“My Father May Have Beat Mayweather” October 3, 2015 – Posted in: Thandi Chase, Why Speak Now, WPN – Tags: , , , , , , ,

My father, Stephen “Kalamazoo” Mokone, was the first Black, South African soccer player to play professionally in Europe and to break the color barrier in South Africa during apartheid, which was a remarkable achievement back then.  He played for the Dutch team Hercules for two seasons before heading off to play for several other teams in Europe, including Barcelona and Torino.  But he was more than that; he was also a violent and abusive man who was incarcerated from 1978-1990 in the United States for domestic and criminal acts exacted on my mother and the female attorney representing her during their divorce and child custody proceedings.   He eventually waived trial and pled guilty to the life-threatening attack on my mother in New Jersey using lye and, the hired attack of her New York female attorney, which left her blinded and disfigured from sulfuric acid.

In Tom Egbert’s book entitled “12 Stolen Years” he wrote, at the time, my father’s conviction was a part of a conspiracy involving South Africa’s Department of Internal Affairs and the United States authorities.  In fact, he was convinced that Stephen Mokone was framed and convicted for participation in anti-apartheid activities in his early life, but allegations of his participation in political activities remains unfounded. I think this speaks to how society continues its oblivion toward the misdeeds of professional athletes and ultimately give them passes for more misbehavior.

Since his passing in March in Washington, DC and for the first time in my life, I no longer feel silenced by my fear of him. Like many professional athletes in the news today, my father was celebrated for his athletic achievement. The violent, criminal acts, for which he was responsible, were intrinsically minimized – if even mentioned. I am perturbed by the recent national commemoration of his life at South Africa’s FNB stadium where the 2010 World Cup Final was held, and sponsored by South Africa’s Federation of Sports (SAFA).  His narrative seems a chronic representation of the violent athlete misogynist, similar to other elite athletes such as Floyd Mayweather, Ray Rice, and Oscar Pistorius that continues to play out without much of an enduring conscience raising effect.  How can it be that we simplify one’s criminal, violent behavior with statements “With the pressure of divorce and child custody battle…he simply lost his head” or “…good men do sometimes do bad things?”  There would not have been a child custody battle if he had allowed me to live with my mother but he refused and instead used me as a weapon.  Since my mother was forcibly thrown out of the house by my father, she was forced to seek police protection in order to retrieve her personal belongings but was not legally permitted to take me with her.  As my mother tells me, this is what led to the acrimonious child custody battle in court like the movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” and more likely the reasons contributing to the attack on my mother and her attorney.

As Stephen Mokone’s daughter, I feel compelled to ensure that survivors of these experiences are acknowledged and to be included in the global conversation about violence against women.  It is particularly disturbing to watch the dichotomies at work where professional athletes are glorified by society in life and in death yet having left an agonizing legacy (for victims) of domestic violence in their wake.  I’ve been asked about my desire to “come out” of my silence and “why now?” am I speaking out after all these years and now that he is deceased. My father’s death has set me free to tell the truth; I can finally own my own anger without fear of reprisal.  There is very little now that can penetrate the emotional scars I suffered by my father’s torment.  For instance: 1) being physically abused and sexualized, 2) choking my dog in front of me, 3) the hired attack on my brother and his front teeth knocked out with the butt of a gun for no other reason than for becoming the prosecutor’s eyewitness and giving his sworn testimony in court that eventually incriminated our father.  What message does our society send when the NFL gives Tom Brady a harsher measure of discipline for scheming to deflate footballs than initially brought against Ray Rice for physically and brutally attacking his fiancé?

While the answer to these questions may be as victims, especially female victims of domestic violence, then and now, there exists an inherent fear of further victimization by remaining silent or rescinding formal complaints.    The history of domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) as it is known today, often leaves the victim without recourse and resources – scorned by family members, friends and if the partner with the resources assumes a dictatorial role – leaving the victim without means of immediate survival.  That scenario is both magnified and the victim(s) judged harsher in a court of public opinion made up of rabid fans.  Without resources and necessary support, victims are more likely to recoil and when children are impacted, take a conservative approach to news accounts and public requests for corroboration or denial of these events.  My mother’s only concern was to protect me and ensure my formative years were lived out without incident and in the shadows of an agonizing legacy.  For us, it was not a celebration of an athlete but an observation of a life that once was.

My father was punished for his crimes in the U.S. but I question might he have been treated differently if he was a national figure in the U.S? In this case, justice was served and my father spent 12 years in prison for his violent crimes against my mother and her attorney but only because he was not a national superstar in the U.S. His incarceration in the U.S. has been discredited internationally because the United States has a sordid history of racial decimation that the world acknowledges on every level even to defend an indefensible. Furthermore, both the social and racial culture of Africa suggests male privilege which renders women as property and therefore disposable or controllable.  Since his death, South Africa is considering memorializing my father with a statue at FNB stadium next year in his honor. For my mother and I, the idolatry will have a different meaning.

I tell my story now with the goal of furthering this global dialogue. There is a global conversation about domestic violence in general and intimate partner violence in particular against women as the new kind of gender based retribution. We need only think as recent as 17-year old Anene Booysen who was gang raped and murdered in South Africa, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, Boko Haram’s activities as it pertains to girls and closer to home Mayweather, Rice and Pistorius to consider how women’s lives are commodified in the home.  We can neither afford to stop or take a lethargic approach to this conversation.

As I observe the treatment of women by these athletes, silence is no longer an option – for me it is a signal of complicity.  My immediate obligation is to challenge levels of hero-worship that fundamentally discount the lives left traumatized by these icons. Stephen “Kalamazoo” Mokone was referred to as the “Black Meteor” in the Netherlands and “the Maserati” in Italy. While my father may have been a great soccer player, he was no hero in my life.