Graça’s daughter speaks out after brutal assault

Josina Machel. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
Josina Machel. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

Graça Machel’s daughter was so badly beaten by her boyfriend that she has permanently lost sight in one eye.

Josina Machel, who was constantly at her mother’s side during the mourning and funeral preparations for her stepfather Nelson Mandela, was this week given the devastating news that her right eye would never work again.

Since the assault, which took place in Mozambique on October 17 – her mother’s 70th birthday – she has been undergoing treatment and hoping against hope that specialists will be able to restore her vision.

Her boyfriend and alleged attacker is a well-known and politically connected businessman from Maputo with interests in South Africa. He is due to appear in court soon in connection with the attack and cannot be named until he does.

Josina told her horrifying story to City Press a week before the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign. She says by speaking out about her experience and working with organisations already active in the field, she 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”.

Her horror started after she spent October 16 with her mother at a pre-birthday celebration, during which they packed food for poor children.

Later, Graça Machel returned to South Africa to attend to other commitments. And after 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.

After some tests, the doctors diagnosed an “eruption and displacement of the retina, which meant I could not see light ... and therefore lost the ability to see.

“By the time my brother called to say happy birthday to my mum, he had bad news to give,” said Josina.

After four weeks of tests and treatment, doctors delivered the devastating news to her this week.

“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,” she said.

“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 now wants to use her story “for every single woman who has gone through this experience and, unfortunately, for the women that will still be going through this experience”.

She says as a gender activist, she had always worked towards ending violence against women “but in my wildest dreams I never imagined it would happen to me”.

The experience has spurred her to dedicate her life to ensuring that “no violence is perpetuated against women and no violence is perpetuated against men”.

“I also felt that not standing up in this fight will be an indictment on the legacy of my parents. Papa Madiba has always defended women’s rights and my mum is the epitome of the significance of fights against injustice against women. So at this point, I have no right to be quiet and not to stand up.”

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