Photo by Sophia Hernandez / EyeEm for Getty Images.

Emotional Abuse Is Insidious, Perhaps Even More Than Physical Abuse

As gender-based violence continues to plague the world over, it's important to also highlight the dire effects of emotional abuse, long before it manifests in the physical.

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains a challenge in many countries, and has been further exacerbated by national lockdowns imposed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria, Kenya, Tunisia, Liberia and more have all experienced horrific and highly publicised instances of GBV, and femicide, over the past few years. Tunisia even went as far as calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty following the brutal murder of a young woman. Liberia and Nigeria, even, declared a state of emergency on rape.

It's well established that GBV is a scourge in South Africa, with the femicide rate at an alarming five times the global average. The figures continue to worsen, a fact reflected in the daily lived experiences of many South African women. Unsurprisingly, physical and sexual abuse are the two forms of violence that have almost become synonymous with GBV. Other forms of abuse such as verbal, psychological — and more especially emotional abuse — are often sidelined.


Anele Tembe, daughter of prominent South African businessman Moses Tembe and rapper AKA's fiancèe, fell to her death from her hotel window almost two months ago. The tragedy of her death was further heightened by the fact that she and AKA were, reportedly, together at the time of her death. While there continues to be tremendous speculation around the circumstance of Tembe's death, mental illness, substance abuse and a potentially abusive relationship have been touted as potential contributors. Shortly after Tembe's death, alarming videos and photos emerged depicting AKA breaking down a door in one instance, and Tembe appearing to have been physically assaulted. The latter having been divulged to the media by some of Anele's closest friends. As is most often the case, the conversation has largely centred on whether or not AKA physically assaulted Tembe. And while that is a question that most certainly requires an answer, several social media users highlighted the importance of considering the possibility of emotional abuse and the impact it may have had on Tembe's mental wellbeing.


The overlooking of emotional abuse happens for a number of reasons. Firstly, emotional abuse is not as easy to pinpoint as physical abuse. It only takes one incident for us to generally identify the beginnings of physical abuse, but this is not as straightforward when it comes to emotional abuse.

Clinical psychologist Jordan Du Toit defines emotional abuse as "breaking someone down through verbal means or behaviours in the absence of physical violence." She adds that emotional abuse is about manipulating a victim through words or actions, so that they gradually become dependent on their abuser — and are constantly nervous of certain reactions in the relationship. Du Toit takes great pains to emphasise the volatility that can be displayed by an emotional abuser. "With emotional abuse, there will be switches. Similar to a rollercoaster, there will be highs, characterised by the perpetrator using the love-bombing tactic, which comprises intense demonstrations of love and affection. Then there are downs, where the perpetrator tells the victim that they are worthless and attempts to establish power over them."

In an EWN article, People Opposing Women Abuse's (POWA) Nomkhosi Xulu and Nonhlanhla Sibanda-Moyo, a gender specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation highlight several common hallmarks to emotional abuse, which align with Du Toit’s sentiments. These traits include quick involvement (the early display of very strong feelings), manipulation, inconsistency in behaviour, being a control freak (the establishing of power) and the isolating of the victim. Both Xulu and Sibanda-Moyo believe these signs are never, instantly, obvious to the victim, adding that emotional abuse is often the precursor to physical abuse.


Kondi Neth, a University of Stellenbosch PhD candidate, agrees that emotional abuse often precedes physical abuse. Her work currently looks at using the creative arts as therapy for women who have experienced IPV. Referring to a controversial "tell-all" interview that AKA recently had with news anchor, Thembekile Mrototo, Neth affirms what many of Tembe's supporters were quick to express on social media — that he was being manipulative. Many on social media accused the rapper of using the media to "sanitise" his image while others asserted that it was simply a publicity stunt wherein he deflected from taking responsibility for his own actions. Some even felt that the fact that Tembe was much younger than AKA, had opened her up to the possibility of abuse and manipulation.

Neth explains why emotional abuse is particularly insidious, and why it's often difficult for victims to miss the signs early on. Neth also highlights how control is central to the modus operandi of an emotional abuser."When [the perpetrator] starts to isolate you from your loved ones, it's so that they can control you. By the time it moves to physical violence, you as the victim don't have a support system anymore."


A 2014 University of Fort Hare study conducted by Nontando Jennifer Mesatywa found that emotional abuse was "linked to controlling behaviour by one's partner and the [depersonalising] of the victim and increasing the power of the abuser". Ultimately, the study found that emotional abuse relegated women to feeling ashamed, isolated and as though they had been robbed of their dignity and self-worth." Abuse has generally been linked to depression and anxiety disorders among those who have experienced domestic violence, IPV or GBV. Victims of emotional abuse may exhibit symptoms of confusion, fear, hopelessness and shame, according to Healthline. In light of that knowledge, it starts painting a clearer picture about the negative impact of emotional abuse long before it escalates to a blue eye, broken rib or cracked tooth.

We may never know what exactly was at the heart of Tembe's death. This is, and has been, the case for many South African women, and women in general, contending with GBV in one way or another. However, if we're going to successfully overcome the beast that is GBV and produce an environment where girls and women can exist with little to no safety concerns, then we need to dig a little deeper and address the forms of violence that aren't always as conspicuous.

Photo Credit: Screengrab from Chief Daddy 2: Going for Broke

How This Netflix Film Sparked A Fierc​e Conversation About Nollywood

Since its release on Netflix, Chief Daddy 2: Going for Broke has received a scathing reaction from critics and users on social media. The movie sparked all kinds of conversation about the future of Nollywood films.

On the first day of January, Netflix released Chief Daddy 2: Going for Broke, the sequel to the 2018 dramedy about the gilded household of Chief Beecroft (whose death leaves members of his family scrambling over his wealth.) Even with its many flaws, the original was a major hit, making N385.7 million at the Nigerian box office. So it wasn't surprising Netflix acquired the second installment.

However, reviews have been overwhelmingly negative. The tone was even more unforgivingly scathing on social media, where criticism was rampant. On Twitter, fans savaged the editing, acting, and thin plot. One of the viewers who shared their disappointment with the film was Joyce Alao, who expressed her sentiments on Twitter from a burner account.

“It was a pointless film and I couldn’t believe what I was watching,” Alao told OkayAfrica. “ I was speechless from scene to scene, looking for something or anything redeemable but couldn’t find it. My main issue is why this film is on Netflix?"

Alao said the online outrage was nothing like she had seen before. Nigerians were uniting to not just criticize a film but to demand better from the Nollywood industry. And the pushback became so fierce it dominated coverage around the film. “It was an interesting moment and I hope this trend continues," Alao said. "We can’t continue to accept everything from these filmmakers.”

The criticisms of Chief Daddy 2 was a Nollywood viral moment. Oba Kosi Nwoba, a producer-director known for projects like Umoja and Iko Ndu: The Palmwine Story, hosted a room on Twitter Spaces titled Nollywood: Enough is Enough! #WeWantNewNollywood.

“A lot of people on social media who I believe represent a significant percentage of Netflix users have come out to complain they didn’t like the story. That is something to take home,” Nwoba said. “People make films for different purposes, there’s always that arm aimed at commercial viability. Is it commercial success? We can’t tell yet. If it was released in the cinema, the numbers would say. I share a little sentiment with the audience with regards to the cohesiveness of the story. Let us call it a failed experiment.”

Nwoba has a vantage position as a filmmaker, but he holds himself to the unspoken cardinal rule of not critiquing another filmmaker’s work. At the same time, he feels these conversations are vital to have. The problems with Chief Daddy 2 aren’t new, even for a production from EbonyLife Films, a huge studio. The problems aren’t isolated, either. So why did it take this film to see that the industry was in crisis?

“First, I don’t think it took Chief Daddy for people to come to the realization,” Precious Nwogu, a film journalist for Pulse, said. “Its timing, however, played a crucial role in the collective backlash it received. Prior to the call out, there have been pockets of negative reviews of titles released on the streamer but this time, the holidays plus maybe high expectations from EbonyLife following the countless announcements of international deals fueled the collective criticism.”

One glaring issue with mainstream Nollywood movies is how they look the same, a formulaic recipe involving many popular actors, affluent suburbs, and drone footage of landmarks. It’s a production of empty calories. And since officially entering the Nigerian market, Netflix hasn’t left any tangible impact on filmmaking appetites. The desire to be “marketable” is strong as ever, and the streamer has only strengthened the impulse.

“Yes and no,” Nwogu said, on whether Netflix can be held accountable. “These guys are just business owners that ultimately seek to make profit. Their initial hosts sold them the narrative that box office figures reflected what the Nigerian audience wanted.”

“Where I can fault Netflix is not in licensing but in commissioning. It makes no sense recycling filmmakers and commissioning multi-year deals... Why not commission one or two, see how that goes then do the work of seeking out other talent heads in the industry?"

In a video, Mo Abudu, the CEO of EbonyLife Group, publicly acknowledged the backlash the film received. Furthermore, she promised corrections will be made in the future. (The film’s director, Niyi Akinmolayan hasn’t made any public statement.) While there’s some sincerity in Abudu’s apology, she diplomatically positioned the idea that Chief Daddy 2 had mixed reviews. She didn’t state the actual flaws of the film, which honestly would have been a self-flagellating exercise on her part. But the implication of stating the flaws would have been profound, an indictment of how other Nollywood pictures have been made.

In addition, actionable steps weren’t indicated, which suggests things will be done on her studio’s terms and shouldn’t warrant public pressure or micromanagement. In this state of affairs, what’s stopping the next random Nollywood film on Netflix from being like Chief Daddy 2?

“Nollywood needs a lot of money,” Nwoba said. “I don’t mean the survival money — the type you don’t count, you only weigh. Nollywood, since inception, has been a self-sustaining industry. Between 2011-2017, the federal government brought a meager sum... to support the industry. We can tell that it barely did anything, if not we most likely won’t be talking about the industry being this poor.”

Nwoba sees the industry as moving parts that need to function properly, from production to distribution and management. All these require financial support. Film funding is intentional business. Funding through film journalism, film schools, festivals, community cinemas, actual brick and mortar structures, and strengthening guilds could have serious impact on Nollywood. This doesn’t mean bad movies would disappear.

“It simply means that we won’t keep making a specific genre of movie because of its commercial viability,” Nwoba said. “Filmmakers will be more willing to take risks and explore the taste of the audience.”

get okayafrica in your inbox


South African Director Oliver Hermanus on Remaking a Classic

The award-winning director behind Skoonheid and Moffie tackles his first film set outside his home country -- a reworking of auteur Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru -- which is premiering at this year's Sundance Film Festival.