DOMESTIC violence, a form of gender-based violence (GBV), tears families apart and potentially expose children who witness this between parents to risks of long-term physical and mental health challenges.
While both women and men experience GBV, research has shown that women and girls are disproportionately affected.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in increased incidents of GBV in the country, as lockdowns have been confining both perpetrator and the victim in the same confined space.
However, the recently launched National Gender-Based Violence Call Centre and 575 toll-free number — a brainchild of First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa — is helping expose cases of domestic violence and child abuse.
After suffering in silence for a long time at the hands of her husband and enduring constant beatings while her children watched, Ms Nyasha Murungweni (30) from Dema last week gathered courage and dialled 575 seeking motherly advice.
The violence had been going on for years, even before the lockdown.
She pleaded with the First Lady to intervene in her marriage, which she said was falling apart.
She had lost hope of ever living in peace in her own home, as she had exhausted all channels of redress.
Ms Murungweni begged the mother of the nation to spare some time for her and her husband Mr Samuel Sanyangowe (32) so that the couple could tap into her wisdom.
Their wish was granted when they met the First Lady yesterday.
Narrating her ordeal while fighting back tears, she said her husband was in the habit of physically assaulting her and insulting her using obscene language in front of their children aged 10 and two.
“Amai ndati ndipoterewo kwamuri kuti mutiyananisewo sevana venyu. When my husband goes for a beer drink, he returns very late while drunk and demands food and I comply,” she said.
“He starts complaining and accusing me of not respecting him.
“I do not at times respond but he continues to threaten to chase me out of the family house together with the children. He accuses me of cheating on him and he starts assaulting me.”
Her husband, she added, sends people to spy on her movements while he is at work.
“I always challenge him to present evidence that I am having extra-marital affairs because he has never caught me red-handed.
“But he simply says he has his spies who feed him with information on my movements.
“He continues to assault me daily and police officers now know us because we are always at the police station over domestic violence.
“He does not take care of the family and when I fall sick, he refuses to give me money to seek medical attention.
“He even questions my hair style, which is a lady’s cut, and the type of lotion I use, saying I want to attract other men.
“He wants me to apply petroleum jelly only.”
She said because of the violence, their eldest child who is 10-years-old was now experiencing emotional, mental and social problems that could affect her development and growth.
“My husband also threatens our child with violence when she tries to restrain him. He is always threatening to kill us such that we now live in fear.
“His uncle at times restrains him but they have all given up now.
“As we speak, I have scars all over the body as a result of his assaults.”
Ms Murungweni said when she heard about the National Gender-Based Violence Call Centre-575, she did not hesitate to call and tell her story.
“When I heard on radio about the 575 hotline, I decided to phone the number.
“Amai, I love my husband and I want you to help us live in peace — that is why we are here today,” she added.
In response, Mr Sanyangowe admitted to having marital problems.
He said they always have misunderstandings with his wife because of his suspicion that she was having an extra-marital affair.
“The issue of cheating is true because I heard about it on two occasions from my relatives and friends.
‘‘At first I forgave her when she did it for the first time when we were in Mutare,” he said.
“We later relocated to Dema and again she repeated the same thing. I did not catch her red-handed but my friends and other relatives told me.
“I love my wife but whenever I suspect that she is cheating, I give her a thorough beating.
“Also sometimes she disrespects me and shouts at me in front of the children, leaving me with no choice but to ‘discipline her’”
After listening to the couple, the First Lady said violence can destroy families.
“SaAmai chishuwo changu kuti vanhu vagare murudo nemurunyararo pasina dzimba dzaputsika nekurambana,” she said.
“Children need to grow up in a secure and nurturing environment.
“Where domestic violence exists, the home is not safe or secure and children are scared about what might happen to them and the people they love.
“Children cannot feel safe or happy if their mother is being hurt or if their parents are always at loggerheads.
“The way you are fighting every day in front of the kids hazvina kunaka vanangu.
“Naizvozvo, zvamauya kuna Amai zvanaka because we are going to look at the root cause of all this and find a lasting solution.”
Turning to the woman, Amai Mnangagwa said: “If what your husband is accusing you of doing is true, then you must put an end to it.
“You are a married woman who should remain steadfast in her marriage.
“As your mother, I discourage such shameless behaviour.
“Cheating can severely strain a marriage and leave the other person feeling devastated and betrayed.
“You cannot challenge your husband that he should catch you red-handed first for you to admit and correct your wrongs.
“Mwanangu, your husband loves you; if he did not, he would have divorced you a long time ago.
“Also the fact that he agreed to come with you for advice shows kuti anokuda and wants his marriage to work.”
To the husband, the First Lady made a passionate plea for him to end the violence against his wife and children.
She said any form of violence in the home threatens the social fabric of the family and the nation at large.
“However provoked you are, domestic violence or intimate partner violence is never a solution. A healthy marriage, vanangu, should provide a solid base from which to explore and achieve the best you possibly can.
“The bottom line is violence and abuse is not okay, no matter what you say or think your partner did.
“Zvekare mwanangu, usanyanye kuterera makuhwa vamwe vanotozviitira kuda kuparadza imba yako.
“You should resolve your differences amicably by seeking assistance from family elders, the police Victim Friendly Unit or even village heads.
“There is no excuse for using violence even if your partner has behaved aggressively towards you.
“We do not know who is telling the truth and who is lying, the bottom line is that we want love to lead and peace to prevail in your marriage,” she said.
She urged the couple to join the nation in the campaign to create zero tolerance towards all forms of GBV.
The First Lady encouraged them to start income-generating projects as a family, before giving them ideas of what projects they could undertake to keep them busy and strengthen their bond.
After the one-on-one interaction with the First Lady, the couple could not hide their joy, saying the interactive session was an eye-opener.
They pledged to live happily and not engage in violence.
After giving the couple motherly advice, Amai Mnangagwa referred them to professional marriage counsellors who are working with the National Gender-Based Violence Call Centre for further management.
The toll-free number 575 and the National Gender-Based Violence Call Centre were set up in the First Lady’s Office, where victims are swiftly connected to police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) or counselling services as appropriate.
The initiative comes amid a worrying increase in reported GBV cases, including psychological, physical, sexual and all other forms of domestic violence.
Already, Zimbabweans are now reaping benefits from the call centre-575 hotline.
The establishment of this toll-free number by the First Lady is a milestone in the fight against inhumane acts perpetrated mostly by men towards defenceless women and girls.
Amai Mnangagwa, who has taken the bull by its horns, pledged to play a significant role in curbing domestic violence.