What justice!

Date: January 1, 1970
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Mine is a story of a fairy tale marriage that went horribly wrong and of a decade-long fight for justice that has seen me lose everything, including my most precious treasures: my two sons.

It is hard for me as a South African woman, writing my story in 2006, to understand what democracy has brought when every avenue I have pursued has left me more hopeless and disempowered than before.
What does justice mean, when I the victim am victimised even more; when every system seems to work to the benefit of the perpetrator? I left no stone unturned. I have canvassed ministers and deputy ministers. I am breaking my silence because it is time we as women put the facts as they are: the legal system is not working for us.
At the beginning, I was madly and unconditionally in love with this man. He was seven years my senior which made me feel secure. I believed he was mature and knew what he wanted out of this marriage. He convinced me that we were meant for each other. On the 18 July 1992 we tied the knot.
We lived happily for the first few months. But in April 1993, six months after I gave birth to our first child and nine months after our wedding my ex-husband’s behaviour began to change.
One day he came home drunk after work accompanied by two women and a man who claimed to be his friends. One of the women asked why I was not employed and told me that I was too fat. My ex-husband left with the trio and come back at two o’clock in the morning. I freaked out and refused to open the door for him. When I eventually opened the door he beat me up.
This marked the beginning of what would become a way of life for me with this man. The incidents became many.  I documented all the abuse I suffered, like on May 24 1997 after we moved into our new house. He accused me of playing loud music. I protested and he beat me up with a knob kerrie until it broke into two pieces. After this he forcefully made love to me. Three days later I contacted an NGO that provides counseling. I went to Bloemfontein magistrate court to apply for a court interdict. This infuriated him and marked another turning point in our relationship. My life became more miserable.
One fateful day – November 24 1997 – we had another fight after he came home after two o’clock in the morning. When he got home he tried to force himself onto me and I resisted. I needed him to explain where he had been all night. He beat me and threatened to kill me. 
I managed to free myself and escaped from our bedroom into the children’s bedroom, broke their window and jumped through. I was stark naked. Blood was oozing all over my body. I ran to the neighbor’s house. I went to report him to the police and he was arrested at his Nedbank offices. He appeared in court but was released on bail of R 1 500. 
I filed for a divorce in February 1998 and moved to Johannesburg after I had received advice from a psychologist who ironically had been tasked by my ex-husband to assess if I had a mental illness.  My ex-husband was in denial.
Ironically, the family advocate, at the behest of the psychologist, granted my ex-husband custody of the children despite the fact that an earlier psychologist had concluded that my ex-husband was the one with a problem and not me. I on the other hand, was granted “reasonable access” to the children.
It was difficult to visit my children as I relied on public transport from Johannesburg and would sometimes fail to get to the venue we were supposed to meet on time.  Since then this has become the struggle to gain the so called reasonable access to see my children. But the family advocates do not listen to me.
In October 1998 when my first son was five and the second three years old I began to fight for custody of the children. After going through an assessment my ex-husband’s personality profile was found to be “favorable”.  Reading the court records I sometimes wonder if we are talking about the same man. According to the white Afrikaner psychologist of Bloemfontein, his conduct is directed towards the welfare of the children; he is warm hearted, has showed good leadership; has internal control over his emotions; is well educated and has a good job and reputation in the corporate sector.
On the other I am considered to be unstable, unpredictable, impulsive, selfish and self centered. After all I have been through it hurts to read these comments.  I had not sought employment because I wanted to be available for my family and be a good wife. Now I was considered too poor to take care of my own children. I had supported my ex-husband from the time he had nothing to the time he made it in corporate life.  This was just another case of women’s unwaged work.
I made another attempt to get custody of my children after learning that my husband was changing girlfriends frequently and did not want this to affect my children. An inquiry was held on 19 January 2001. In support of my ex-husband, the family advocate quoted a certain professor A. Hofman B.P Pincus who says: “The word mothering devotes a function rather than persona and this function does not necessarily reside in the biological mother. It seems now to be generally recognized that for mental health and proper character development young children need the emotional security that comes from stable surroundings and a recognized and predictable routine”. I lost the case.
Meanwhile I had filed assault cases against my ex-husband. To my horror all the lodged dockets went missing at the magistrate’s court. I believe that my ex-husband used connections to hide all the vital information: court book, charge sheet, tapes, and dockets.  The documents were eventually found and my ex-husband was fined a mere R4000, compared to the R20 000 that I spent in my quest for justice. What justice! In January 2001 I filed for damages under civil claims in the same court. In February 2003 I received R 17 000.00 as a settlement.
I made a third attempt to get custody of the January 2002 when I discovered that he had moved from Bloemfontein to Klerksdorp with the children without notifying me. The enquiry, held in September 2002, concluded that I was putting the children through unnecessary emotional stress; that my constant resistance to accepting custody orders is to the disadvantage of every one; and that despite being tormented during my marriage, I must for the sake of the children accept that my ex-ex-husband now has other relationships and so on.  
They also concluded that I have a tendency to undermine professional opinions and recommendations: from psychologists, counselors and advocates. They intentionally avoided my comments about his failure to give me reasonable access to the children as granted by the court. This was manipulated to make it seem like I was crying over a broken marriage, rather than concern for my children.
The past nine years have been a painful and expensive struggle to see my children. The last time I saw them was in December 2002. This is because my ex-husband’s behaviour became frightening. Each time I went to see the children I had to have a lawyer to intervene.  It became unaffordable for me to see my boys.
I am at a dead end where to turn to for legal representation and help. For three years I have been waiting for the outcome of my complaint with the Free State Law Society about a lawyer who has contributed to the delay in my obtaining justice. I am breaking my silence during the Sixteen Days of Activism to help me overcome the torture that for more than a decade has crippled me emotionally, physically and financially. If there is anyone out there listening, my question to you is: where is justice, when a woman who is abused ends up losing everything, including her own children?

To listen to Mamokhothu Santho tell her story, please visit the ‘I Story’ page.

(This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinión and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence). 




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