I was five years old (I think) when it happened for the first time… I was living with my mom’s grandmother’s older sister who had no kids of her own thus no grandkids. She was old but oh she did everything for me. Anyway I think one day my cousins came to visit… I think my one cousin was about nine or ten (the ages seem to be a muddle)and they stayed over for a while.
The sleeping arrangements were dodgy you could say but hey who was I to say anything. We all slept on the floor (the children that is) and my cousin and I were next to one another… I don’t knw how it started but I know that he touched me down there and took my hand and laid it on his thing and I touched him back. I have always been one of those shy lil kids that doesn’t like to cause trouble or make a fuss and this was one of those things that i didn’t fuss over. Anyways I don’t quite recall how far it went with him cos a lot of it I blocked out..
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a township school in those days where they would get nurses from the clinic to come and check the kids to see if they were clean and what not. It was check up day and as always Umamkhulu (as everyone called her) scrubbed me raw and made sure that i was wearing the best uniform i owned. I went to school as normal and we were checked on, you know. The whole medical examining of various areas and what have you…the memory of the check up is vague to me and this is the first time I am going into it in so much detail. Next thing I know my mom was called in and she came that Friday after the check up I guess (as she was working) and then she takes me with her to where she lived at the time. Then this was followed with doctors visits and what have you. They asked me a lot of questions and so on. Flip this is so hard to get through but now that I have started I have to see this to the end.
I don’t remember much about the hospital visit either although now that I am writing it down it’s all coming back a little bit but just flashes. Anyways all I know is that my mom didn’t take me back to Soweto after that time and for a while I lived with her.
It was hard I guess cos she was young and so on. Anyways that December we went to visit my grandfather for the very first time since my mom had left home and had me and my two younger sisters. When we got to Natal I remember there were some cousins or aunts and they kept asking me to translate things… like they would ask me what this word is in English and so on. I was shy but answered as best as I could. And I remember someone asking what something in the lower region was and my mom was like that is a sensitive issue and that was the end of that.
I lived with my grandfather for a couple of years where his wife’s granddaughter was also living and my “stepgrandmother” I guess. The situation was one of poverty indeed but yeah mostly I was okay while I lived there.
In December 1997 my mom came and fetched my sister and I (she’d fetched my younger sister earlier cos she was calling my gran mama and this upset her greatly). Anyways this visit ended up being a permanent stay with my mom. And I think in 1999 or so was when my stepfather started on his lil games where he would come into the room I was sleepin in and would fondle me. I felt so scared at first and then as time went on I got used to it. (and to this day I hate the fact that I didn’t really put up much of a fight but having grown up without a father I knew that I would not say anything as it would mean that my youngest sister would have no father like me) I was always trying to keep the peace even at that age (guess this was God’s way of preparing me for the future where I would have that responsibility in a way).
So then my stepfather, Innocent (ironically) kept up with the fondling and it progressed to him making me put my hand on his thing. And then he would play with my privates (I write this as though I am afraid to say the words penis and vagina but that is not the case it’s just how I remember it).
I remember this one afternoon so vividly though when he came into the room and I was lying on the bed and he came and he lay ontop of me. I don’t think he went inside but I am not sure but I know that it was wet and I felt sick. I could hear people outside speaking and laughing and this was happening to me. But at the same time it was like I wasn’t lying on that bed. I had learned how to remove myself from it and endure it til he stopped. (Now many may be wondering where my mom was in all of this, my mom was sick and so if she was asleep I didn’t want to wake her up and worry her about the whole thing and I couldn’t bare to think that my sister would grow up without her father).
But of course one cannot remove oneself completely, I couldn’t sleep much at night and when he wasn’t there I knew that at least I could try and get some sleep and feel just a lil safer. He’d visit less and less and so on though which made me happy. I wasn’t much of a crier then and still am not really good at that whole thing today.
There was a day when I think it got too much for me to handle and I was just sitting there and the tears started coming and they kept on coming.
My mom had some family over and so she took me out of the house and asked me why I was crying, I told her it’s nothing to which she said people don’t just cry for nothing Thandeka, what is it…(well it was in zulu).
So then I said that he had touched my breasts, now anyone who knew my mom would know that she was quite the fierce type you knw, like a lioness type of strength and she was angry. She asked me time and again if he’d done anything else and I flat out said no (I must add that I was 9 at the time and this thing was frightening and still wanted my sister to have a father in her life). She then asked me to tell her if he ever did anything else and asked me if I wanted to go the whole court route and the thought of that just freaked me out too much and I said No I don’t want that. My stepfather became scarce after that incident and my mom’s health deteriorated.
As far as I am aware (and God I hope I am right) he never did that to my lil sister and for that I was pleased that I could protect her at least and you know I would do it over and over again just to ensure that he never laid a hand on her!
Then the year 2000 in December my mom and sister (the other one lived with relatives) we went to Natal and visited my grandfather after so many years without seeing him and he was old wow. Anyways my mom was very sick at the time and spent most of Christmas and the days after that in bed. I was ten then and my lil sister was 5. We then went to where my mom grew up, my maternal great-grandmother’s home and there we stayed just the three of us.
The one night my mom got so sick that we had to go and ask for some medicine from some sangoma down the “road”. It was in the middle of the night but we had to do it I was so scared but put on a brave face for my little sister. We got the medicine and hurried back home.
My mom seemed to be getting better.
On the 1st of January 2001 after the hulla-belu of happy new years and what not we went into the house and went to sleep. I thing around 2am this man or older boy was in the house (for many years I was embarrassed to tell this part cos it’s not like izindlu zabelungu where you have the different bedrooms and what not, this house was basically collapsing and the kitchen door didn’t close properly and we had one of those pay-as you go electricity boxes inside the house and the guy tripped the main switch when he came in to do what he came to do. My sister and I were sleeping on the floor and my mom was on the bed. The guy came in and came straight for me. He tore the button of my shorts and entered me from behind. I was scared to move say anything. I was just praying that he didn’t wake my sister up. My sister did wake up and when she did he went real quiet and I did what I thought was best and told my sister that nothing was wrong and no one was in the room. The place was dark.
After my sister was a lil calm I guess the guy finished up and left. My sister couldn’t sleep well after that and I woke up and turned on the candle so she would feel safe. Then I turned around and closed my eyes. The tears came and I remember feeling so dirty and used and just in a terrible place.
I didn’t tell my mom cos I was scared it would literally kill her. Needless to say three days later she died anyways. I was numb when I saw her there on the floor with the porridge that she hadn’t touched. When I saw her I knew she was gone but not once did I cry. I kept it together and my main concern was my lil sister.
They sent the kids to another family’s place and that’s where we slept until the funeral and so on. That night while my sister was asleep one of my aunt’s told her that mom had died…I remember it you know “Mbali, Mbali” and she said “Ye” “Umamakho akasekho, ushonile” and she was like “Okay” and that was the end of that.
She did ask about her now and then but she was ok I guess.
The moment when I allowed myself to cry was at the funeral when I saw her lying in that coffin, it was like she was gonna open her eyes but she never did…
And here I am now at half past one on the 23rd of June 2009.
The pain is raw.
But I feel better a lil.
12th December 2011, I read this and edit it and it feels like all the memories are rushing back again. The emotions that I have captured here are still very real and I am transported back there all over again. It is getting easier to read the story without getting overly emotional. I am amazed at how much I have been able to do and how strong I have managed to become.
I will revisit it again some other time in future. This is MY story, but there are many more like it. I will keep telling it until the silenced are vocal.
I refuse to be a silent victim…I CHOOSE to be a survivor and a vocal one at that.
I am Thandeka TJ Jwaha on Facebook