Disability does not mean inability

Date: January 1, 1970
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My name is Grace Dimakatso Maleka, I was married to my husband for 20 years. We were blessed with three children, two of whom are still alive. Since we began to live together we did not have a happy relationship, we used to fight every weekend when he came home drunk.

Shortly after my first child was born, in 1990, we separated and I went to my mother’s place. He later came to my mother’s place accompanied by his mother to apologise for what he had done and promised not to do it again. As he is the father of my children, I forgave him and offered for us to start a new life with him.
In 1995 I helped him get a new job where I was working. He started to drink heavily again and often came home in the middle of the night. He would insult me in front of my daughter. Each time I spoke to him about his behaviour he promised not to do it again.
The following year, I fell pregnant with my second baby. The doctor asked me whether I had problems at home and said I did not. He warned me that I should not keep quiet about the problems. Meanwhile, we used to fight a lot when I was pregnant. I lost my baby boy. I explained to him what had caused the loss and he apologised, promising that he would be a real father to his daughter.
The following year life dealt us a heavy blow when we faced retrenchment. I persuaded my husband to go to Ratanda and get a house there because we were not working. Later that year I returned to work as I had found a new job in July 1998. Transport from Heidelberg to Balfour is very scarce. I had to wake up in the morning and come back late. He started to grumble and sometimes promise to beat me about this. He was very aggressive especially when he smoked dagga.
I again spoke to my director and we worked together. He also experienced the same transport problems and so he opted to go and stay with his relatives in Balfour. I suggested we must find a place to stay together, but he said no. I spoke to my neighbors at Ratanda to look after our house, as we would come only on Fridays. I stayed in Balfour with my mom while he stayed with his relatives. On Fridays, we met at the taxi rank to go to Ratanda.
At the end of the month he did not want to buy food. Instead, he would become moody and leave me to do everything by myself. Meanwhile I fell pregnant with my third child, who was born on 1 March 2000 and by then my husband was in temporary employment. This was hard on me because I was on maternity leave.
When my baby was about two months my husband started to beat me when I requested that he show me love. He beat me until neighbours shouted at him. They threatened to report him to his family. He said to me that his mother and sister come first in his life and me I’m the last person to talk.
When our house was broken into and things got stolen my mother-in-law blamed me and insulted me in front of our neighbours telling me that I am a white lady, I trust people from outside rather than the family. I told myself that I should leave Ratanda and live in Johannesburg since I did not feel free. On 1 October 2000, the day before I was supposed to start a new job, I was involved in a car accident that left me disabled. I stayed in hospital for four months hoping that my leg would be okay. When I went to Baragwaneth hospital, the doctors told me that my leg must be amputated.
I phoned my husband and told him. He responded that the doctors needed to make a plan because he was too young to stay with a disabled woman. He said in front of his family that he could not stay with me if they cut off my leg. I explained to him, “I didn’t make any application to be disabled.”
In 2002, doctors amputated my left leg. I stayed in hospital for three weeks. When my husband called, I told him that my leg had been cut off. He came to the hospital to see for himself if this was indeed true. He brought me nothing, not even bananas, instead he just looked at me without a saying anything. After, I went to my mom’s place.
My husband then came to fetch my children and me. Things appeared to be rosy and he even bought me a cellphone. However, after two months he took it back and said he needed it. He would not allow me to even touch it when it rang. We fought a lot because he was earning  a lot of money and did not want to take responsibility for his family.
I started seeing a social worker by the name of Florence Mohloai. One time she took me to Lesotho to visit with her relatives as part of her way to assist me in relieving stress. My children were traumatised to see their mom crying all the time. That social worker helped me regain my confidence and taught me to believe in myself, despite my condition. My husband used negative words and then afterwards apologised saying he was joking. The God that I worship certainly has way to heal broken hearts so I chose not to let my disability take control of my life. In 2004, I moved out with my children to my own house and obtained a protection order that prohibited my husband from coming to my place. This was such a relief to me.
The decision to move on with my life with a disability meant taking a risk into an unknown future that was likely to be full of challenges. Learning that I would not walk properly again was devastating, but I knew that I had to strengthen my state of mind and think positively. That is when I decided to join an organisation for disabled people. They empowered me to know my rights and to accept myself; I started to participate in different activities including those organised by the community and government.
The following year I got a job at Heidelberg hospital. I was later elected to lead women in the province as chairperson for women with disability and I am now representative for Disabled Women in Africa. When my husband noticed these achievements, he begged me to come back and I refused. The opportunities I have made me view my condition as a blessing to me, in a very painful way. We need to change the perceptions of our families to become more tolerant
and accepting of disabled people. Our families disable us, not our disabilities. Women with disabilities enjoy relationships and are indeed highly sexual, just as any women.
It helps me to talk openly, hoping to break stigma and dispel some of the myths attached to disability. I believe that I am a beautiful creation of God. I may not be physically attractive (whatever that means) but I believe my spirit and soul carries a beauty that cannot be measured. I wish to share this beauty with the rest of the world at every waking moment so that we can appreciate that we are very privileged human beings. If one door shuts, then you must know that another one will open. There is no time to look back, but move forward, nothing is impossible for today’s women.
I want to thank my mom’s sisters, Pote and Martha and my younger sisters, Gladys and
Lindiwe for being so supportive.
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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