BABES Wodumo, real name Bongekile Simelane pains me in ways I cannot begin to articulate. I know that many of you have written her off and even regret having lent your support to her when news about her being a victim of domestic violence came out, writes Malaika Mahlatsi.
Shortly after that, she was practically parading her relationship with her abuser, making a mockery of everyone’s support by doing questionable songs, and as if this is not bad enough, was embroiled in a case of assault where she was the perpetrator. It is all really debilitating for someone whom the nation stood behind. So perhaps what I’m about to say will fall on deaf ears, though I hope it at least provokes some degree of cogitation on our part.
When a woman has been abused, comes out about her abuse, and then goes back to her abuser, it doesn’t delegitimise the fact that she is a victim of abuse. The argument that her going back to Mampintsha means she “enjoys” the abuse is cruel and betrays a lack of appreciation for the complexity of abusive relationships. Logic dictates that when you’re abused you should walk away, but this is not so black and white.
Most women who don’t walk away cite the issue of lack of adequate support (specifically material support), something Babes Wodumo might not have as an impediment because of her own social capital and positionality. But we must understand that there are deeper complexities in other cases, other reasons why abused women don’t leave. It may be a case of Stockholm Syndrome, where she has developed a psychological alliance with her abuser. In her case, this might be compounded by the fact that her abuser is also the anchor to her career and therefore her very livelihood.
It may be a case of the very real effects of sustained abuse, rendering her apoplectic with fear. It may be that when the relationship is good, it almost negates the horrors she endures when it’s bad. We so often believe that abusive relationships are always volatile, but this is not the case and until we understand this, we are not going to understand the myriad of factors that inform why women stay with their abusers and even defend them. It could be other reasons.
The fact though is that Babes, even in her problematic behaviour, exhibits signs of a person who is in desperate need of help – whether or not she knows or is prepared to admit it and therefore seek it. There’s a saying that “hurt people hurt people”, which alludes to the fact that people who are traumatised tend to inflict trauma on others – that people who are hurting hurt others. This is very true and we see it demonstrated in our intimate spaces as well as society in general. You only have to look at how so many former liberators in Africa behave once they are in power. I suppose that when you wrestle with monsters for too long, you tend to behave like them, to adopt some of their traits. This explains why a Babes Wodumo who knows the dehumanization of being insulted is so liberal in dishing out insults to other women (and men). This is what she knows, it is her reality, her way of existence. It is what she reverts to because it is her socialisation.
I’m not saying we must not hold Babes accountable for her actions, because that would be wrong. She has agency even as it is exercised under conditions that are far from ideal. But I don’t think we must be so quick to wash our hands off her, even as she is so deeply problematic. She is a young woman who has endured significant trauma, who exists now in a space she is clearly battling to navigate, and who is in so many ways flawed. But we should find it in our disappointed and frustrated hearts to employ even just a scintilla of compassion towards her. Just a modicum of solicitude.
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