There once was a girl called Joanie, who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her deranged uncle, so she stabbed him.
Joanie’s story begins when she is abandoned as a baby and raised by her grandmother, Judith. Judith has a son, Mike, Joanie’s uncle. Mike is not a good person. He terrorises his little niece both physically and emotionally, since before she can remember. Maybe Mike feels jealous and hates Joanie for becoming the baby of the family. Nevertheless, Judith treats Mike like a baby.
Mike is treated like a baby when he is a baby, a teen and a grown man of 29 years old. Mike does not make anything of his life, preferring to terrorise a young girl, doing drugs and being a burden on the family. His mother does not see or want to see anything wrong. Mike is her baby and perhaps, she feels that it is not his fault that he is this useless. Joanie is not useless however.
As is the case in many families, Joanie has to do something to bring money into the home. When she is 13, she has to start working as a seamstress to help put food on the table. She is only 13, but she is already expected to be a breadwinner, even though Mike, already 24 at this time, does relatively little to be of any use. He is too busy buying drugs and being useless. He also enjoys doing his best to destroy his little niece.
Besides drugs, Mike enjoys tearing up Joanie’s clothes, selling anything she owns (even her toiletries) and beating her, almost on a daily basis. These encounters have left her with a blue eye, a broken lip and a broken nose. The neighbours often have to intervene by fetching Joanie out of the house so that she can sleep over at their house. Mike has every intention of breaking her, but what he does not know, is that she is not ready to be broken. She fights back.
She begins by opening cases against him, five in total since 2014. She’s only 13 when she lays her first case. Mike however, is protected by his mother, Judith. When the police arrive to take him in, Judith would get him to hide on the roof and then tells the police that he is not at home. When she is 16, she gets a protection order against him, but he tears it up, knowing that his mother would protect him. Joanie’s teachers get a social worker to visit the house, but they are met with Mike’s angry mother. Judith fights with the social workers, telling them that Joanie is lying. Judith is even upset when the neighbours rescue Joanie from her abusive uncle. There is no escaping this hell, and Mike knows it. What he does not know however, is that Joanie is not ready to be broken. He learns this the hard way, the last lesson he will ever learn.
One day, Mike comes home with a wound on his leg. He takes the 18 year old Joanie’s clothes, tears it up and uses it to clean his wound. Joanie’s grandmother asks her to help Mike clean his wound, and she does as she is told. When she approaches him, she sees her clothes torn up, and loses it. They begin to argue and he responds by striking her in the face with a crutch. In a blinding rage, she grabs a knife and stabs him in his chest. She did not mean to do it and when she sees the blood, she gets a fright and flees. She flees to the school’s field where, in a state of shock, she sits for two hours in the darkness. After those two hours, she gets up and goes back home.
When she arrives, she is told that Mike has died and the police are looking for her. She asks a neighbour to take her to the police station, where she is arrested and questioned. She has to move into a shelter because her family does not want her around. They threaten her and so does some members of the community. She spends several months alone and with the burden of knowing that she might go to jail and that her life would be over. She has spent her life trying to defend herself against an abusive maniac, trying to overcome a failing system, and this is how it ends. Sometimes however, the system has good people working for it and the judge decides to dismiss the case. She was, after all, only a child who had been brutalised for the entirety of her life and it would have been cruel to convict her for defending herself.
Joanie now lives with her aunt and she is completing matric. She confesses that she struggled to concentrate on her schoolwork because of the stress of potentially going to jail, but she is trying her best. She hopes to become a pilot so that she can see the world and perhaps even, escape the memories that haunt her. She won’t just give up. She has fought for her very life for the last 18 years, and now is not the time to relax.
Was what she did a good thing? Consider the fact that a woman is murdered every 3 hours in South Africa with the rate of murders increasing since 2014. Also consider the possibility that if Mike was not stopped, he might have done far worse. Given that he was a drug addict and had gotten away with everything else, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that he might have done far worse. Also consider the fact that Joanie was stuck in a situation where neither the police nor her family was willing to help her. She was alone and at some point, she really had no options left.
It is simply not fair that a little girl has to start working for the family, unable to enjoy her life, and being thanked with the constant terror of a grown man who contributes nothing. It should disturb us that we live in a society where this sort of thing is common. It should disturb us that we live in a society where a young girl was put into such an unbearable situation, that she felt that the solution was to pick up a knife and stab her tormentor. She should have been protected, not only by her family, but also by the system, and she wasn’t. Yes, taking a life should never be an option, but had you been in her shoes, what would you have done?
There are too many young girls that are living the life lived by Joanie, too afraid to stand up against their abusers, and why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they be afraid of being murdered by a drug addicted maniac twice their size? Joanie however, is a fighter who gives other little girls the strength and courage to stand up against their abusers. No, this is not someone who takes lives. She is the kind of person that gives hope. She gives the kind of hope, than only a hero can.
Note: Although the story is true, all the names have been changed to protect the identity of the young lady that is known as Joanie in the story.