The world echoes the injustice on a woman. In her muffled cries and in the streets, she can’t walk down without fearing for her life. The men who don’t know her but feel free to touch her sensually in public. We all know the catcalls of a group of men that are always ready to be thrown at a woman just for passing by their territory. Whistling to women like they are calling their pets and the descriptive visuals of what they’d do her body given the chance. We need to question our lovers and the men we sit and talk to. ‘Did your mother love you right because somebody told you that real men hurt women?’ We may find that mothers overcompensated for the absence of a father and the men we keep are shallow in their self-worth. They want to do the right things but a big part of them is buried under not crying or showing emotion when things fall apart.
The earliest memory I have of the men at home is of them loving their beer and that they fought amongst themselves. That is a man’s manly way of confronting issues; he drinks his sorrows away and inflicts physical pain on himself. The women were the voice of authority and what bound the family together. The village I grew up in was peaceful until people went to the city and came back home to die there with city habits. Then one day in the early stages of being a teenager, mom sat us down to talk about rape and how you should report it if it happens. That is how elders broke bad news to kids. They sat us down and explained then how to put a face of someone close to you to the tragedy. I was too young to fully understand but they taught us about it in school and on the teen shows on TV. She even started interrogating me about what it is we do at the Khumalo house all day and if Tata Khumalo had ever tried to harm me in anyway.
Just the other day I had been a normal young girl and the next thing I found out my friend, Zinhle had been raped. We were always together, and I remembered that day very well and how Tata Khumalo told me to go outside and play because she had something to do inside. I went back home and when I went to see her again she wouldn’t come out. She later started hanging out with older girls and dating. She was the township ‘slut’ and even her mother publicly dragged her for being loose. A lady who had just moved into the neighbourhood noticed her behaviour and reached out to her. That is how it was revealed that she was being raped.
Society was a tutorial to warn kids against filthy men who prey on kids, but it didn’t have enough safety measures. Her stepfather never got punished and nobody wanted to talk of the shame of it all. It was whispered in corners and the kids came to their own conclusions. He was a man from a respected family, and therefore the village was torn into two over it. The men found him guilty because he’d boast about it at the local tavern. He would brag about how he got away with the crime because he ran the village. Parents warned their kids about walking alone and coming home late. They hardly ever warned them about the men who are inside the house. Zinhle’s mom sent her away to go live with her aunt in another village and she stayed married to Tata Khumalo.
The people in the village didn’t feel safe; a predator was on the loose and the only way to protect young girls was to warn them against themselves. They told young girls never to be vulnerable in the full access of men. It is easy for men who built homes to pickpocket the homes without fathers; it is like stealing candy from a baby. The law has never fully been there as a means to protect the defenceless; too much money is made from it. You can hear the cash machines going crazy in court rooms the minute they shout ‘silence in court’.
It is a civilised casino for the classy, banking on how much one wants their freedom and how much the victims know their rights. A young girl who has been violated has better ways to heal than narrating the ordeal to a room full people who are there to find holes in her story. There are a lot of things that hurt young women and out of love they wish to be better versions of their mothers. They learn to be braver by not keeping destructive ‘family ’secrets, and so they hope to find better men to build their tomorrows. Time may allow us this or break us so much that we are only left with our breaths. I realised that I failed my friend or maybe she protected me from truths I wasn’t ready for at that age. In her torment someone was able to see that something was extremely wrong in the Khumalo household. Sometimes people do see but are set in their ways of minding their own business. I’ve always felt like we owed her an apology as women because that could’ve happened to anyone and somehow circumstances chose her in the handicapped arms of her home. The greatest problem wasn’t wicked men but how vulnerable our homes became in the new age. They had so many gaps that we didn’t know how to fill but hoped they’d fill themselves out.
I don’t know when I learnt to fear the magic that is my womanhood especially because I was black. I think we were thought to be special at home, and when we were to face the world everything screamed for us to be normal. To colour within the lines and not imagine that things are what they are not. In a country celebrated for freedom and for being a rainbow nation you’d think skin colour isn’t an issue. You try and delude yourself but every day we test that notion by breathing and the answers aren’t pleasant. It isn’t a warzone, but black people do disturb other people’s peace. We share the same malls and beaches but there are unwritten lines that we fear crossing. So they smile their goofy smiles when they see us and hope that is where the interaction ends.
Our entire existence in this country is a back and forth dance of trust between enemy lines, the anger at the state of living demands someone must die and the politics of it dictate that this is a good way to curb overpopulation. Change is a slow transition, but we can never really tell how hard it was to bring it to life. Who knew that one day black dolls would be a reality? Who would’ve imagined little black girls would play with a classification of beauty that actually looks like them? Black presidents were only a dream, and even when they happened they were marred by systems that hampered the visions of a black society. In other words, the revolution was never truly televised. Half way through the broadcast somebody realised that this content wouldn’t work. It would empower too many people, so the lines were cut, and they reverted to repeats of old soapies with an apology message at the bottom of the TV: ‘the broadcast was disrupted because of content which is not suitable for viewing’. History has it in records how a group of girls disappeared from their school and the world couldn’t really save them. We sat in our homes watching such events shake the core of who we are as people and wished that what we are presently witnessing should never happen to us tomorrow. The echoes behind the tragedy were that it is normal for these girls to disappear, and as days passed it was just another event until they returned. We live on ‘pray for’ hash tags because a lot of men know how to manipulate the hands of justice. The most corrupt of them all being those in power. When a leader can go to the highest courts for a crime and his defence to rape is washing the woman off him. Raping women easily becomes a joke and her outcry is swallowed in the media craze of why the leader shouldn’t lead but he still does.
So one day we wake up in a world where men can burn their lovers and live to tell the story.
Who are the women who have to go and identify a piece of themselves in ditches and find burnt skin and cluttered bones? Girls go missing for days and their bodies are found in pieces dumped in velds and justice is a man who is later set free because prisons are full.
Back home Thando Buthelezi, a girl we grew up with, went missing and her body was found in a forest leading to another village. She was butchered to pieces after she had been raped. It was apparent she was raped and killed by someone she knew having lived in this small village where everyone knows everyone. Once the case was cracked open and the suspect was found, the last person to be seen with her, the whole village went knocking at his mother’s house and drove him and his family away. He was beaten, dosed in paraffin with a car tyre around his neck and would’ve been burnt had the police not shown up. A year had hardly passed, and he came back and walked freely in the streets; a constant reminder of that dreadful tragic day.
He wasn’t reformed. In fact, he got into more mischief and petty crimes and kept causing trouble because nobody questioned him. His mother wasn’t free though because all the wrath fell at her feet and she understood because she was a woman and a mother. People expected her to call her son into order seeing as she had failed at raising him right. Nothing causes a parent distress like a child who goes and causes trouble in other homes. Her son was a malice to society, which feels like a slow death to a parent. Parents would rather you cause trouble in your own yard because people can only gossip about you and laugh at your misfortunes. When you terrorise the whole village, you kill whatever harmonious relations the family ever built. People got tired of him eventually and he was again handled by the mob and this time he didn’t survive. They beat him within an inch of his life and he died where they held him captive. His mother didn’t recognise him in the end. She said he had long been like another person occupying her son’s body. Nobody but a handful of his family showed up at his funeral. He was buried on the anniversary of Thando’s death.
This is our reality. Imagine a hymn-less send off and a casket without shoulders to carry it. His mother rested the day he died because she was welcomed back to the community. She still gets pitiful looks and people whisper about the shame her son brought on her name when they think she isn’t listening. She wishes and prays her other son doesn’t turn out like his brother. Thando’s mom found closure in that her daughter’s killer is no more. The people in the village attempted to reconcile past with the hurt that transpired in that time. Mob justice is by no means right, but it is a just corrective measure to protect a society. It is said one can agree to a crime under duress with a hope of getting a lighter punishment later when the long arm of the law beckons. The people however feel like they have no other choice because the police do their jobs in half measures and that mean perpetrators are out on the streets again in no time.
All that is womanhood is a broken art form, tragically beautiful and so hard to wear. It breaks so many people before it builds them into barely put together pieces. A bit of sunshine darkened by a shade of how she has to restrain all the love hidden in her heart. She becomes titles of I am a woman as I go, scattered prints of he touched me and I knew I was here to create more people like me and him. And man, do we need to keep it together. Woman, the children need you to at least look like you know what you are doing. Mothers need daughters who will now carry them and forgive them all the mistakes they made. The men need submissive lovers with poetry lining their mouths. Your dreams don’t allow you to live a life apart from the one that calls you away from being ordinary. Tell me, where will women get the time to break down? Our skin carries body language that hides the godliness and soul beckoning to the sex of all that we are.
I can tell you stories of how women fail each other in the name of being strong. In the name of surviving Mom shoved me into the jaws of a system that was easily manipulated by men. I can’t recall how I made it out with my skin intact. I think maybe even she didn’t truly comprehend how fragile I was at that age. She was a young orphaned woman with young children. She had to rise with the sun and smell like a garden of roses, yet she harboured an archive of breaking that she couldn’t talk about. She was an array of keeping it together and being bone tired with no release. She believed she had armed me with enough ways to make it out of anything in this world.
They will tell you tales of men in the bible that made it out of the stomachs of beasts and dens surrounded by wild animals. Meanwhile women had to try and make it out of being stoned alive, being cut to shreds for daring to be a woman who lusts after men. There are the gods in all the things women are and all the people are heathens. The girls at school picked me apart for being different. A snobbish girl in a township school, how dare I come here and speak good English. I had one friend, Asante, who probably took pity on me because she was the victim before I came along. She was ‘the foreigner’ who was constantly told to go back home because her type was causing poverty in our land.
Back home, Mom was stressed and always finding fault with everything. From the fact that I looked a lot like my father and had his annoying habits to the way I chewed. I couldn’t tell her how out of place I felt in the world. I couldn’t question her, and I spoke when spoken to. I couldn’t tell her that young girls need soft hands to shape them into womanhood. I mean every time she looked at me, she didn’t even really see me. She didn’t embrace me anymore or even talk to me. She talked over me and at me. At times I’d find her lost in thoughts of her own mother. She’d let go and tell tales of how she misses her, she’d recount memories of another strong black woman. All the women in her family were hardened by realities of life. They had smiles that flirted in the depth of their eyes, but looking elders directly in the eyes was a sign of disrespect.
Some men smell neglect and come to dine at its doors. They see the signs to a rotting cycle of girls and help them become ruins. They know what desperation looks like. They make out its breathing pattern in little girls who don’t know that their fragrance is enticing. In the eyes of fragile young girls learning to be hard women they see ways to be part of the process of breaking these girls into bitter women. Thinking, ‘Let me make use of all the sweetness this child doesn’t know she is.’
Years later, the woman lies in the chaos she is and wonders about the sweet things men seek in her that she doesn’t have. Mr Richard saw something in me, maybe that I didn’t see the lady I was becoming. Oblivion is such a sweet poison. I was a drug he craved; he showed an interest in me and I ate it up. He paraded me in his class like a call girl and everyone found it funny. I was labelled a slut, found my name written on toilet walls and tried to erase it. My name had a different meaning here, it was all the big things young girls don’t want to be and can’t own. I was trouble, one who thought she was too good to be like the people there. I didn’t want to conform so everyone tried to force me to bend to the laws that governed them on a daily.
I would tell Asante that we were in a godless society, but she believed countries ravaged by years of war that displaced their people over other borders were signs of godless societies. Our country to her was a paradise lost to its own people because of hate and lack of knowledge. She said the people here were religious, but I was in a new church and had to learn new ways of praying. I learnt that there were names for school kids that slept around with teachers. Heck, many of them owned it with a bad sassy attitude and sexy get ups. Mom heard the rumours and lost it. I couldn’t prove my innocence. She asked if I was protecting myself and I believed there was hope, that maybe there was a way to protect young girls from forced sexual advances. She said I had to go to the clinic and get contraceptives if I insisted on being sexually active at a young age. I was the innocent bad girl and my only crime was growing up.
Asante said I should just give in to Mr Richard’s advances so he would leave me alone. She had been there and done that. She insisted there was no way around it. Every girl who has ever been preyed on becomes hopeless and bitter because reality doesn’t afford them any fairy tale. I hated women and their inability to accept and defend each other. I despised my mother for thinking I knew how the world worked when I didn’t. I wished I could kill off the part in men that feasted on weaknesses and called it love or thought it was normal. I couldn’t stand school because I was a deer trapped as prey for whatever desired me most. I was learning more about the decay of a man’s soul and less about what was in the books they gave us. I escaped from that man’s clutches by mere inches of my skin. Everyday his hands progressed further down my skirt and I forced down the extra classes in sexual orientation. My brain felt too heavy for my body and I couldn’t describe these things to my mother. What saved me from the clutches of Mr Richard was another man who had learnt the ins and outs of parenting, and he knew how neglected kids were in some government schools. When he heard of the abuse I was constantly under he called a meeting with the principal and Mr Richard. He saved me from fighting a system all alone and gave me hope. Mama never apologized for not being there. She asked why I never said anything and then life had to go on. From that day it was like I didn’t exist to Mr Richard and I relished in being invisible.
Mr Richard later passed away after being sick for a while. The respected teacher had contracted diseases because of his promiscuity. We watched the handsome man, the cool daddy lose weight and fade out in front of us. He came to school drunk; went from running the school to being an outcast. When he passed by everyone laughed and they whispered in corners that he was sick. He carried the virus and you shouldn’t go near him or you’ll catch it. He couldn’t look anyone in the eyes and always had trendy dark sunglasses on. When he came into the classroom to teach, silence erupted but you could see all the eyes of children speaking. Fear and confusion lurked in their eyes but they covered it up with oblivion. Here was a man who was once great, a man they had adored and respected even when he took advantage of kids. When his sins started showing on his skin, he fell from glory because everyone feared whatever he carried might be contagious.
We should be apologetic to the young girls who live these tragedies because society has too much room for broken people but not enough remedies. The lesbians killed for ‘trying to be men’ or raped as corrective behaviour in a free country that details the equal rights humans have. You hear about how it isn’t normal for women to love women like that. Like it is normal for men to wreak havoc in the peace we find in our homes once they leave. As if it is normal for sons to have an intense desire to be like their fathers, and worse find a home in the cold bars of prison cells. The nurses know of the many young girls who go to clinics looking to abort ‘mistakes’ or hoping they are still clean from the virus. The nurses change over the years but the system remains the same.
Who stays to love the black woman? Men who know their power is in loving themselves with their flaws. Men who marry outside their race are ridiculed but maybe a woman is woman and these are the times to forget boundaries and just love. Lord knows we tense up when there are racial battles. Black people hardly recognise each other as one any more. Everything falls into a certain label and class. You don’t know what you might see when you turn on the news in this demoralised state. We once witnessed black people torching one another because he was from across the border. Mob justice used on the innocent and powerless, his only crime was that he came and started a business in this land while the men here were unemployed. History will tell the story of the massacre of mine workers who wanted better pay and working conditions. Men in uniforms gunning down people just like them because of difference in ranks and probably to keep their own jobs. How many people have to die before we find who we are? Our country, the home of peaceful protests turned into bloody shoot to kill political agendas. The children who went to make a living don’t return home. They come back in caskets for fighting for a better tomorrow.