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Reformed GBV perpetrator on what made him the person he became

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A reformed perpetrator of gender-based violence (GBV), Sylvester Mashilo, says being labelled a perpetrator of GBV was very uncomfortable, and that discomfort signified something.

He said for some GBV perpetrators, there is a back story that explains what led to them being who they are.

Addressing the MENtallities summit on Tuesday in Boksburg with minister of higher education Blade Nzimande and minister in the presidency for women, youth and people with disabilities Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mashilo shared his story.

His mother was raped in 1983 while she was in grade 10 and he was the result.

He said she was very ashamed and never told anybody what happened to her, and he grew up as a child whose father was unknown.

“It’s something she never wanted to talk about even to this day. Then she meets a man who says he is going to marry her, and, in our culture, you marry with the children,” Mashilo said.

He was eight when the new man came to his into life. He was told that it was his father but, Mashilo said, he soon learnt that the man who was meant to nurture and protect him abused him in the worst possible way.

Mashilo said he endured emotional and physical abuse, and the man was doing the same to his mother.

“Imagine sleeping in the next room, hearing your mother crying, knowing that she is getting a beating. That was my childhood. You now get to understand what type of environment I was being socialised in,” he said.

In 2015 when he was 31, he learnt that the man wasn’t his father, and it took him another four years before his mother could tell that he was born of rape.

He said at the time there were lots of things happening inside him. He felt worthless and tried to search for his identity, and this led him to get married for “all the wrong reasons”.

“I so much wanted a family. I so much wanted to belong and this thing that I thought was going to close this gap I didn’t know made me so sad and that was marriage. There is nothing wrong with marriage, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

He added that with wealth comes responsibility, but his wealth was in the wrong hands, in the hands of a broken man. Therefore, he lived a life of promiscuity in his marriage.

“I paid for sex. I slept with young women who I knew were vulnerable and were looking for work. Every single encounter which I thought was going to close the gap just left me even more empty,” he said.

The founder of the Sylvester Mashilo Foundation, which provides mentorship to boys between the ages of eight and 16, said his breaking point came when he lost a R2m contract because of infidelity.

“That was my breaking point because I thought I smoked my career. I didn’t know how I was going to rebuild my career. Actually, I [thought I] would be better off exiting this world.

“I thought I could sanitise my life, so nobody knows the things I used to do. I had no choice but to transform,” he added.

Raped at the age of 16, Nolwazi Lechesa doesn’t categorise herself as the victim of gender-based violence (GBV) but as a survivor.

“I lost my virginity to being raped at 16 but I say I am not a victim of rape or GBV — I am a survivor instead,” she told the summit.

“A victim is someone who is hopeless. I am a survivor because the insurmountable dirt that I have encountered could have broken me, but I chose to overcome it,” she said.

She added that she wouldn’t be bitter about what happened to her as she received a lot of support when she opened up. She started talking about her experience a bit later in her life when she was at university. This was through constant consultations with psychiatrists.

“My parents were supportive. The more I talk about it, the more I feel it was not my fault. When it happened, I was just a child. I was a small girl with dreams, but my dreams were not shattered. The incident shaped me to be a woman with vision,” she said.

Dlamini-Zuma said GBV was a societal problem and that each and every citizen should start conversations on the topic even though “it is uncomfortable within the spaces at home”.

“It is not an easy situation but we all have to tackle it. It is uncomfortable, it is going to be uncomfortable but it has to be tackled,” she said.

She added it was important to create a space where victims and survivors were able to talk, and for them to have a place where they can restart their lives.

Source: TimesLIVE

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