Johannesburg – As a paramedic, Nathalie knew all about the scourge of violence against women in South Africa. Yet for 10 years, she stayed in a ferociously abusive relationship, hoping things would change.
Two months ago she walked out of the marriage, but only after suffering death threats, three broken ribs, a cracked hipbone, and a broken ankle.
“Thank God I’m still alive, I’m still breathing,” she said in an interview at Nisaa, a shelter for abused women on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Nisaa, or “women” in Arabic, is one of just around 100 women’s shelters in the country.
She looked relaxed sitting on a sofa, her nose and mouth covered with a mask, even as she shared harrowing details of her years of abuse at the hands of the man she loved.
He was violent even during their two years of dating. She thought he was insecure and that marriage would cement their relationship.
But it only got worse.
Once she was struck with an iron crowbar, suffering three broken ribs. After her release from hospital, she returned home.
Another time, an argument during a car ride erupted in a volley of blows. She jumped out of the car, sprinted across a freeway during the morning rush hour – narrowly avoiding getting hit by a truck.
“He ran after me. He was on top of me, he was choking me,” she said, speaking softly and composed.
Nathalie was rescued by a woman who was driving children to school, and taken to work with a bleeding and broken nose.
On another occasion, she was assaulted for seeking permission to attend a family member’s funeral.
“Now I feel like I’m in jail in your arms,” she remembered telling him.
Weeks of counselling and the safety of the shelter have helped her rediscover herself.
“I do feel like now I’m out of jail. Now I can see the world that is so beautiful. I’m free,” she said. “Now I’m living for me.”
She has two children from a previous relationship. They’re both in their 20s, but her ex-husband rarely allowed her to see them.
Now she’s looking forward to spending time with them.
“I was playing the ‘happy marriage forever’ not knowing that I was killing myself inside. I do have the scars inside”.
To protect her identity, AFP did not use her real name.
Picture: Getty Images