Community//

Josina Machel, An Activist and Nelson Mandela’s Step Daugher, Speaks About the Abuse That Changed Her Life

Plus how she has been able to remain hopeful during the most challenging times.

I miss my eye.

I wake up and open my eyes. It’s a bit darker, but wait, my right eye doesn’t open. The harder I try to open the eye the more difficult it becomes; I have unconsciously forgotten again that I am now blind in my right eye. “Damn!” is the first word I usually utter, followed by the thought, “that man punched me so hard that I lost my eye!” This is my new reality and every now and again, I wake up from it hoping I just had a bad dream and that this thing never happened to me. But it did …As if to confirm what I already know, I walk to the mirror and look at my scarred, blind eye – the one that used to be the strongest and more dominant of my pair, and let me dare to say the more striking and captivating one. It was the one I depended on and the one I lost. At times I stare at it in silence at other times I talk to it, apologizing for having exposed it to harm. Sometimes I praise it for being a survivor, and having withstood the blow , and for being strong. To both I whisper praise for standing proud and beautiful in their new circumstances. This has been my utter most life changing experience. Life has dramatically changed from the smallest to the biggest details. The way I live in my home has changed, tasks like doing grocery shopping, which I used to do without struggle and enjoyed so much, have become a “real coordinated mission”. All the spaces in my home need to be controlled – kitchen cupboards, for example, can’t be left open, because they have become a real hazard. Where previously I would shout at the kids to close the kitchen cupboards, I now shriek in pain having first bumped myself before realising that the cupboards were even open. Driving was my biggest passion; it was therapeutic. I enjoyed the time I spent on a long drive through the city, and turning around to go back home with the volume turned up – there was just something about it that soothed me on the inside. I used my driving time to reflect and to just unwind. The savoured pleasure of picking up the kids from school, dropping them off at play dates and fussing about picking them up, scheduling my time around their time, driving to the office, doing groceries and running errands and just being the woman of the home. I miss my eye; I miss how it enabled me to be independent to do all these things. To do something as simple as grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy, I have to be driven and always need support nearby on my right to help ensure I don’t bump myself or hurt myself while navigating through the aisles. Just the thought of doing shopping, the busy malls and the stocked-up aisles, makes me so anxious that I feel entangled in something that I can’t escape. These are all things I took for granted before but that now I appreciate and value, because you see, what was a simple and normal activity in the past has now become such a privilege. This is my new normal. Am I angry? Of course! I am madly angry! I am angry at myself for having gotten involved with a man who hurt me so badly and inflicted such definitive damage in my life… a man who chose brutality despite my screams of protest. The damage of the blows to my eye is life-long. The retina of my eye erupted in a way that not even modern science can repair. I get angry that I cannot do the things I used to do. I get angry that I have lost a part of my being as a result of another human being. I get angry that my face doesn’t look the same. I get angry at the hurt I see in my mother, my kids, and my brothers’ eyes. I get angry that I can tell from the way they look at me that, they too, are hurting when they look at my new face. It has been a long year, filled with big adjustments and lessons to learn. But now I celebrate life more and I don’t take anything too seriously or for granted. When I took my first steps in heels in nearly a year, that was a great moment of victory for me. I still need to get the hang of walking in heels and measuring the distance between the heels and the ground, but I am swiftly getting there. At times I joke about the eye and call it my newly acquired beautiful “blue eye”, other times the “Russian eye” or my “KBG eye”, like in those funny old cold war movies with people who have been in battle and come out with just one eye. In a way, in this battle I too came out with one eye. So, in this month of September, Heritage month as most of us popularly know it, and as I have now come to know also as Eye Care Awareness month and International Retina Week, I want to encourage you to embrace your identity and your uniqueness, and appreciate every part of your body, especially your eyes and the abilities they give you. Before this, I must confess, I would not have cared much or known much about Eye Care Awareness month and International Retina Week, I would be more focused on the family braai to celebrate Heritage Day. So, in commemoration of my eye, my “beautiful blue eye, my “Russian eye”, my “KBG eye”, and in the spirit of Eye Care Awareness month and International Retina Week I challenge all of you to take care of your eyes more – shield them from the sun, pamper them with cucumbers and tea bags, put in eye drops when necessary to moisture them, rest them when they’re tired, and appreciate the gift of sight. In the midst of all this, I believe, God does not want harm done to His children and the scriptures teach us that what the enemy meant for evil, God turns to good, and from such circumstances lifts us, and “will give [us] beauty for ashes” (Isiah 61:3, NKJV). I believe that there are those of us who rise above the ashes of such brutal circumstances to help lift others who need a hand, a shoulder and words of encouragement to give a new hope and meaning to their lives, for them to know that they are not alone. In this, I believe God has a purpose for me, and to be of service to others in this lifetime. This is how I make sense of my life; this is my journey to restoration and regeneration. Simply put, in this, God has purposed for me to speak with determination in the struggle to eliminate gender based violence (GBV) and in the regeneration of abused women – the survivors of abuse. I am stronger today than I was yesterday. Sometimes I rebel against the use of the prosthetic eye I now wear and carry on boldly without it. I talk to myself more, encourage myself more, I have a reason to wake up every morning, because I have a mandate to achieve. I am on a new mission to make sure that no girl or woman ever has to experience this, and believe that my contribution will make a difference. I am encouraged to wake up every morning to know that in Kuhluka and through the Kuhluka Movement, speaking out, you and I can help a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother – a woman, and together we can stop gender based violence.

With one eye, I soldier on….

Ms. Josina Machel is a long standing human rights defender. As the daughter of Graça and Samora Machel, and step daughter of Nelson Mandela, she was born into a legacy of activism, and is fiercely passionate in her life’s calling to advance women’s rights.

In October 2015, Ms. Machel was physically assaulted by her then-partner which led to her tragically losing sight in one eye. As a result of this horrific experience, Ms. Machel’s activism took on new meaning and she felt propelled to vigorously fight for the rights of abused women, realising that there are many like her who have faced brutality without being able to speak out. As a survivor of domestic violence, she is turning her personal trauma into purpose. Through the Kuhluka Movement, Ms. Machel is helping to accelerate social change in communities across Africa.

Ms. Machel serves on a number of international boards, including those of the Graça Machel Trust, the ABC Atlas Mara in Mozambique, the Emerald Group, and the ZizileInstitute for Child Development. She also serves as director at the Samora Machel Documentation Centre. In 2015 she started a dance movement to contribute to Nelson Mandela Day with 67 minutes of Dance for Mandela.

Ms. Machel holds an MSc degree in Sociology (Gender) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Bachelor of Social Science in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Cape Town. She is a published author and has addressed numerous national and international audiences on issues relating to youth, gender, and culture.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.