How Thembi was burned by her jealous boyfriend

By Faeza
04 August 2016

Six years ago, Thembi Maphanga (39), from Mpumalanga, was burnt by her boyfriend. She lost her two-year-old daughter during the incident, but she didn’t allow this to stop her from being positive.


“When I met my boyfriend in 2005, it was love at first sight. I was smitten and believed that he was my soulmate. He was all I wanted in a man. He was charming and treated me like a queen,” Thembi says.

She says he changed a few months after they became a couple. “He became jealous, possessive and abusive. He would get angry when I didn’t report my movements or when I didn’t answer my phone. He became a monster and started calling me names," Thembi recalls. “He would say bad things about me, hit me and later apologise. I would forgive him and things would be back to normal."


"I knew that what he was doing was wrong but I was blinded by love. I believed that he loved me. Three years into our relationship, I fell pregnant. This was the happiest time of our lives. It was the beginning of our lives as parents. I believed that this would bring us close together and change his ways but I was wrong.” One day in 2009, he snapped in a way that would forever change Thembi's life.

“I thought that this was just one of his episodes and that he would soon calm down. He threatened to leave me and my child. After breaking some items in the house, he stormed out. I didn’t hear from him for days and his cellphones were off. Deep down in my heart, I believed that he wanted to cool off and would come back," she says, adding, "A few days later, he called me at work informing me that he would be coming to fetch some of his belongings from my house.

At the house he apologised and asked for forgiveness. I refused as I was tired of his abusive behaviour. I could not continue raising my daughter in that environment," she says about finally finding the courage to leave him.


That's when his behaviour turned deadly. "He told me that if he couldn't have me, no one else would. He locked us inside the house and poured petrol on us. I could see the anger in his eyes and knew that he was going to kill us. I pleaded with him not to kill us, but he was too angry to listen. We fought for the box of matches that he was holding, but he was too strong.

He overpowered me and managed to get out of the house through the window. He lit a match, set the house on fire and left us to die,” she says. “My daughter cried hysterically while I tried to put out the fire, but because I was soaked in petrol, I couldn't do anything much. I could only scream out for help. I managed to call the ambulance. Luckily, emergency services staff got to us before we died.

We suffered thirddegree burns and 99 percent of our bodies was covered with scars," she recalls, adding, "Doctors didn’t believe that we would make it out of the hospital alive. I was unconscious for weeks and my daughter passed away after a few days in hospital. This was the hardest time of my life. I could not attend her funeral as I was in a critical condition in hospital.

I was hospitalised for six months. I blamed myself for allowing the abuse to go on for years. I was blinded by love and convinced myself that he was jealous because he loved me. But I now know better." The incident changed her life drastically. "I didn’t only lose my daughter, I also lost my job. I’m a qualified artisan but because I have a disability, I had to be moved to a different position. I now work as a furnace manager."


“I could not face the world. My confidence took a knock after spending time at the hospital. I could not stand the stares and the pity people felt for me. I managed to forgive him after attending counselling sessions. I haven’t seen or heard from him since the incident, but he has sent his family members and friends to apologise on his behalf.

I have forgiven him, but justice has taken its course, and he is now in jail for attempted murder and murder. By forgiving him, I was able to let go of the anger that consumed me for years. I had to adapt to a new lifestyle. My skin is now sensitive and I had to be taught how to walk and do some of the basic things that I previously took for granted.”


She is no longer angry at the world. “I used to get angry when people stared at me. I would approach them and tell them off, but I don’t do that anymore. I miss my daughter daily, but I believe that it is for the best that she has passed away.

What kind of life would she have lived knowing that her father tried to kill her?" Thembi is using her tragedy to help other women and people who have survived severe burns. “I’m now stronger and more confident. I’m using my experience to help other women and survivors. Women should not wait to be killed by their partners before they get out of abusive relationships,” she warns.