to have the funeral at their new house. When Trevor saw Busi making funeral arrangements with male service providers, he beat her up with a towel rail – while she was carrying their second child, still an infant, on her back.

This was when her family became aware of the abuse for the first time.

After that, Trevor’s beatings became even more violent, with Busi often having to use their baby son as a shield to prevent Trevor from killing her.

“I was screaming. I was begging for my life. I told him everything that he wanted to hear, that I’ll be a good wife. I thought I was going to die,” she recalls of one incident.

Busi, whose personal trauma was unsurprisingly affecting her work, eventually got help from her manager. She obtained a restraining order against Trevor and he was even arrested for his abuse – although he was released on bail immediately and the case seemed to have disappeared.

Despite this, Trevor, who was working in a different province at the time, would threaten to burn down their house with Busi and the children inside. He sent her photos of himself holding a gun, and even sent threatening messages to her relatives.

“The protection order was just a piece of paper. Honestly, it didn’t help me,” says Busi.

“My motherly instincts kicked in.”

Trevor knew that Busi didn’t have anywhere to go with her three children and that she was financially reliant on him.

Despite this, Busi’s family encouraged her to leave him.

“I was blessed to have a very supportive family. They said to me, ‘Your life is more important. Whatever you lack, we will see what we can do to help,’” she recalls.

Soon after that, Trevor arrived unannounced at the house, late.

Feeling scared, Busi called the police. “My motherly instincts kicked in. I needed to fight for my kids. I told myself, I have to find the courage and gather strength because if I don’t do this, nobody’s going to do it for me,” she says.

The police escorted Trevor away. After that he stopped paying the bond on the house and, after several threats from the bank, Busi and her children were evicted.

Sharing is healing

A year after breaking all physical contact with Trevor, Busi is comfortable with sharing the details of her experience.

“Talking about it has been a healing process for me. When I’m able to share it means I’ve managed to face my demons. I feel lighter and I’m coping. It gives me so much joy to say I survived, because the chances were good that I wouldn’t have been here today.”

Starting over

Trevor doesn’t pay maintenance and Busi and her children have had to downscale significantly.

Busi doesn’t see Trevor anymore and makes sure that all their communication is over text or email, so that she has records of his abuse.

Despite this, she and the children are happy. They are slowly recovering from their harrowing ordeal. And, they have accessed psychotherapy, which is covered through Busi’s Discovery Health Medical Scheme membership.

“We had to downgrade our life and adjust from staying in a four-bedroom house. But the children didn’t have a problem with it. My daughter said to me, ‘Mommy, Daddy isn’t going to find us now’,” says Busi.

“They’re in a happy place because their mommy is happy.”

Seek support

Busi wants her story to encourage people in similar situations not to give up and to seek support.

“Violence can happen to anybody, it’s not because you’ve done something wrong. I know there are people who know me who will read this story. Most people think I’m the bubbliest, happiest person ever, with everything going for me. So, this might be a lesson to other people that this really can happen to anybody,” she says.

“I think support is the one thing that a person needs in this situation. If you cannot find somebody that’s close to you, then talk to a stranger. You might find somebody who can give you good advice, which will help you.”

Discovery Health Medical Scheme members can call 0860 999 911 to access Discovery’s 24/7 emergency services, trauma support line and other benefits.

Other important numbers:

TEARS Foundation : 010 590 5920, or dial *134*7355# and follow the prompts to connect to emergency services. Email:

Lana Snoyman: lana.snoyman@hotmail.comLawyers against Abuse : 072 031 1840 or

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG): 24-hour helpline 0800 45 67 89 or 0800 567 567 for SADAG’s 24-hour suicide crisis

helpline The National Department of Social Development hotline:

0800 42 84 28Childline (for child victims of child abuse): 0800 05 55 55LifeLine runs a 24-hour counselling emergency hotline: 0861 32 23 22

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