Abused, tormented by Dad, hubby – Thelma calls for a revolution against GBV

By Staff Reporter

When you meet Thelma Mubanga, the dynamic first impression you get is that of a charismatic bubbly entertainer blessed with a sense of humour, though she has carried a dark secrect for most part of her life.

34-year old Thelma, a victim of patriarchal dominance and to in extreme cases, abuse is addictive because she is funny, understanding and caring but you will only observe this once you get to know her personality because these attributes are  obscured under her obnoxious persona.

One will detect elements of arrogance, bluntness and a defense mechanism that is tacked away in her social media posts and interactions but never in person.

“I built up walls around me, I appear rude and blunt mostly. It’s a way of shutting people out, I gained this technique quite early when I realized that people that will hurt you are those closest to you,” she explains.

Thelma says she has decided to share her story of abuse as part of her commemoration of the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) because she is trying to use her experience to educate  the many Zambian women and girls that suffer at the hands of perpetrators of the vice.

“My First GBV experience was when I was a child and sexually molested. I can’t quite remember when it started but it stopped when I was around 9 years old. The Irony of all this is that I was molested by a very close family member…my father. What makes it worse is that my father did this with two of his friends. At the time I knew it was wrong, but I was being groomed to think it was normal. It included touching my private parts and my bare chest. Sometimes it went as far as rubbing their manhoods between my legs,” she narrates.

Thelma narrates that these encounters psychologically affected her as she was growing up because she had to come to terms with her experience alone seeing that she was young and naive.

“This greatly affected my grades at school. However, it was funny that when my father died and I changed schools, my grades improved immensely. I was a shy and very quiet child. I had no one to talk to about this. It was something that was happening in our house, but no one ever spoke about it” she says.

As if it was some kind of ‘curse’ Thelma’s direct encounter with GBV did not end here but took a drastic advancement when she became a teenage mother and wife at the tender age of seventeen.

“The second stage of my GBV experience was when I was married. I was married off young because I got pregnant. My 28-year old husband was much older than me and to this day I believe he had mental health issues that were not addressed. He prayed on the fact that I was younger and naïve. There were days that he would wake up in a mood so dark, I would know it was going to be a bad day. He was possessive, very much so to the point of locking me up in the bedroom the whole day if he wasn’t going to be home. He would hit me for reasons that didn’t make sense to me, like greeting a neighbor or wearing what he thought were revealing clothes,” she recalls.

She outlines that there would be days he would wake up very sulky and when asked if he was in a bad mood he would acknowledge. Thelma says after getting this answer she would know she was in for a tough time.

“When I saw he was in a bad mood I knew that no matter what I did we would have a fight. He would start with little things like why I smiled at his brother,  this would turn into accusations of flirting with either his brother or cousin who we were living with at some point. I began to suspect he had mental health issues when he  spun me a story about how he was dying of cancer  and that these bouts of rage were as a result of his emotions about his eminent  death,” she says.

Thelma explains that the main reason she has come out in the open is because she has five daughters out of her marriage and she feels compelled to save them and others that have already experienced GBV.

“There was a time the beatings were so frequent that my daughters had to live with my mother. One incident that stuck in my head to this day was when he was so angry at me that he got a revolver and tried to shoot me. I was only saved by his brother and cousin who managed to wrestle the gun away from him. This was only after he had fired the gun four times. I ran away to my mother’s house but he came to pick me after two days like he did each time I ran to mom’s house. My mother would always encourage me to go back because he was my husband,” she points out.

She says this was the order of activities for the five years she was married to him from 2002 to 2006 when he died.

“I finally realised that I was leaving in fear of the past and that it had a hold over me. I decided to break the chains of my silence. I hoped it would show other victims that the power lay in speaking out,” she says.

Thelma says she gets hurt when she sees victims of abuse trying to hang on into a relationship just because society will judge them even though the blows are felt by the respective victim alone.

“I have been over protective of my daughters because of my ordeal. Not a single day passes by without me thinking that my kids will go through an experience remotely similar to what I went through. Or have they already gone through the experience? My experience haunted me too much that it took me ages to actually allow my children to go for holidays. I always wanted them in sight,” Thelma outlines.

She says breaking free maybe difficult because sometimes the abuser may show signs of contrition until the next episode imperatively comes in a cycle that doesn’t stop.

“Starting over is hard but believe me staying only hurts you and gives power to the abuser. You may end up dead or lose a vital organ. Your family will lose a member . Your friends will lose you. Starting over is hard but it can be done. For the 2018 16 days of activism against GBV my message is Leave!! Your life is worth much more than you think,” She warns.

GBV is becoming a common occurrence in and an everyday thing in Zambia. Barely a day passes without a report of a case of violence against women, whether in a rural or an urban setting.

In some areas, the number of reported cases averages 50 a day. It is widely believed, however, that many cases go unreported and the numbers keep going up.

A report by the Victim Support Unit of the Zambia Police Service reveals that in 2016 the country recorded 18,540 cases of gender-based violence, up from the 18,088 cases recorded in the previous year.

Similarly, the 2017 Gender Based Violence third-quarter report indicates that the total number of GBV cases at the end of the third quarter countrywide was 16,090, compared to 13,092 cases in 2016 during the same period—a 18.6% increase.

Gender-based violence (GBV) in Zambia takes the form of physical, mental, social or economic abuse against and includes violence that may result in physical, sexual or psychological harm to the victim. It may also include threats or coercion, or the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.