Babes Wodumo – why the narrative of abuse survivors doesn’t belong to us

Babes Wudomo at the Guess spring 2017 collection preview which took place at The Tin Factory
Babes Wudomo at the Guess spring 2017 collection preview which took place at The Tin Factory

A few years back, when the Manchester Attack happened at the Ariande Grande concert, I remember seeing a tweet that really stood out from all the rest.

I can’t recall the exact wording, but the context and messaging really got me thinking about the way we are so quick to get to the heart of the story that in many cases, we overlook the trauma of the victims.

The specific tweet in question was a guideline for those dealing with the aftermath of the events and how to deal with invasive media when grief and devastation is at the forefront of your emotions.  

One of the points I remember is the issue on the right to refuse to talk about your grief – especially when you haven’t yet processed it yourself.

That really hit home for me because while one of the many foundations of human compassion is formed through shared experiences and stories, the line between compassion and absorbing something for the sake of consumption often blurs.

In case you’ve missed it, in a recent interview with singer Babes Wodumo (Bongekile Simelane) on MetroFM, it came to light that kwaito star, Mampintsha (Mandla Maphumulo) has allegedly been physically abusing his ex-girlfriend.

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According to Channel24, the allegations were brought out in the open when DJs Masechaba Ndlovu and Mo Flava pressed for more information following Wodumo’s revelations in the interview that she had split from Mampintsha.

The damning information about the abuse was actually revealed by Masechaba who claimed to have inside knowledge about Babes’s extensive injuries and made that information public with listeners.

Let’s stop there for a second. For anyone who has seen the interview – which was also posted live on her Instagram account – you’ll notice that she seems very uncomfortable with the direction the interview is going in. 

The promotional interview – which apparently was supposed to focus on details surrounding her new album – quickly took a turn when Babes revealed that her now ex went into her Instagram account and posted pictures of the two of them without her permission, implying that they were still together when they’d since split up.

While that certainly strikes a massive red flag, what came next in the interview is something we certainly weren’t expecting to be revealed.

Masechaba started off by saying that she didn’t want to do this, but that she felt that she had to because “I hate to see a young woman as smart and as talented as you living in so much fear.”

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She then reveals the painful details of how a close friend of hers took Babes into her care the day after Mampintsha is alleged to have punched her in her face.

Now some have argued that she was completely aware that this would happen, but that’s not the point. Being aware of how an interview may play out versus how an interview is experienced in the actual moment are two very different things.

For me the most striking thing about the interview is that Masechaba uses the opportunity to force the issue at hand, revealing details that Babes herself never had the opportunity to voice.

I’d like to acknowledge that as a force for activism and calling out gender-based violence and abuse, I can, understand and applaud Ndlovu’s actions.

We’re living in a country where women fear for the lives, and unfortunately, rightly so. We’ve seen too many instances of domestic violence and there are far too many stories about how women die at their hands of their intimate partners.

In fact, Mshoza, who has according to TimesLive been under protection from her estranged husband due to abuse allegations, actually penned a gut-wrenching open letter to Babes.

In it she expresses her complete support for her and tells her to be strong.

Let’s just say that no woman should have to write a letter like this and no woman should have to experience this.

So yes, I understand where Masechaba comes from and I wholeheartedly empathise with her frustration and fury. In a world that doesn’t value our worth as women, it often feels like the only people who are on our side are our fellow sisters.

But still, I can’t get behind her methods.

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Because for me, the one rule that’s the most important for me when it comes to survivors of domestic violence and abuse, is that they and only they control their narrative.

Masechaba took that choice away from Babes when she revealed something that she was fully aware could result in trauma. Trauma that Babes may not have been ready to fully deal with yet.

And even if she was ready to deal with it, those words should never have been spoken by someone else on her behalf. On national radio.

It wasn’t her story to tell.

Even more so given that Mampintsha has released a statement that not only lacks sincerity, but that downplays the level of pain he inflicted on her.

Having this made public knowledge is not a guarantee of her safety. Think of all the women who try to leave abusive relationships and are still hurt or killed for it.

What’s more is that the plight of domestic abuse could have been highlighted without the name of a celebrity being used. Yes, there’s power in a celebrity lending their voice, support and action to this, but it has to be in a way that lets the celebrity (Babes in this situation) feel that she’s comfortable with the information she wants to share.

And yes, we should call out and shame the abusers, but when that becomes the driving force for making a statement, then who are we giving more power to?

As one reader puts it, empower victims of violence, but without using your platform as a means to showcase your role as an activist, or to call out the abuser with no regard for the victim’s safety.

Many people complained about this on social media questioning the way in which it was handled.

But according to City Press, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago released a statement in defense of Mo Flava and Masechaba’s actions, stating that as an organisation, they will “seriously deal with those issues that are in the public space whether they implicate well-known people or not.”

He also added that they would respond further if any complaints are submitted to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

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We got in touch with Bernadette Simpson, PA at Sisters Incorporated, an organisation which aims to help and shelter women and children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The shelter aims to house survivors for up to six months and offers programs that are aimed at helping the women to heal.

Before responding to our query about Wodumu’s interview, she provided us with a little insight into what an organisation like theirs aims to do:

“Our priority, first and foremost, is to create a safe space and haven - and our approach to this is to help heal them on a holistic level. All of our programs are geared towards healing them on a emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological level.”

With that in mind and within context of Babes Wodumu’s interview, she revealed some details about the processes they go through to ensure that the victim’s dignity, safety and security are the most important in terms of interviews:

  • When we take people for interviews or we are invited by the media to do interviews - we normally brief the victim of abuse first and then we brief the media
  • Because it's such a sensitive  topic, we will actually first assess the survivor of abuse in order to determine whether she's actually ready and whether or not she really wants to speak about it
  • We also establish whether or not she's only able to speak about certain things, while avoiding more difficult aspects of the potential conversation
  • The media is then informed that they shouldn't push or press for information that could be triggering
  • We always want to know beforehand what the questions are that will be asked. Unfortunately we are not always in control of how they ask the questions.

Regarding the Babes situation, Bernadette adds that she certainly feels like there were boundaries that were crossed.  

“It also shows that sometimes the media doesn't always understand that it's not easy to talk about such a situation, especially with her being a public figure.

And sometimes it often seems as if they haven't educated themselves enough on this to be sensitive to the people who they are interviewing or speaking to. Because we often find that when the women go to the police, they're treated with indifference or are made to feel as if it's their fault. But it's not for them to make the decision. Their job is to protect them. The victim should have the power to tell her story in her own time and in her own words and not be coerced into saying or revealing certain things.

It's a very tricky thing and I think sometimes the media and police can be judgemental because they often have their own perceptions of abuse and what it does and doesn't entail.

I feel that the MetroFM DJ should actually formally apologise to Babes because she might also have made it difficult for other people to want to come out and talk about it, because they don't want to feel exposed in that way.

Because even though we expose abuse so much, people still feel ashamed of talking about it. And they're scared and people don't always have the support from their family and communities."

We’ve reached out to MetroFM’s PR offices but have yet to receive a response.

For more information about the Sisters Incorporated shelter, and if you need any help, visit their website here.

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