Josina Machel, the stepdaughter of Nelson Mandela and daughter of Graca Machel, the famous humanitarian, has just come forward to say she was viciously assaulted last month by her boyfriend one night as he was escorting her to an event.
After weeks of treatment in the hopes of restoring her vision, Machel says she was informed by doctors this week that she has lost sight in one eye from being repeatedly punched by her boyfriend. Machel opened up about the news for City Press a week in advance of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign. She says her goal is to get women to tell their stories and to take their perpetrators to court.
“I’ve always been an activist against violence, and felt I couldn’t walk the streets without sharing my story,” Machel said in an interview with 702 Radio’s Redi Tlhabi. “I thought to myself: my story counts, let me tell the truth – I was abused.”
The assault took place in Mozambique on Oct. 17, the day of her mother’s birthday. At the time, Machel had been spending time with her mother to celebrate the occasion. Amidst her travels and her event appearances to represent her family, Machel had taken a break to see her boyfriend. In the evening as they were driving in a car, Machel asked her significant other if she could spend the night at her family’s home to see her mother again and to be with her relatives. That’s when she says her partner became violent, using verbal, abusive language.
“There were just insults, just bad words. He expressed his unhappiness about me wanting to go home,” Machel said. “I have blocked them out of my mind somehow emotionally. They are just not words that I expected to hear from anyone.”
In the middle of yelling at her, Machel says her boyfriend then punched her multiple times in the face. As soon as she could, Machel fled the car and screamed for help in Portuguese and English as she ran through the street. Machel was in an affluent area filled with homes of diplomats and other prominent government officials But even with her cries and the security in the neighborhood, she said no one came to help her. She eventually woke up in a hospital.
Doctors diagnosed the issue as an “eruption and displacement of the retina,” meaning Machel could not see light. She was even told not to cry out of fear that it would make her condition worse.
“I’m still going through myriad feelings. 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.”
Machel currently cannot identify the man who allegedly assaulted her, since she is now pursuing legal action, but he is described as “well-known” and “politically connected.” He will be identified to the public when he begins appearing in court for the case.
Machel’s family, particularly her mother, has been devastated by the news.
“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…[M]y brothers are hurting beyond belief; my children have not been able to voice what is happening.”
Machel, a long time gender activist, says she is still surprised that she is now a victim of domestic violence, though she admits that the abuse started as strictly being verbal before she was finally hit that night in October. She insists that her experience illustrates that abuse can happen to any woman, regardless of her race or class. Machel says she is determined to use her testimony as a tool to help other woman and to make men accountable for their violent actions.
“I refuse to be defined as a victim – I am not. I am a survivor and I will make sure that I add my voice to those of many other survivors.”