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I abused my daughter

By Nina Mahlangu*

I first took my daughter to counselling when she was five years old, I was 29.

Before that I had been abusive towards her since she was six months old. At the time I was unemployed. The father didn’t want anything to do with his daughter since the pregnancy. My baby and I were going from relative to relative until we found ourselves in a church that assisted us with shelter for a few months. The other challenge was to provide food and medication, my baby was often sick and didn’t have a good appetite. In trying to force her to eat the little I could bring, I turned to abusing her physically and emotionally little by little until it became a routine. For this or that reason I would turn violent towards her. I would stop for a while and start again. I hated what I was doing, seeing myself as an unfit mother I was willing to give her away to a rich couple. She was visibly traumatised under my custody. This went on until she turned five.

Following a huge campaign against child abuse on TV, I ended up taking her to a social worker. At that moment I also opened my eyes to my own history.

I was abused as a child for an indeterminate period. Because I was too young to understand what was going on I only had flashbacks from age five to eight years old when the abuse stopped. Then from 10 to 19 years old I had to face frequent bullying from family members and I escaped several times from being sexually abused again. During that period I developed cruelty towards my pets. I had frequent nightmares and would wake up at night to torture the cat or hit the dog and go back to sleep again. At 20 I left my parent’s home, went into prostitution to support myself and pay the fees at university. Unfortunately with that lifestyle I was subjected to more humiliation and violence.

After getting my degree I started working but was sexually harassed by my boss. I couldn’t report him with little physical evidence. He got me fired when I rejected one of his advances.

When I told my daughter’s counsellor about this episode in my life, she recommended an organisation that specialises in trauma counselling for abused women. While there I met a woman who had experienced different types of abuse and overcame them all. Now she’s a counsellor with 20 years’ experience.

I approached her, she was kind and ready to help. The process was tough because I had to share with her the painful details of my experience.

She was very supportive but also firm about my daughter’s situation and my lifestyle. The more we worked together the less pain and anger I felt. The kinder I became towards my daughter. Until my lifestyle and living conditions changed radically.

When we reached the stage of forgiveness I thought about the option of forgiving my perpetrators. It’s interesting that the dictionary definition for forgiveness says nothing about condoning or accepting evil behaviour, only: “Letting go of resentment.” Forgiving does not mean condoning the betrayal, it means rising above the harm done so the survivor of abuse no longer continues the suffering.

Further reflection: forgiveness means not keeping anger; not thinking about revenge; talking about my experience for a good and useful cause; opening my heart again for true love, tenderness, understanding and compassion towards others who have nothing to do with the abuse; not paying attention to whatever is said against me and focus on my destiny. Yes, I could forgive.

I then decided to forgive all my perpetrators, to get peace of mind. Not to excuse them from the damage they’d done to me or excuse myself from abusing my daughter.

Of course some would say there’s no peace without reconciliation and no reconciliation without justice, that’s why many nations go from one war to another. But my best revenge on my perpetrators was to stop myself from turning into them, to be on my feet and stabilise my life, to work on my emotions and set myself and daughter free from abuse.

I begged my daughter for forgiveness. I wrote her a letter for when she grows up. The trauma of childhood could come back in adulthood, she might need support on any warning signs. I committed myself to taking good care of her, to preventing her from making bad decisions like I did, and the most important thing, giving her all the love and tenderness she needs.

If I could go back in time I would prevent myself from abusing her but I wouldn’t change the fact that I fell pregnant. I wouldn’t change the abuse I’ve been through because that is what makes me a survivor today, engaged in the battle against abuse. I have learnt to accept my history, what didn’t kill me made me stronger.

I feel strong enough to keep a positive attitude, live my life independently from abuse and appreciate motherhood more.

*Not her real name

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  • Violence will not do it
  • UFS clash was bound to happen sooner or later
  • Department of Women should support, not criticise women
  • Letting the curtain fall
    • Nidaa Husain

      Dear Ms. Mahlangu*

      Bless you for coming forward with the truth, for facing your demons with the intent to educate, and to pull you and your daughter from the darkness of abuse. The healing of our nation can only happen through individual healing. In effect, healing your life is aiding in healing our country. May God bless you, and may many people benefit from your courageous honesty. Nidaa

    • Judith

      You are a brave worthy person who has done work on herself to change the cycle of violence. Well done

    • Momma Cyndi

      Good for you Nina.
      Hold your head high. Not many women have been through what you have and come out on the other side with their self respect restored.

      Thank you for your honesty. There are thousands of women who need to hear your message and know they are not alone. Hopefully you can help some of them through their hell.

    • suntosh

      An engaging, brave piece of honest writing that I hope reaches a very wide audience.

    • Itumeleng

      Well done Sis. I take my hat off to you.
      One can not change the past but can shape the current and the future to what one wants it to be. You are a strong woman, a pillar of strength to yourself daughter and many other women. May you be blessed with more strength and courage to do more good. Keep it up.

    • ntozakhona

      Your message is powerful and leaves one teary. It is far too easy to condemn child abuse without understanding circumstances faced especially by the single mother+. You have brought a fresh perspective on how these issues need to be dealt with, help both the abuser and the abused.

      Your child is really fortunate to have a strong and loving mother like you and your sharing your experienes with her will certainly arm her in dealing with whatever challenges life might throw at her. I will copy that.

      That you have emerged from all that harrowing experience clearly the great person that you are is a story that needs to be told and retold. I am making copies for our community meeetings.

    • Gillian.

      I wept deeply reading this. How many little one’s are experiencing this? Well done for overcoming and I hope that your message will be disseminated far and wide so that the cycle of violence and abuse can be seen and healed.

    • Brendon Shields

      Nina my heart bounces reading this. You are now free and I hope that you manage to fix all this in your lifetime and have a great future with your baby. There is enough time

    • Lisa

      You are an inspiration. Your abusers were likely also abused and you have now broken the cycle. It takes courage. Your piece today gave me hope after what I have been reasing here lately.

      Keep it up!

    • Lenny Appadoo

      That was extremely courageous Nina.

    • Robert

      Inspirational stuff…

    • NATE IV

      The most touching “letter” I’ve read by far.