“Living in fear is the hardest thing to do,” says 25-year-old Zinhle Masango, fitness coach and abuse survivor.
She is from Daveyton, in Ekurhuleni, and is one of many South African women who have suffered violent abuse at the hands of their lovers - in her case, her fiancé.
“At the beginning of our relationship, it was amazing. He was perfect,” she said. “I had a secret crush on him for years and when he finally asked me out, I said yes. The relationship was great. There was trust and all roses for us.”
A year into the relationship, they expected their first child and he went to ask for her hand in marriage from her parents. “Life was great,” she said.
But the picture of her "happily ever after" collapsed when she endured one beating after the next.
“The first abuse incident was traumatic. We had broken up at that time but decided to continue living together for the remainder of the month before I could move out. And during that time, he suspected that I was dating someone else.
“I got home one evening and he started arguing with me because of his suspicions. He started fighting for my phone to see ‘who I was talking to’, while my son was in the room with us,” said Masango.
During the struggle, he pulled her braids off and knocked her a few times until she bled. The fight went on for hours, while their son cried at the sight of all the violence. Her then fiancé locked her in a room before driving off with their son.
“I was so scared and confused at what was happening. I managed to get my parents to come, but all my mother could say to me was ‘the reason you are bleeding so much is because you were drinking.’ That hurt me more because my own family wouldn’t support me.”
Masango recalls how she always lived in fear, having to watch what she said or what she did - all in the name of not "offending" her former fiancé.
When she left him after that episode, and with nowhere else to turn because her own parents did not take her side owing to "lobola payments" and negotiations, she had no choice but to return to her abuser.
“We moved into my parents' house and he would still abuse me there, too. Knocking me against the cars, strangling me - while my parents were around or not. I was depressed and felt like giving up,” she said.
MOTIVATED MOM: Zinhle Masango says staying fit has helped her reclaim her life. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips
Masango said she needed to regain her self-confidence. She had always thought that looking intimidating and strong would help protect her. “I took to the gym because I wanted to be able to protect myself. Not only for myself but my son, so I went to lifting weights."
Over a period of time, Masango also recalled how she started gaining confidence in herself again.
Her now growing brand, FitnessJunkee, helped save her life. “Soon after the mental transition, my confidence became a reality chiselled into my body. I reclaimed my being,” she said.
With FitnessJunkee, she stands against any form of abuse and also aims to help other women feel good about themselves through healthy living.
“I am beaming now. I feel liberated and have regained my physical and mental strength. I want other women to feel this freedom and I believe through all this, I can help other women break free, whether from mental, emotional or physical abuse," Masango said.
“Leaving your abuser is not easy, trust me I know, but I plead with anyone being abused to leave immediately. It is not going to stop,” she said.
“If he keeps saying ‘sorry, it will never happen again’, there are great chances that it will."
“The solution to violence is never violence but through challenging the mind. Turning from victim to victor is the first step to winning the battle,” she said.