Actress Sonia Sedibe was a victim of physical abuse – something she doesn’t speak about often. But her personal journey is full of lessons for all of us, especially if you have or are currently suffering from physical abuse.
Her moving story, here – plus help to get out of an abusive relationship if this affects you.
‘I was 17 when I met my then-boyfriend, and still in high school. I had loads of friends at school, but after we started dating he eliminated them one by one. He had an issue with each of them and, before I realised what he was doing, I had no friends left. Abusers isolate you so you become dependent on them, something I didn’t see at the time.
‘At first, the abuse was psychological and financial. For example, he’d drive me to auditions. But when I started to get cast in commercials, he refused to help me any more. That’s typical of abusive people: they dangle a carrot in front of you, but the moment you start to achieve and make something of yourself – the moment they risk losing control of you – they take that carrot away and remove your power. So, when I was 20, I saved up enough money from my TV and commercial work to buy my own car, so I could get myself to auditions. Then I got a gig at Soul City in 2000, and really began to make a name for myself. It was at this point that the abuse became physical.
‘The physical abuse started with one incident I’ll never forget. We were at an industry party – he was with me – and I bumped into an old friend as we were leaving. It was a guy friend I’d grown up with, and hadn’t seen in ages. He was an SABC TV presenter, and I was excited to see him. As we left, I gave him a hug, and as soon as we walked out the door, my partner started yelling at me: “Why did you do that? Why did you disrespect me like that? When you’re with me, you don’t give other men hugs. It’s a sign of disrespect.” I didn’t understand why he was so upset, but I also didn’t want to aggravate the situation, so I apologised immediately.
‘We got in the car and, as my partner was driving, he threw a punch at me with his left fist. I was completely taken off guard. He was shouting things like, “I need to teach you a lesson! You never do that!” Again, I tried to reason with him, but I was also terrified. “I thought we spoke about it,” I said. “And I apologised.” But it wasn’t enough. As we drove along the highway, he leaned over to open my door – while we were going at full speed – and tried to kick me out. Thank God I was wearing my seat belt.
‘Ahead of us, I saw a bridge approaching. “Do you see that bridge?” he threatened. “I’m going to ram into it. I’d rather we both die if you’re going to disrespect me like that ever again.” With horror, I watched the speedometer needle rise: 120, 140, 160, 180km. I remember crying and begging him not to do it – not to slam us into the bridge. Thank God he slowed down, but I really believed at that point I was about to die.
‘Another time, we were at a festival together when a random guy tried to flirt with me. I quietly told him I wasn’t interested, but I was too late: my partner had witnessed the whole thing. He started to beat me up there and then – in front of everyone. I guess people didn’t get involved because they didn’t know what to do. And it didn’t matter to my partner that I hadn’t flirted back: I was always the target; it was always my fault.
‘The first time I learnt to use concealer, when I was 20, it was to cover up my bruises. I told no-one about what was going on. I’ve asked myself often why I didn’t leave after that first incident in the car, but this was the only man I knew: I didn’t know any better. Besides, I did love him.
‘It was only when I fell pregnant with my son, when I was 25, that I finally realised I needed to leave. I didn’t want my son to experience this kind of violence; I didn’t want his father figure to be an abusive man.
‘Motivated by my pregnancy, I finally confided in my mother. She struggled to understand the situation: my partner had only ever been the picture of kindness and respect to her, kneeling before her and taking off his hat whenever he entered her home. But she supported me.
‘I finally left him when I was five months pregnant, in 2001. I’d come home late one night from shooting and was in the bath when he arrived home with another woman. That night, while he was with this other woman, I packed my bags and went to my mom’s. At 3am that morning, he phoned me, angry, asking where I was. His response to my tearful reply that I would no longer tolerate his behaviour? “Oh, wow, you’re crying. Clearly you’re a much better actress than I thought.” Once again, he was twisting things into an insult to me; trying to make it my fault. This time, with my unborn baby giving me strength, I didn’t let him get under my skin.
‘Several days later, he called again and begged me to come back. But having done the hardest thing – actually walking out – I knew I could never go back. It wasn’t just my life at stake any more – it was my child’s, too.
‘Since then my life has changed immeasurably for the better. My son is now 16 and I’m so proud of the young man he’s become. My career goes from strength to strength, and I will never again let a man diminish my worth. Never again will I let anyone extinguish the light that’s within me. Taking my power back has made me stronger.
‘Three years after I’d left my partner, I bumped into an acquaintance who told of how he’d abused another woman. She told of how this poor woman had vomited in his car, and he’d beaten her up at a petrol station and forced her to clean the car, there and then, at 2am in the morning. My heart broke for this woman, but it also reminded me: I was not at fault, the problem was him. I was not his trigger, he was. Whether it was me or another woman, his behaviour was his responsibility.
‘We must not stay silent. It’s not acceptable for anyone to sit back and watch as a woman is beaten up at a festival, or forced to clean up her vomit at a petrol station. It’s not acceptable for us to turn a blind eye if we feel one of our sisters is being abused.’
Lawyers Against Abuse
- Visit Lva.org.za
Legal Aid Advice Line (free)
- Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
- They will also be able to tell you which Legal Aid office is closest to your location
- Call their HQ: 011 642 4335
- Download the free POWA GBV app for Android or iOS to report abuse and find help centres near to you
- Call 0861 322 322
- Dial *134*7355#
- Call 10111
- Visit their FCS Unit