By Nawaal Adams
After a gruelling 15 years in Yemen, Mitchells Plain born Masnoena Adams has been dealt another blow, with the brutal killing of her husband. Saleh Al-Taheri was gunned down at close range on Sunday, in what it said to be a tribal dispute. Saleh, a truck driver transporting fuel, was allegedly shot by a rival tribe member.
Saleh refused to go to work that morning and instead slept in. On the other side of the house, located in a rural mountainous village in Yemen, Masnoena continued with her cooking. Saleh received an unknown visitor, who unbeknown to him was the shooter. The two men argued on the other side of the house and Saleh asked the man to leave. The man, however, returned to his car to get his gun. Gunshots were immediately fired towards Saleh. Despite his attempt to retaliate, the gunman managed to shoot him 14 times.
“I saw him fall down. I saw it with my own eyes. I didn’t even get a chance to speak to him,” Masnoena told VOC in an exclusive interview with week.
Masnoena described the gruesome scenes of her husband’s death – his brain left fractured by the impact of the bullet.
“When I got there, his head and his brains were next to him,” she said.
The man then fled the scene. There was no apparent history between the two men.
Saleh’s tribe was immediately notified. However, the clan refused to bury his body before the perpetrator has been caught. It is a common and an unwritten law in Yemen to avenge the deceased. Masnoena said many Yemenis are strong believers of the phrase “an eye for an eye”.
War and tribal conflict
The tribe has taken it upon themselves to avenge Saleh. According to Masnoena, they will stop at nothing to find the man responsible for Saleh’s murder.
“His tribe refused to bury him. They said he must stay in the fridge (morgue) until they get the man. They have to kill the man,” she stated.
“The rule is that his brother or my son will have to kill the man. This is the Yemen tradition.”
In the large rural swaths of the country, local, tribal law oftentimes holds more weight than state power. Carrying a weapon is the norm and is an integral part of Yemeni tradition.
Asked whether she feared a reprisal on her family, Masnoena said she was well equipped to protect herself.
“Saleh showed me how to use a gun. I know how to shoot,” she said, adding that Saleh’s cousin lived close by, and would watch out for her.
Juggling both the stress of Saleh’s death and the horror of the Saudi bombardment of Yemen just two hours away from their village, Masnoena perseveres and pushes through. The war has left Yemen in a devastating state. The country has been battling with food insecurity and a lack of basic services for years.
“The war is one hour away from us. We can hear the aeroplanes and we can even feel the ground move.”
A life in captivity
Masnoena met Saleh 15 years ago in Cape Town, when she worked at a butchery in Mitchells Plain and he was an informal trader. The two soon became friends and a romance blossomed. When they married and had their first son, Saleh told her he would be taking her for umrah to Makkah. Under the premise that she would be visiting the holy cities, Masnoena left Cape Town but instead travelled to Yemen, where she was told she would be meeting Saleh’s family. She never returned.
Masnoena bore Saleh another son and the two boys were exposed to the daily aggression of their father. She was held captive for 15 years, subjected to a life of torture and physical and emotional abuse. Living in a patriarchal and violent society, Masnoena was oppressed and subjugated on a daily basis. She was deprived of simple things such as being able to walk to the farm or the local market.
For the past decade, her parents Yusuf and Fatima Adams have tirelessly attempted to bring her back to Cape Town, but all efforts proved fruitless. Even a call for diplomatic assistance through the South African Department of International Relations fell on deaf ears.
Asked about their relationship during the last year of Saleh’s life, Masnoena said it was still “very much the same”.
“I have asked a lot of people to help me and my family. I even called a woman in Cape Town to help me. She found some people here in Yemen to help me but they say I have to get out. How could I when my husband would not let me leave my home,” she said.
While Saleh’s death is an unspeakable tragedy, his absence leaves a glimmer of hope for Masnoena to break through the oppressive chains of her situation and return home to her parents. She has been reassured by Saleh’s uncle that she may return home after her iddah of four months and ten days.
“I spoke to his uncle from his mother’s side, and I told him that he has to fetch all Saleh’s things and his money and keep it safe. And he told me, after my Iddah, he is going to take me back to my family.”
But Saleh’s death also raised serious questions about the future of their children. Masnoena feels she could never permanently relocate back to Cape Town, as her children have been raised in the tribal system and are accustomed to Yemeni culture and tradition. Nevertheless, Masnoena remains optimistic.
“You have to believe in Allah. I am relaxed because I know what I went through. But now it is my responsibility to finish our house and look after the children because I told them I have to go to my family.”
Despite the years of abuse and ill health having taken its toll on her body and face, Masnoena remains strong, resilient, patient, grateful and firm in her spirituality. She looks forward to being reunited with her parents and her freedom.
“I miss my family so much….my mother and my father…they are everything,” she said breaking down in tears.
With Saleh’s passing, Masnoena has had time to reflect on her life and the heavy burden she has to bear. She now wants to let go of her past and move forward.
“I’ve asked my family to forgive Saleh because Allah SWT is Ghafoor ur Raheem (The Forgiving). We have to forgive him and let go. My parents said they have forgiven him a long time ago. This is written by Allah, not by us.” VOC