Josina Machel, daughter of Nelson Mandela’s third wife Graça Machel and stepdaughter to the South African apartheid leader, has just learned that she will never see out of her right eye again. The reason? On October 17, her mother’s 70th birthday, she was attacked by her boyfriend and beaten so badly that she now has been told the damage to her eye is permanent.
Josina had been undergoing treatment hoping that specialists could restore her vision, but sadly she now knows that’s not the case. In lieu of that news she chose to share her story with City Press a week before the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign in hopes to “be a reference and inspiration to women to be able to come out, to tell their stories, to take their stories to court.” According to City Press:
[A]fter representing her family at a theatrical performance based on the lives of her parents Graça and Samora, Josina left “to spend some time with my significant other”.
At the end of the evening, she asked him to take her to her family home because she wanted to sleep in her mother’s bed and “experience” her as she turned 70.
“I wanted to be with my mother; I wanted to experience my mother. I was missing her. We were going to celebrate her birthday the following day and so I just wanted to feel my mum around me. That is why I was so adamant about going home,” she said.
Then her “intimate partner” refused and began throwing accusations at her and insulting her.
“There were just insults, just bad words. He expressed his unhappiness about me wanting to go home. I have blocked them out of my mind somehow emotionally. They are just not words that I expected to hear from anyone. They were demeaning of any woman and of me,” she said.
While the insults were flying, she felt a punch in the face.
“I was so shocked that I did what everybody does when something happens to you. You don’t turn towards your aggressor. You protect yourself and you try to protect your face, but to my surprise, I actually turned towards him and I asked ‘WHAT?!’
“That is how I got the second jab that blinded me, which ruptured the eye almost immediately. I felt the third one coming and that’s when I ran out of the car, ran away from him.”
Josina ran down the road in the affluent suburb, which houses diplomats and prominent people, screaming for help in Portuguese and English.
“My eye was leaking so much that I was asking for help while covering the other eye because I thought [it] was actually falling out,” she said.
Her hope for help from residents or guards in the highly secured neighbourhood was dashed when “no one helped me”.
“It was a horrifying experience. It was one of the loneliest and scariest experiences that one can go through,” she says of the moments following the beating.
She believes she tripped on something and blacked out because the next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital.
Josina was diagnosed with an “eruption and displacement of the retina, which meant I could not see light … and therefore lost the ability to see,” she explained. At that time she thought vision could one day be restored but now a month out from the attack, there was been no change.
“I’m still going through myriad feelings,” she said. “To be honest, I have not been able to grieve, I have not been able to cry, I have not been angry, I have not been able to feel all those emotions that happened because I’ve been concentrating on my eye and that delayed the pain.
“If I start crying, I say to myself: ‘Josina, don’t cry because this might affect your eye. Don’t put pressure on your eye.’
“At this point, all I know is that this has changed my life. It has gutted my mother. She is at the sunset of her life. She turned 70 on that day and this is the present that she got.
“So she is gutted; my family, my brothers are hurting beyond belief; my children have not been able to voice what is happening.”
Josina’s boyfriend and alleged attacker is reportedly a well-known businessman from Maputo with interests in South Africa who’s also very politically connected. He is due to appear in court soon in connection with the attack and cannot be named until he does.
Josina, who said of her situation, “in my wildest dreams I never imagined it would happen to me,” now wants to make her experience of domestic abuse known “for every single woman who has gone through this experience and, unfortunately, for the women that will still be going through this experience.”