|Fikiswa, an overcomer|
A family should be a network of relations, a safe place for a child to grow up in a loving, nurturing and supportive environment. For me my family did not offer a haven, but a horrific experience of ongoing physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Before my first birthday, my mother took me to my grandparents’ home where my grandmother took good care of me and loved me until she passed away. My four brothers and I stayed on with our grandfather, but when I was nine years old, my brother who was a teenager, abused me sexually. As there weren’t any women in the home, nobody noticed anything and I had to take care of myself.
After my mother married, she took my brothers to live with her new in-laws but I was left with my grandfather. I had to take care of him and we suffered a lot, often going days without food. Sometimes he would send me to his daughter’s house to ask for food and during these visits to my aunt, her husband sexually abused me more than once. I could not tell my aunt even though she tried to care and help me sometimes because on bad days she used to say: “Not even her mother wants this thing.” I felt that my mother had abandoned me and these comments made the rejection worse.
When my grandfather passed away my mother still did not come to fetch me. My grandfather’s son, my uncle, moved into the house and I stayed with him, his wife and my cousins. This uncle was physical abusive. I was beaten almost every day. He would tell me to leave his house but I did not have anywhere else to go. My body still bears the scars of these regular beatings and I remember that the wounds took a long time to heal as I did not have any medication to ease the pain and help the healing process.
After a year of this physical abuse, an aunt took me to live with her, but her husband came to my room daily and abused me sexually. He was a policeman and sometimes he would bring his gun to my room, although he never aimed it at me. He would leave his wife in their bedroom saying he was going to check if there were any thugs outside, but would come and take advantage of me. I could not say anything to anyone because my aunt was doing me a favour and I had nobody who wanted to take care of me.
I stayed with them for some years during which time I did not stand up for myself. I felt worthless and had nothing left to fight for. In time this man sexually assaulted one of my cousins and when she told me I was able to share with her how I had suffered the same abuse. When my cousin reported the incident to her mother, she became very angry but she did tell my mother that the same thing was happening to me. My mother was very upset and started to insult me saying: “How dare you do this to your aunt after all that she has done for you?” At this time I was about 15. My mother accused me of having an affair with my uncle. She took water and washed her hands saying: “I am washing you away as my daughter.”
No one asked my uncle anything and my aunt was not even upset with her husband, which made me believe she was aware of the situation. She was not angry with me. It was like nothing had happened.
Finally my mother took me to live with her, my step-father and my brothers, but it was not a happy family for me. Throughout my life my mother never showed me any affection, she only ever insulted me. She used to look at me and say she did not believe I was her daughter because I was the ugliest thing that she had ever seen. She would tell me that God had made a mistake and made me female rather than male as I was uglier than my brothers. She humiliated me daily. She would analyse me, telling me that I was ugly and tall and had no brains. She would refer to me as a “thing”. Living with her was the hardest part of my life. She would beat me for almost nothing, minor things such as eating a sweet incurred her abuse; she would bite me and say I wasted money. When I tried to push her away, she would tell my brother to beat me on her behalf and she would stand and watch him punch me and see me bleed and beg for the beating to end. She would say: “Kill this thing, let it die”.
My mother called me all the ugly words that one could think of and told me that nobody would ever marry me. She would burn my clothes and once she sprinkled paraffin over me but praise God she couldn’t find any matches, otherwise she would have set fire to me.
Once she told me to go and wash some blankets and that man raped me so badly that the principal sent me home because I was very ill. In my sickness, she began to arrange my funeral assuming that I would not get well. I remember her voice in the morning, saying to my brother: “Check if she is still alive”. When they saw I was alive she said to me: “I was sure you were gone”.
She hated me so much. It was very difficult pretending that my mother liked me as everyone assumed that being the only daughter, my mother loved me.
Because of the repeated sexual abuse that I had suffered from a young age I had physical injuries in my body. My mother would demand that I take off all my clothes and lie down with my legs open. They would all look at me - my brothers and my step-father. I was in early adulthood at this time and it was a very humiliating experience.
Because of my background, I felt stuck and did not think that I could do anything. I had no self- esteem and no motivation. How tragic it was to prefer living with my aunts whose husbands abused me sexually and physically than with my mother.
Eventually when I was qualified, I left without telling her and called her only after I had moved out. She passed away two years later and at her funeral I remember feeling a bit guilty because I was not sad about her passing.
As a young adult, I had no self-esteem and felt worthless. I blamed myself for being stupid and felt like it had all been my fault. I could not share my story because I felt people would see me as a fool and I did not want to be judged. I felt I did not belong in this world anymore. I felt alone and isolated even when I was with others. I tried seeking help by going to psychologists for counselling but that did not help me.
This is my past but I have come to terms with it now although I will never forget my traumatic childhood. When I came to the church I had to rebuild everything. I have now been happily married for ten years and God has been good to me. But this has been a process, a journey, and it has required hard work and commitment to changing my life and myself.
When I got married, I could not open up to anyone because I was afraid of being judged and was worried about how I would be treated once people knew my story. I told myself that I was scarred for life so there would not be any point in speaking about it. The rejection by my family left a big hole in my heart and I thought that my husband would also reject me in time.
It was not easy for my husband I must admit. Being touched by a man reminded me of the abuse that I had suffered. When my husband put his hand on me, I would jump and scream. I was very sensitive to everything. I viewed men in general as takers and users. Praise God my husband was very patient with me.
As a woman, I wanted to feel beautiful, but I knew that I was the ugliest thing alive and felt ashamed of my sexuality. One day my husband said in a low painful voice: “Baby, I feel as if I am paying for something that I have not done”. These words touched me deeply and I started to make an effort. Praise God, my husband was very supportive and understanding and was always there for me.
One day I decided to go and speak to Mrs Marcia. I was not happy with myself and wanted to chat about some issues. I did not think my past had anything to do with my situation and it was not easy for me to open up. I was afraid of being judged and misunderstood. I did not believe that talking about it would bring me any solution – the abuse and rejection was a part of my life I did not want to talk about.
Humanly speaking I still do not know how everything started to work out. All I know is that I had a leader next to me who understood me, who supported me, who encouraged me, who gave me so much love, who was there for me. She noticed that I had a wall around me, which no one had ever noticed before – not even those who were very close to me. I will always be grateful to her because it’s like a huge load was lifted off my shoulders.
I had to learn to love myself and to allow my beauty to come out. It feels as if there are two different people - the old me and the new me. I am now happy with myself and my husband and I are happy together. I never thought I would recover at all, but I am definitely not scarred for life, although it took me years to learn that.