Lerato Masilela (37), from Schoemansdal in Limpopo, suffered at the hands of her serial cheater ex-husband for the past 15 years.
She endured emotional, financial and sexual abuse. But leaving her husband and the luxurious life she was accustomed to was not easy. After seven years of being in and out of hospital due to depression, the mother of three finally got the strength and courage to walk out of her bad marriage and start over.
In August 2003, Lerato and her husband met at his workplace. The couple hit it off on the spot and exchanged phone numbers. What attracted Lerato to her husband were his good looks, the way he spoke and his kind nature.
Four months into their relationship, the pair had a traditional wedding and in 2007 they were at the Department of Home Affairs to make their marriage official. Lerato, who was working as a personal assistant at the time, got accustomed to the posh life that her husband introduced her to. She lived in a double storey house in one of the best estates in town. She drove to work in four different luxury cars in a week and was envied by many.
“My husband used to be a very kind and loving man. He was romantic too and would express his love for me by taking me out for lunches, dinners and spoil me to some shopping. He’d buy me fresh flowers, chocolates, expensive perfume and lingerie,” says Lerato.
The young mother, who now works as a human resources practitioner, adds that her family loved him, mainly because he was a very soft-spoken and polite man. The couple spent a lot of time together and were truly happy.
Things started to change when Lerato gave birth to her second daughter. Her husband, who used to work far from home and only came home on Fridays, no longer wanted to be at home and spend time with the family during weekends. He preferred to go out and would come back in the wee hours of the morning.
He also stopped attending family gatherings with her. “I sat him down and told him how his actions were affecting me and that we needed to spend more time together as a family. He apologised, showed remorse and we restored our relationship,” she says. Lerato says things got worse as time went on. “While I was married to my husband, not once did I ever sleep with any other man but I developed STIs. I was furious. I spoke to him about it and he wasn’t bothered,” says Lerato.
“If anything, he would still demand sex even though I was taking treatment. When I refused, he would forcefully sleep with me. I would spend two or three days in pain from the sex.” Her finances were also affected. In their happy days, her husband put everything in her name. This included their cellphone contracts, school fees and their accounts. He would then send her money to cover all those expenses monthly. But when things went south between them, he stopped sending her money and she was accountable for all their debt. “There was a time when my salary got paid into my account and it would all be gone in no time because of the debt,” she says.
In 2011, eight years into the marriage, Lerato was diagnosed with depression. “It was a very tough time for me. I had just found out that my husband had impregnated another woman, even though he denied it, I later found out the child was living at his mother’s house. I spent the next few years in and out of hospital and on medication for depression,” she says.
From that period until the divorce, Lerato says her husband has had 11 children out of wedlock with different women. He allegedly also paid lobola to two women. And because his family didn’t like Lerato from day one, none of them said anything to her; instead she heard it through the grapevine.
With the hurtful events that were going on in her life, Lerato says she was no longer performing well at work. “I was always angry and if anyone upset me, I would be rude towards them. I sometimes would insult my husband in front of my children because of the anger I had towards him,” she says. “I was suicidal and blamed myself for marrying him. I stayed because I didn’t want my children to grow up without a father. I also feared leaving the life I was accustomed to and even though he was so cruel towards me, a part of me still loved him.”
THE STORM IS OVER
It was in a hospital bed when Lerato decided to finally file for divorce. “My doctor said to me, ‘Lerato you have been struggling with depression from 2011 until 2017 and the cause has been your husband from the beginning. It is time for you to make a decision about your life and future because this is the last treatment I will be putting you on.’ It is then that I decided that enough is enough,” she says.
This year after her divorce was finalised, Lerato celebrated Women’s Day for the first time in many years. She went on to share her story on Facebook to motivate other women. Part of her post read, “I have spent almost 15 years in a broken marriage with a serial cheater.
In those years, I was physically, emotionally, sexually and financially abused. I have been staying in a double-storey house and driving luxury cars, yet I didn’t have happiness. My biggest fear was, ‘What are people going to say if I no longer have all of this.’ I thank God for giving me courage and wisdom to file for divorce in May 2017, which was finalised in June 2018.”
While going through depression, Lerato registered for a Diploma in Human Resource Management and buried herself in her books. After her divorce was finalised, the newly graduate was promoted from being a PA to human resource practitioner at her company. “I started gaining weight because I was free and better off. I moved out of our big home to a four bedroom house where I am comfortable. I am very happy and so are my kids,” she says.