Ufelani is one of the Moja Love (157) channel’s most devastating series. This true-crime re-enactment show explores the terror of victims and survivors of domestic violence. Often, deadly explosions of violence are recreated by performers, based on witness testimony and police reports. In previous seasons, the show has dealt strong blows to audiences through its chilling, visceral portrayals of abuse. It will not let you turn away for a minute, and it has left people in the victims’ communities and all over the country sobbing and shaken as they shared their reactions on social media.

Along with acting out the moments in which abusers’ beliefs that they have the right to control and even destroy their victims erupted into violence, the show also explores the months and days leading up to the attacks. And it exposes the trap that abusive relationships build around victims while protecting their abusers.

In an abusive relationship, there are often no good choices left by the time the victim realises what is happening. Nonetheless, if the series has one message, it is to beg victims to escape before it’s too late. In too many cases there is no mention of what happened to the abuser, if anything, but the majority of the victims are dead.

In front of the children

An abused partner who has children is often forced to choose between their own safety and survival, and putting food in their children's mouths and keeping a roof over their heads as the culprit is often the breadwinner and has slowly established complete financial control of the household. In December 2018, Ufelani explored the murder of Murendi, whose little children told the cameras about their fear and helplessness on all the occasions on which their father had beaten their mother in front of them. Her body was found buried just outside the family’s shack five months after she disappeared. One of the upsetting aspects of the case was that the investigation into Murendi’s “disappearance” raised no results until her uncle intervened and insisted to the police that they turn their attention to her husband.

Anyone can be a victim

While the victims shown are overwhelming female, Ufelani does not ignore cases in which men have become victims of domestic violence. Around Valentine’s Day in 2019, Ufelani aired an episode exploring the abuse and eventual murder of Skwatta Kamp rapper Nkululeko “Flabba” Habedi (in 2015) by his girlfriend Sindisiwe Manqele (now convicted and serving a 12-year sentence). Following his death, his mother Agatha shared WhatsApp messages revealing that her son was living in fear of his life months before he was stabbed to death. Chillingly, the two exchanged what might have been a joke… or a plea for help. When Flabba told his mom, “She is gonna kill me,” his mom teased back, “You are dead meat.”

Blaming the victim

Many viewers finish the episode by asking why victims “don’t just leave”. This places the burden and the blame on victims who’re often drowning at that point, but doesn’t challenge the abusers themselves… even when they’re locking their partner in a freezer, or stabbing, burning and battering her to death with a hammer before coming back later two days later to rape the corpse (as in Mpho’s case).

Ufelani has no big answers and often features baffled and distressed family members asking the same question. Each episode drops a clue about why someone might stay. In Sarah’s case, she wanted to protect her husband’s reputation and his profile in the community. He repaid her by murdering her and their two children before turning the gun on himself. But even POWA’s (People Opposing Women Abuse) briefest pamphlet on the topic hints at how complicated the situation is. It turns out asking victims why they don’t leave is like asking a homeless person why they don’t just buy a house.

Worried after watching Ufelani?

South Africa’s Department Of Justice And Constitutional Development has a number of resources available for people who believe that they, their family, or a friend, might be trapped in an abusive relationship.

This includes a safety plan that details the steps that might need to be taken in exiting the relationship without triggering a violent attack. Reviewing the safety plan will also reveal exactly how difficult it could be to exit an abusive relationship safely.

Unsure whether a relationship has become abusive? The Justice Department has a clear outline for both identifying abuse, and discussing victims’ legal recourses, in particular the Protection Order.

Watch Ufelani S4 from Friday, 1 May on Moja Love (157) at 21:30

How to watch Ufelani online

Sign up for DStv Now, a free service for all DStv subscribers. With DStv Now the same channels you watch on your decoder at home are available for you to stream online, or using the DStv Now app on your phone.

Or binge the series on Showmax now.