Although Thandi Vellem has a decorated CV of violation and trauma in the hands of men, she uses her writing to call for gender reconciliation, writes Teboho Mpholo, ART STATE News Editor.
“She harnessed my legs on steel straps on the bed, and my vagina was completely exposed to her. I was mortified. I let out a scream as she put a cold steel object in my vagina and started what I can only describe as drilling circular motion. I was screaming, crying; with her assistant holding my hands, with my legs spread apart and held together by cold foot straps.”
This is how Thandi Vellem remembers her drill of hell at Marie Stopes, a private abortion facility, as told in her thrilling and emotionally gripping book, LIFE AFTER ABORTION.
The second time author is not new to personal storytelling. In her first book, TO SINGLE MOMS, WITH LOVE, GOD, she relived a chilling incident no child should ever witness, as she writes: “My father shot my mother in cold blood in front of my then 4 years old brother, his own mother and my 3 years old self.”
The two quotes are real life experiences from Thandi’s books, and are nothing new to South Africans as they make (social media) news headlines almost everyday.
Thandi’s first book is dedicated to women, especially those who find themselves as single parents because of different reasons. In it she addresses issues that women face, using her personal narrative. Being a mother of two, she was able to tap into the challenges she went through with the fathers of both her children, and how she was eventually able to make co-parenting work.
What comes out of her debut memoir-turned-self-help book (and her follow up unputdownable offering) is the fact that she is a woman of God who believes that her life story had to happen in order for her to be able to give hope through it to other women. She preaches the message of self-forgiveness and understands her writing as a calling to heal the nations. “Let me say, in order for you not to make the same mistakes going forward, it is important to understand where you have come from, and what frame of mind you made your mistakes in,” she writes.
TO SINGLE MOMS, WITH LOVE, GOD was clearly written from a point of healing, forgiveness and departing from an incredibly sad past. Despite her being a victim of sexual abuse and witnessing her father gun her mother down (yes, in her sight), Thandi was still able to write about the importance of fathers in her book, and to establish her gender politics from a position of partnership and not of confrontation.
She distributed her CV of hurt and violation in the hands of men, yet beckons us to choose collaborative opportunities over polemics. It is as if to say, “Look at me. I have seen it all. But I choose to fight for gender reconciliation. Why can’t you?”
It is a good book that had the potential of becoming better had she given it enough time to grow, as her life story could still be unpacked more from what she has already published. There’s a lot she could have elaborated on, which she didn’t, and this robbed us of one of the most powerful accounts.
But this shortcoming Thandi seems to have realised and corrected, if her latest book is anything to go by. Based on her thorny experience with the privately executed yet publicly shunned subject of abortion, the book comes less than a year since the launch of its older sister.
In it she focuses the reader on a relationship she was once in and how its failure at a point where she was pregnant left her with no other choice but to opt for the termination of pregnancy. She involves us in the build-up of what she thought was love: from the charm to the chase, the chance and the chaos.
In telling her story, she explicitly takes us through every detail of the perfect relationship she had with the now late “Thabo”—how it started, its glory days, its wowery and how in the end she was left with a funeral without a corpse. With a less interrupted flow (she goes on fewer preachy tangents in this book as compared to the first one) she explains how this dark episode of her life affected her emotionally and mentally.
Being a Christian woman, Thandi is aware that after sharing her experiences some people will have a different perspective of her. But this does not stop her from writing a second book as her main objective is to change lives. She writes about abortion as a societal issue that involves both men and women, regardless of who makes a decision for it to be done in the end. Thandi goes in depth about how she felt before and after the abortion was done—post-abortion trauma and depression.
As for the actual abortion, she remembers it as the most painful thing imaginable. If you don’t develop cramps in your abdomen when you read the recollection, you have died to your senses. This is because she narrates this climax episode of the book with acute remembrance, self-less vulnerability and heartbreaking sorrow. It was more than just a “drilling circular motion” inside her; it seemed to also be a drill of hell, as she subsequently condemned herself, only to find healing in God’s love.
Thandi shares her experience not as an exclusive ordeal, but as one that many women face and never speak about as they will be harshly judged by society.
“Many times, when faced with the issue of abortion, much of society chooses to stand on the sidelines; usually with bricks, stones and definite opinions towards the woman who is aborting, or one who has aborted.”
This is a book that should surely make many women who have been in her shoes – or could be – realise that they are not the only ones going through this dark period. She signs out with a pleading text to all of us, so that we can look at this subject with new eyes. In an epilogue of sorts, which is true to her style, she provides a number of arguments and solutions around abortion, starting from the fight against rape, the need for sex education in schools, as well as the role of the church.
Hopefully this detailed project will be an eye-opener to the nation at large that the decision to abort is not as black and white as it’s made to look like. There are shades of grey.
Having read both books, I came to a conclusion that, combined they could have been one interesting book. Both books are available for direct purchase from Thandi Vellem.
Teboho Mpholo is the News Editor of ART STATE. She is @MpholoTeboho on Twitter.