Kaleidoscope: On the shape shifting images of the alleged abusers in the African entertainment industry

If we had a dollar for every time an abuse victim was called "crazy," we'd be able to cover all their legal fees.

As the list of named and famed abusers in the music and entertainment industry keeps growing, so does the destruction they leave in their wake. From her base in Botswana, Bakang Akoonyatse interrogates a warped system that dismisses victims of abuse in favour of further empowering their abusers. 

To look past the beautiful, made-up face of entertainment and peer in it’s mouth reveals a scene plagued by the moral rot of misogyny, from the front to the back of the screen. Patriarchy puts the “cult” in “popular culture;” across genres and geographical locations many sing its praises and preach its gospel, to the detriment and destruction of the marginalised groups it targets.

In Nigeria this morning, media personality, Lydia Gahan became the objects of violent verbal attacks in defence of predatory men. Breaking free of the wool her ex-boyfriend, Timini Egbosun had pulled over her eyes, Lydia pleaded with young women in a Twitter thread to stay away from older predatory men, using her experience in that relationship as the anchor. Per her account, Timini took advantage of her tender age – just 19 at the time she started dating the then 30-year old – and naivety, emotionally abusing her into submission and verbally assaulting her once she had gained the confidence and life experience to know and want better in love.

Older men seeking out younger women in order to gain control over their partners is a divisive tactic that has been rife in the entertainment industry since inception. From R. Kelly, to Ike Turner (who was clocking 40 when he married a 22-year-old Tina Mae Bulluck), age has been used as a weapon to subjugate women in relationships. More often than not the public turn a blind eye, or worse make jest of the abusive relationship, or worse still, attribute blame to the victimised young women.

Ike Turner has been dead since 2007, separated from his wife, Tina Turner almost 30 years before that, since 1978.  Still, Tina Turner will probably never have the pleasure of having her life story told without being attached to the abuse she suffered by Ike’s hand, especially not after her experiences of violence have been perverted into a pop-culture Hip-Hop references. Contemporarily the most popular reference, Jay Z’s “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!line on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love”, was preceded by a long list of distasteful bars from Biggie’s “beating motherfuckers like Ike beat Tina” (“Machine Gun Funk”) to Kevin McCall saying “Like Tina did Ike in the limo, it finally hit me” on the Chris Brown-record “Deuces”.

Speaking of Chris Brown, both Rihanna and Karrueche have to live with having their names attached to Chris Brown’s because of the emotional and physical violence they’ve publicly experienced while in relationships with him in the past, despite all their professional accomplishments. Gqom artists Mampintsha and Babes Wodumo are hard at work trying to sanitise their image after the former brutally beat the latter on Instagram Live at the height of Wodumo’s career, following the success of her debut single “Wololo” and placement on the Black Panther soundtrack. The couple has a new reality show on DSTV called Uthando Lodumo, which follows them as they prepare to get married, on which they appear lovesick partners, avoiding the topic of the brutal beating and how it did more harm to Babes’ image, career and income than the actual abuser’s. Even economically empowered women who some would think would be able to escape the clutches of constraint created by abuse are not untouched. 

Earlier this year  FKA Twigs sat down with Gayle King to discuss the violence she suffered at the hands of Shia LaBeouf while they were dating, which includes sexual battery and domestic violence. When asked why she didn’t leave FKA Twigs responded that the real question we must ask, and be sure to aim at abusers, is “Why are you holding someone hostage with abuse?”

Evident in the innumerable accounts and examples from all across the world, this moral cavity isn’t isolated to just one spot. It’s little after a year since former OkayAfrica employee Oyinkan Olojede blew the lid on the misogynistic harassment and unethical conduct of the publication’s former editor, Abiola Oke, in a thread posted on Twitter. Olojede’s account was supported and added onto by former and current employees at OkayAfrica, including Ivie Ani, Olabisi Fanakinwa, Antoinette Osama, Rufaro Samantha, Sinat Giwa and Winnie Kassa. A chronological telling of what happened can be seen below.

It took international outrage and visibility, greatly spurred on by author Akwaeke Emezi, to get anyone to act amongst the higher ups at OkayPlayer and OkayAfrica. Once more, the marginalised and wronged of society would have to band together to fight for themselves when accosted by the privileged, the powerful and failed allyship.

It’s also just over a year since Founder of Well-Being Africa Toyin Saraki wrote Let Me Be Clear: We Are Failing Women and Girls. In the open letter she speaks on the violent demise of Vera Uwaile “Uwa” Omozuwa, who was raped while trying to study in a church, and died of injuries sustained shortly after. Saraki mentions a 12-year-old Jennifer, who was also repeatedly raped by 11 men and Tina Ezekwe, who was shot dead by a police officer during a scuffle between the officer and the driver. 

Everywhere, there exists a callousness that is specifically cultivated for girls and women; how it affects you is truly a game of chance. Every day, women are aware anything can happen to them, and even more gut wrenching, the perpetrators could very well walk free. Or even worse, like Dbanj’s rape accuser Seyitan Babatayo allegedly found out, the law could be weaponised against you in your pursuit of justice. 

In a tweet posted in May media personality, actress and host Penny Lebyane wrote “If ordinary men are abusive and bullies with regular jobs, imagine what famous men with a reputation and image to protect are like? They use all resources to make themselves look innocent while they know it’s common knowledge how messed up they are. The ego is huge, don’t doubt.”

Lebyane’s found herself embroiled in a legal battle between media personality and producer Thato “DJ Fresh” Sikwane and poet Ntsiki Mazwai following a Twitter thread she posted in 2019 that shared particularly graphic details of how she found out an unnamed former partner was a cheating predator who particularly preyed on “high school girls and university girls at times in school uniforms”.

While she didn’t name Sikwane, some Twitter users speculated that it was him and the lawsuit against Mazwai stemmed from her resharing social media posts that stated that Sikwane is an alleged rapist. According to various publications and Lebyane herself, Sikwane falsely cited her as the source of these claims. Sikwane further went on to state – to the South African publication, Sunday World – that him and Lebyane briefly dated circa 2001 but he broke up with her because their relationship was “toxic” and further alleged that “a restraining order was obtained against her after she attempted to force friends of mine (Sikwane’s) off the road.” To date he has failed to produce evidence of the aforementioned incident or the restraining order.


At the end of the Martin Scorsese directed mystery/thriller Shutter Island (2010) one of the characters, Rachel Solanco (Patricia Clarkson) states in conversation with lead character Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) “You think I’m crazy. And if I say I’m not crazy well that hardly helps, does it? It’s the Kafka’s genius of it all. People tell the world you’re crazy and all your protests to the contrary just confirm what they say. Once you’re declared insane then anything you do is called part of that insanity. Reasonable protest or denial, valid fears are paranoia…” if we had a fund that collected a dollar for every time an abuse victim was called “crazy” by an abuser we’d be able to cover all their legal fees.

“Bitter” and “crazy” are amongst the insults being hurled at Lydia Gahan as she calls out the predatory nature of her relationship with Timini, who continues to manipulate barely legal girls into traumatising romantic entanglements, his ex explains. “Crazy” was also what Themba “DJ Euphonik” Nkosi called media mogul and businesswoman, Bonang Matheba when she opened an assault case against him back in 2012. Euphonik allegedly “kicked the window at her house to gain access after an argument at his home,  smashed her laptop and physically assaulted her, hitting her in the face”. “Crazy” is what Enhle Mbali is aggressively being painted as by her estranged husband, Black Coffee. The duo are in the process of legally separating and Mbali has described her 8 year marriage to the celebrated DJ as a union characterised by emotional, physical and financial abuse.

In an official statement released to some media houses regarding the ongoing matter Mbali is said to have stated “In the ongoing matter between myself and my estranged husband, Nkosinathi Maphumulo I would like to break my silence. I feel it is paramount for me to not only defend myself against the misrepresentation and counter-accusations being made but to also put an end to the cycle of abuse that I have continued to face at his commission. The extent of the turmoil I experienced in the marriage as a result of the abuse and the extramarital affairs were so severe that I was admitted into a facility and was treated for depression. I am no longer fearful, and it is with this renewed sense of self that I wish to recount the numerous incidents on which he has beaten, berated, rendered me broken and unworthy.” In response, Black Coffee had denied all allegations in a since deleted Twitter thread. 

Calling into question a woman’s sanity/mental faculties need not even have merit or evidence because the nature of bigotry doesn’t require logic or even truth to exist. Black Coffee used the oldest trick in the abuser hand manual, gaslighting. A tactic FKA Twigs mentions Shia Labeouf used a lot, gaslighting is commonly understood to be an abuser manipulating a victim to make them question the truth of their version of events. Twigs mentions how there were times Shia would push her and then tell her she fell with such conviction that she’d end up doubting her recollection of events.   

When South African rapper AKA’s deceased fiance Anele “Nellie” Tembe  tragically fell, naked, from the 10th floor of a hotel in Cape town on the 11th of April this year, she too was painted as “crazy,” despite the saddening circumstances. Amidst investigations, all kinds of allegations of abuse and leaked footage of AKA breaking down a door to get to Nellie with his bare hands, shared with graphic pictures of her nursing a busted lip and more footage of her attempting to flee only to be tackled to the ground by an unnamed man as she screams, “You don’t know what he’s doing to me,,” we have everyone’s voice but her’s.

In his first formal appearance since the incident, AKA sat down with journalist, Thembekile Mrototo for a live interview to share his side of the story. Starting off saying that, to him, Anele is still his “life” and his “future wife,” AKA’s second motivation is to “preserve her legacy,” despite her having been too young to have even truly begun to forge one, and her untimely death cutting her plans short.

AKA’s history of aggressive behaviour both on and offline is well documented. It’s been a consistent part of his character and yet now, even with footage of him breaking through a door with his bare hands, we’re supposed to believe his rage issues just magically evaporated, never to be seen again. This is not Beauty and The Beast, the cure to his issue isn’t love.  When Mrototo asks AKA if their relationship ever got violent, AKA responds “define violent” as if it’s subjective. 

“I never wanted to lay things bare. I never wanted to be in this position and have to explain. I just wanted to mourn and grieve” he says, as if it’s an inconvenience to him that as the last person to see her alive, he has to account for events leading up to her death.

As AKA recounts his story, he assures us that they always had the best time and she was “full of life,” showering Anele with posthumous compliments about her vigour and vitality. The narration of the story is such that he says “we” a lot, presenting a united front. “We went to work, we had lunch with our friends, we went shopping, she looked beautiful as always” before he tells us that despite him paying lobola (bride price) just 2 weeks prior, the couple was going through strife and in the pits. The Cape Town trip was supposed to be an opportunity for them to fix things. 

Over the course of his conversation with Mrototo, AKA reveals that a fight began that carried into the early hours of the morning, “We said very mean things to each other and I left but I came back because I’d taken her phone.” The couple, according to AKA, continued to argue and he says she threatened to kill herself and jump off the balcony, even though she “didn’t say it in those words” though. Upon calling security, AKA says, “out of panic,” he decided to remove himself from the situation in order not to aggravate his fiance even further, a peculiar thing to do in the event that the person you say you want to spend the rest of your life with states they are contemplating ending theirs. “The last time I saw her is when she walked past me from the door to the balcony saying she was gonna jump, at which point I called reception for security”. Conflicted because nobody came to their aid and he was reluctant to do anything because he felt because she was mad at him, so he’d need help, AKA then retreated to the bathroom but when he came out Anele was nowhere in sight. 

Eventually locating her body on the ground below, “the events are blurry,” AKA laments when Mrototo presses him to confirm whether he was in the hotel room when she allegedly jumped.

According to the rapper, their relationship was “tumultuous” and “passionate” because they were both “passionate people”. “Disagreements that we had could be quite intense,” AKA revealed, though unwilling to divulge much detail about their relationship issues because Anele is not here to speak for herself. 

Assuring viewers that they were just like any other couples, public perception opposed AKA’s assertions. In the wake of Anele’s passing, there were numerous online calls to #MuteAKA, with Cruz Vodka – a local endorsement of AKA’s – severing ties with the rapper, rapidly. Still, in the interview, AKA insisted to the public that he’s not an abuser and “treated her like gold” – which, if we’re being literal, is just a thing one obtains to flaunt, isn’t it?

As friends and family address the drastic changes they saw her go through, I recognise how an older man with power and a lack of regard for your personhood can pull you out of any stability or understanding of self. Relaying several other incidents when Tembe allegedly threatened to jump off a balcony or jump out of a moving car or drive her’s into a wall, AKA also reveals that she was institutionalised at some point, because ultimately, she’s “crazy”. 

The mental breakdown of Anele is reminiscent of a similar situation with another of AKA’s former partners, Nicole Nyaba. Nyaba dated AKA publicly and privately for an undetermined amount of time that seemed to intersect with points in his relationships with both Bonang and DJ Zinhle. Following their split, Nyaba went through a series of online outbursts where once threatened to leak nude photos that she insinuated belonged to Matheba. Our introduction to Nyaba had been as a vibrant, gorgeous young woman who swiftly became one of Southern Africa’s most sought after club hostesses and it seemed as if the public was watching her come undone in real time. In a now deleted exchange, Nyaba had stated that she’d been experiencing a lot of personal loss through multiple deaths in her family, and I can’t help but consider how while that alone is enough to cause immense mental strain, seeking solace in someone whose whole shtick was so deeply about being a braggadocious domineerer rendered her worse off emotionally in the end. AKA allegedly moved her into his house only to then break up with her to go back to the mother of his child, DJ Zinhle, who he’d then publicly break up with for the second time, to then date Anele. 

While society debates “cancel culture” women keep dying and I find myself wondering if lip service has become its own form of entertainment. At what point do we consider awareness raised? What’s left to be said, that abusers don’t know already? And if they know and don’t care, what are we prepared to do? 

There’s a new crop of young stars fast gaining popularity in the internet age that are still very much carrying old social ills. 22 year old Lil Frosh was dropped from Davido’s DMW label last year after his then partner, Gift Camille accused him of constantly physically attacking her. When you Google his name, the second image is a collage of Gift Camille’s swollen head and face. She is clearly still a child herself, and truly too young to experience such a brazen lack of regard for her life and well-being. DMW didn’t waste time cutting ties with Frosh but the same cannot be said for the accusations levelled against Burna Boy signee Buju, who is currently being faced with similar allegations of abuse, whilst still enjoying top-charting singles and features. 

Most people aren’t even willing to stop dancing while women around them burn, break down and unfortunately pass away. With every scandal, every case, we must be truthful that this is our society reaping the seeds of misogyny that abusers have sown. When actual presidents of powerful countries like Jacob Zuma and Donald Trump can be accused of sexual assault and still be appointed to run countries, the stance we clearly take is that women and girls are expendable, and in the entertainment industry (where the scene is particularly lax), play things to be handled aggressively, even to their death. 

Bakang Akoonyatse is a psychic medium who works in media, based in Gaborone, Botswana. Over the years she’s written for publications such as True Africa, OkayAfrica, Mail & Guardian, PSP Culture and Wear Your Voice on issues ranging from mental health to motherhood and music.