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Patrick Shai Story for the Brothers Against Violence Campaign

As a boy, actor Patrick Shai repeatedly witnessed his step-father brutally beat his mother, who stoically never cried out as she was assaulted. This was to have a fundamental effect on his life, and on his own family one day.

“I used to believe that my step-father didn’t do a good job, because my mum didn’t scream,” he told the launch of the Brothers Against Violence campaign, an initiative by Brothers for Life to address gender-based violence, and for which he is an Ambassador.

In a hard-hitting new TV public service announcement (PSA) for Brothers Against Violence, Shai steps into the light and speaks honestly and courageously about his past as a violent husband and father.”

In the PSA, shot in stark black-and-white, he says: “I used to beat up my wife. I beat her up for my own infidelities. I beat her up for my own insecurities. I would say, ‘I want to beat you so hard, that you scream, you cry louder than my mom.

In the PSA, shot in stark black-and-white, he says: “I used to beat up my wife. I beat her up for my own infidelities. I beat her up for my own insecurities. I would say, ‘I want to beat you so hard, that you scream, you cry louder than my mom.

Speaking at the Brothers Against Violence launch function in Sandton on 20 October 2010, which was attended by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Women, Children and Persons With Disabilities Minister Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, Shai told the stunned audience that nowadays he was willing to speak about “what I call my footprints of violence”.

One such footprint is watching the beatings meted out to his mother, which he took into his relationships with women and, eventually, his marriage. Another is memories of his son pleading with him not to kill his mother – a son who is today a drug addict, and whose predicament Shai has little doubt is a result of the abuse to which he subjected his family.

“It’s not an easy subject to talk about,” he said, as he paid tribute to women and children who have been, and continue to be, victims of violence, and “most importantly, my wife for giving me a second chance”.

After years of assaulting his wife, and exposing his daughter and two sons to violence, Shai’s “Damascus experience” came when he played a wife-beater on the TV drama Soul City and was filming a domestic violence scene.

“When ‘action’ was called, I saw not the set, but my own home and my own family,” Shai told the audience. “For the first time, I saw the pain I was dishing out to my wife. For the first time, I heard the pleas of my son, and I saw the pain on the face of my wife. It was very strange.”

Shai called “cut” himself and walked off the set. “I knew then that I needed to change,” he said.

When he arrived home later that day he confessed his experience to his wife, and offered her her freedom by moving out of their home and consenting to a divorce.

“My wife said, ‘come inside the house; it’s good you feel this way,’” said Shai, adding that his wife had pledged to be there for him.

“Against all popular beliefs that men cannot change, the very woman believed that I meant it, that I can change,” he said.

His daughter and one of his sons “are still with me”, he said, but his other son “had looked for another father” and found it in drug addiction. It was a constant struggle to try and win his son back, who is currently in hiding because he owes a druglord money.

“I feel like I drove him there,” he said ruefully.

But, said Shai, he enjoys “the joys of change” also. It was a wonderful experience when he was the first one his daughter told of her first period – and “if I had been the abusive father, she would not have had the guts to tell me”. Similarly, his other son had felt the same freedom to tell him that he wanted to pursue a career in music, and they had explored this together.

The biggest change, perhaps, came for his wife. He confessed that as someone who never finished his schooling, he would previously have felt threatened by her desire to empower herself. But since his rehabilitation, “my wife went out and studied, and realised her full potential. She is doing her Masters degree today”.

Changing himself has been a three-year journey for Shai, who says he has come to realise that through issues such as societal and cultural expectations on men, “being a man can be very destructive”. But he is clearly more at peace with himself, and “humbled” to be a Brothers for Life Ambassador in its gender-based violence campaign.

“There are many Patrick Shais out there who do what I did, but who could change if they are given a chance,” he said.”

“The wonderful thing that I have discovered now with this change (in myself), is that it is the most wonderful thing to be a human being,” he said, adding that through the Brothers Against Violence campaign his aim would be “to have 500 000 men who are human beings” in the next six months.