FROM THE ARCHIVE| The burnt and the beautiful

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These women have chosen to share their stories for the #StopStaringItsOnlyScars photo campaign. (PHOTO: Supplied)
These women have chosen to share their stories for the #StopStaringItsOnlyScars photo campaign. (PHOTO: Supplied)

This article was first published in the 22 March 2018 edition of YOU.

Three years ago she was a pained figure covered in blood-stained bandages, so badly burnt she didn’t want her little girl to see her. The woman who stands before us today is a far cry from the one who was in so much agony then.

Today Ines Antonio (26) stands before the camera, clad only in white underwear, defiantly baring the scars left behind after her ex-boyfriend threw acid over her in 2014.

Ines is one of a group of 12 brave South African women challenging perceptions of burn victims through a striking photo campaign called #StopStaringItsOnlyScars.

From horrendous accidents to sickening cases of abuse, these women have one thing in common: they’ve been scarred by burns and this hashtag is their victory chant.

They’re proud to show off no longer regard themselves as victims. The hashtag for the campaign is the brainchild of fellow burn survivors Neo Mocumi (41) and Thembi Maphanga (41).

“I believe after this shoot, and beyond, a lot of survivors’ self-esteem will be boosted. We’re saying that whatever scars you have, internally and externally, don’t let them define you,” Neo says.

We spoke to six of the survivors.


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Ines Antonio was left with third degree burns after her ex-boyfriend threw battery acid over her. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Her story made headlines in November 2014 after she was viciously attacked by her ex-boyfriend, Jan Pieterse. He’d confronted her and their daughter, who was four years old at the time, on the street – and threw battery acid over Ines. She suffered third-degree burns to 70% of her face and body and was treated at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital burn unit for two and a half months. She now wants to use her story to encourage others to rise as she has.

“All of us have bullies in our lives capable of hurting us physically or verbally. I’ve managed to overcome my situation with help from my counsellor but also by telling my story and learning to love myself,” she says.

Ines is completing her matric and is no longer ashamed of her looks.

“This photoshoot is all about reclaiming our dignity.” 

READ MORE| MY STORY| How I went from abused to helping those being abused


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Neo Mocumi remember having to escape her burning car through flames back in 2002. (PHOTO: Supplied)

On an ordinary weekday in May 2002 Neo’s life changed forever. She was sitting in the back seat of a car when the vehicle burst into flames.

“I was in the back and the doors had locked automatically,” she recalls.

“To escape from the car I had to go through the flames.”

The result was devastating: 70% of her face as well as parts of her lower body were badly burnt. Doctors feared she’d never be able to walk again and she was in hospital for nine months. Thirteen years later, in August 2015, tragedy struck again. Neo lost her sister when the younger woman fell on a hotplate and died of her injuries.

“That’s when I decided to start Omolemo Omogolo Burn Survivors South Africa to support burn survivors and their families,” she says.

Omolemo Omogolo, which means He has mercy, He is great, was launched in May 2016.

The organisation, of which Neo is executive director, educates communities on preventing fires and provides support in hospitals for burn survivors. It also promotes education around gender violence.

For now the women are using the media and social media to get exposure and raise awareness, but they’re planning a second photoshoot in May followed by an exhibition of their pictures in August for Women’s Month.

The #StopStaringItsOnlyScars awareness campaign is close to her heart.

“As burn survivors we face rejection and loss of opportunities daily because society stigmatises us,” she says. “Now we’re reaching out to say, ‘Look at us! We’re beautiful with our scars’.”


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Maboshadi Kgwale was burnt in 2013 after a paraffin stove in her home exploded. (PHOTO: Supplied)

It was a happy shopping trip that ended in disaster. Maboshadi remembers the day in November 2013. She and her then-fiancé had gone to buy groceries for her upcoming birthday and their wedding was scheduled for the end of the month.

“I decided to prepare a meal for my mom. We were using a paraffin stove we’d bought that day because our electricity cables had been stolen,” she recalls.

“All I remember is I was busy cooking and I heard a loud sound when the stove exploded. Next minute I was covered in flames.”

She rushed to the bathroom where her mother covered her with a wet towel to douse the flames but her body and face were badly burnt.

“Through my fellow burn survivors I’ve gained strength from knowing I’m not alone.”

For Maboshadi, who works in merchandising, being part of this photoshoot is all about embracing her scars.

“Love and accept us as we are,” she says. “We want to remove the stigma burn survivors often have to face in society and at work.”


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Thembi Maphanga was left with burns to 80% of her body and lost her young daughter after the room they were in was doused with petrol and set alight by her ex-boyfriend. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She’ll never forget the horror of that Sunday in March 2010.The previous day she’d had a blazing row with her ex-boyfriend and father of her child. The day after the fight he returned to Thembi’s home to collect his belongings.

She was in a room with her daughter, Kamo (2), when he walked in and locked the door behind him. In his hand was a five litre container of petrol.

“He started throwing petrol over me and I screamed and fought to keep him away from me,” she recalls.

Then he lit a match, setting the room alight, before jumping out the window to escape the blaze.

Thembi frantically searched the room for Kamo but eventually had no choice but to leap out the window too.

She was left with 80% burns across her body but her little girl didn’t survive the effects of the flames and died three days later.

For years Thembi was unable to come to terms with what had happened but she’s slowly getting her life back. She now works as a furnace operator at an alloy manufacturing company.

“I want to get the message out there that whatever difficulties you face you shouldn’t feel ashamed of how you look.”

READ MORE| MY STORY| How I learnt to love myself again after I sustained second-degree burns to my face and body


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Kimberly Molala suffered severe burns after a paraffin stove exploded in her home when she was 12. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She was involved in an accident 18 years ago when she was 12. Kimberly, her uncle and her baby brother were injured when a paraffin stove exploded and caused their home in an informal settlement to catch alight.

“I spent almost a year in Tembisa Hospital,” she says.

“I went through trauma and excruciating pain.”

After the accident her studies suffered and she left school.

“I lost my self-esteem and confidence. I was young, angry and confused.”

Kimberly returned to school the following year and realised if she was going to make it, she had to embrace this new chapter in her life.

“It meant making new friends and overcoming stares, mockery and people talking behind my back,” she says.

“It dawned on me this wasn’t going away and the fact I was alive meant I still had a purpose and power.”

Kimberly, a human resources administrator, now uses her experience to encourage others who’ve been through similar situations.

“I’ve been given a second chance at life.”


survivors, womens day, abuse, South Africa, overco
Phindile Mokoena was just 5-years-old when the paraffin stove in their home exploded, leaving her with burns to her face and body. (PHOTO: Supplied)

In 1991 Phindile was just five when she suffered severe burns to her face and body. She was asleep when her 14-year-old sister lit the paraffin stove in their home.

The older girl hadn’t remembered the stove was leaking, and the house went up in flames. Everyone rushed out but they forgot about Phindile. By the time she was rescued she’d suffered third-degree burns across 75% of her face and body.

She wants to claim back her life and stop being ashamed.

“For me this photoshoot is all about showing off my scars and telling others not to hide theirs,” she says.

Phindile, who works as a customer care debt collector in a bank, says she deals with her situation by reminding herself of all the goals she still has to achieve.

“It’s not easy but to heal you need to forgive and learn to love yourself.” 

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