Treasure and her siblings are brought up by respected parents in what seems like a normal loving family in Westonia. It is when her mother becomes chronically sick with HELLP Syndrome that the truth about the “damaged Mohapi family” erupts. Treasure discovers that her mother, Thato, just “knows how to hide pain”. She has been desperately trying to plaster over her husband’s violent abuse all along. Treasure and her sister Lebo now find themselves having to support themselves, their mother and younger siblings emotionally. This leaves deep scars in Treasure’s mind. She grows up yearning for a father’s love in the context of her own father being “scared of loving openly or expressing any kind of emotion except anger.”
Whilst her experience of not having enough leads her to dream big, she simultaneously harbours a niggling feeling that she is worthless. Consequently, she seeks validation from those around her, which traps her into violent relationships from a young age.
During her post-matric gap year Treasure reconnects with her school friend Lintle who introduces her to the fast-paced and glamorous life of Johannesburg. Treasure grabs the moment as an opportunity to better herself. But what she had not bargained on is that it this same glamour that devours her.
In Bare Phamotse lays bare the vicious underbelly of the seemingly glamorous Instagram life many millenniums are lured into. She touches on how the dysfunctional families that some of these young people come from presents them as easy prey. In particular, she focuses on the role of a father in role-modelling what a daughter should expect from a man. From her parents Treasure gleaned that a man is there “to take” and a woman is there to “serve at all cost and expect nothing in return.”
Secondly, by “hiding her pain” Thato inadvertently normalises violence towards women to Treasure. She also messages that as long as he pays the bills he is justified to demand anything from you. This became Treasure’s life at nineteen when at the hands of her blesser, Tim, sexual violence is coated in opulence.
Told in bare detail and compassion, this book left me shivering, both as a parent to a daughter and as a woman. I couldn’t comprehend the toxicity of the masculinity that underpins the blesser culture. I was shocked by the process of luring and trapping innocent and naïve girls deep into caves from which there is simply no return. Blessers just keep raising the stakes to levels too high for young girls to jump out of. For example, it took Tim six months of gifting to entangle Treasure into a life of luxury. When he pounced with sexual violence, she was essentially “easy meat”.
Nowhere have I witnessed the truth about sex as a violent weapon of control as in this book. Old men use sex and money to break women’s self-esteem. Tim “turned the foundations of (Treasure’s) mind into rubble”. I kept asking myself how and when our society lost its morality such that a father can pounce and prey on a girl as young as his own daughter with such violence. I could not help but agree with Dr Judy Dlamini’s plea in a radio interview that “We are better than this as black girls.”
Bare is an intriguing introduction to the blesser culture, but it is a violent read. I however found the last chapter to be out of place. The author brings her own voice to interpret Treasure’s life for the reader. I was confused by the scripture verses and the list of abused women in this chapter.
Bare is Phamotse’s debut novel. I recommend it to young women and their parents.