Margaret Opolot on surviving brutality at home

Saturday May 11 2019

"Through The Fire", an autobiography by Margaret M. Opolot. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Unlike many women who suffer in silence as victims of domestic violence, Margaret Opolot, 64, has captured her experience in an autobiography titled Through The Fire, released recently in Kampala.

The 160-page book goes beyond the theme of domestic violence and addresses customary beliefs including witchcraft, corruption, the role of women in society, polygamy, education and family relations.

The retired administrator paints the picture of an accomplished woman who becomes the victim of her own success due to cultural beliefs. Unlike many of her peers in the village, she is educated and exposed, having worked for both the public and private sectors in Uganda and Kenya, as well as diplomatic missions including the United Nations. For these accomplishments, she becomes not only the bread winner of her family, but also the envy of the village.

She details how after working in Kenya for several years, she returns to her village in Teso region in eastern Uganda where she is confronted with witchcraft. Her mother, wary of an “evil eye” from jealous villagers, seeks “protection” from a famous witchdoctor called Mandwa. But in an unexpected turn of events, Mandwa proposes marriage, a proposal Opolot accepts against her family's wishes. In her autobiography, she says it is a decision she finds difficult to explain, hinting at a possible spell that Mandwa may have cast on her.

“…It was not to take long, about three months down the road, and the man proposed to marry me and without a second thought, I said yes. I was entering a marriage that was as ugly as ugly can be. Where had the brilliant, confident, intelligent, smart girl attributes gone?” Opolot writes.

Mandwa would soon ask Opolot to quit her job and immediately after, the physical abuse began. In a classic case of domestic abuse, he would apologise and even when the police were involved, he would buy his way out. On four occasions, he beat her senseless but she stayed on.


In January 1987, seven days after the last of such near death episodes, Opolot fled, eventually settling in Kampala.

There are however questions that go answered in Opolot’s autobiography: How would an educated woman marry a witchdoctor? Mandwa means spirit in Luganda while a witchdoctor is known as emuron in Ateso. What was Mandwa doing in Teso region?

Through The Fire, was published last year by GW Publishing Company in Kampala. It is available in bookshops at Ush25,000 ($6.6).