One woman describes how her husband’s abuse left her with crushed ribs. Another tells how she ran down the road with blood pouring from her face after she was “beaten to a pulp”.
Several others speak of the pain of the emotional and verbal abuse suffered at the hands of the men they loved.
These women have little in common; they are young and old and from all walks of life. The link is that they were trapped in abusive relationships. And when they turned to their religious leaders, most could offer no advice.
That is the problem the newly founded Ubuntu in the Home project wants to solve.
It is a joint initiative by the Desmond and Leah Legacy Foundation and the SA Faith and Family Institute, and the pilot project runs until April. By the end, the hope is that 20 religious leaders from all faiths will have received proper training in dealing with domestic violence cases.
The City of Cape Town hosted the launch of the project on Tuesday.
Elizabeth Petersen, a director with the SA Faith and Family Institute, said they were in talks with UWC’s department of religion. The aim was to gain accreditation for the project’s training programme and for it to be included in all academic programmes in religious studies.
A short video screened at the launch explained some of the reasons why such a project was needed, Petersen said.
One woman, from a Christian background, tells how her husband first threw her phone across the room. “I thought, ‘Okay, that’s a once-off thing. It won’t happen again’. But it only got worse.”
After one attack, the woman had to seek medical advice. “My doctor told me my ribs were squashed. I lied and said I was assaulted by people trying to steal the car.”
The woman approached her pastor for advice. The pastor visited her home when her husband was not there, and prayed for her.
“I could see he doesn’t know how to handle this. He was thrown in the deep end.”
Norma Oliver tells of the terror she experienced during her 35-year marriage. “He came to the factory where I was working, said I must stop working and turned the place upside down.”
In fear, Oliver left with her husband and they boarded a train to go home. “I thought, ‘This man is going to kill me’. And when we got on the train, he told me to stand by the door so he could throw me out.”
Soon her husband followed through on his threats of violence.
“As soon we got home, he locked the door and beat me to a pulp.” Oliver remembers running from the house, with “blood pouring down my face”.
“But I lived with it for 35 years.”
Oliver hid the abuse and constantly felt she was to blame, trying to figure out what she had done wrong.
A young Muslim woman, covering her face with a burka, said the abuse began just three weeks into her marriage.
“It’s hard to get out, you made a promise and you have to fulfil it.”
She breaks down as she explains that in her religion, only the husband has the right to ask for talak – a divorce. However, her case was eventually heard by the Muslim Judicial Council and she was granted an annulment in the sharia court.
During the clip, Wilma Pillay, a social worker, explained the dynamics in Hindi marriages, specifically those that were arranged.
“Divorce is taboo in the Hindi faith. When you are married, you are married for life.”
Petersen said it was important to note how diverse the women’s backgrounds were.
She said the faith leaders would be taught how to “contextualise easily misinterpreted scriptures”. The training would affect their teachings and sermons.
“You must remember there is a victim listening to you. And that’s when what you preach becomes absolutely crucial.”
The leaders participating in the course must make a pledge that includes urging police to confiscate firearms from homes where violence occurs, and a message to organisations working with domestic violence.
The pledge says: “We have been silent, we have been perceived to be complicit in the violence.”