My family listened while our neighbor beat his wife

By Tshepiso Serame

When the holidays came around I spent a portion of it within security estate in a warm house with thick walls that shielded me from the elements. Not only had I been unaware of them but did I was nearly ignorant to the fact that my father lived beside other houses on either side, because of the tall walls. I knew nothing of their lives and them of mine.

Although this part of my vacation ended the disconnected isolation did not.

Last night was my first night at my mother’s newly rented RDP house. Our house is small and cramped, and just outside our kitchen door lives a couple. My mother shares the yard with their shack.

Last night there were screams as we sat around our paraffin heater. Slaps and kicks could be heard coming from the couple’s home. I was horrified, the rest of my family was only slightly moved.

My mother commented that ‘it happens too often.’ She went on to say that she was getting tired of the man’s drunken brawls and his beating on his girlfriend during the night, while she (my mother) tried to get some sleep for work. I was confused and ashamed of my mother’s comment, the lack of empathy and apparent detachment, hard to swallow.

I expressed my confusion, shame and lack of satisfaction with her response and, turning to my step father, asked why he doesn’t stop the man from beating his girlfriend. He replied by saying it isn’t his place, that in this place ‘it is better not to get involved when two people are fighting.’

Together, my mother and step father recollected and related to me an incident from the previous yard they shared with another couple. They were renting a RDP not too far from where they are now. In the same yard, lived another couple. My step father had tried to stop them from fighting one night. That couple didn’t fight too often, but that time things were terrible. The lady who had been living next door to them had been sick for some time and had tested positive for HIV. She confronted her husband with the news. The lady accused her husband of having infected her, and that’s when the fight had apparently broken out between them I had been physically violent and messy.

In the process of trying to stop the fight my step father had gotten a fair amount of blood from the couple on himself. The fear of infection became real in light day when the circumstances of their fight dawned on him. My stepfather was put on ARVS immediately. After a month he tested negative and is still to go for another test at the end of the window period.

My step father expressed that he didn’t support domestic violence but he isn’t prepared to stop the new couple’s fights himself. He just could not put himself in harm’s way again. I could empathize with him and his fears after my parents finished relating the story to me. I still didn’t feel it was right that we sat there and pretended to be helpless while another woman was being made a statistic.

So, I called the police to alert them of the incident.

What all this made me realize is that there is no sense of community on either side of the poverty line. Walls or no walls, people merely peep and sigh from their windows while others are being victimized in their homes. As we awaited the police around our paraffin heater, attempting to warm ourselves safe and detached from the violence happening in our own yard, I cursed the walls for being so damn thin that they couldn’t keep the cold or our neighbour’s screams out.

For more pieces tackling the topic of domestic violence read At least she did not hit me and this piece on supporting someone in an abusive relationship.

For more on HIV read HIV and how it affects a relationship, Getting tested and this piece on African Queer women speaking on HIV/Aids.

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