She Believed, She had Hope
She sat and wondered if life has placed a curse on her. At age 32 she felt like the child again, not sure if what she has lived through thus far has been a haze, a life lived as it was meant to be, or a life created because of a vicious cycle she needed to break. A child at 6 that had to endure the silence of having a man she trusted and love, make her believe she needed to be quiet about their secret. She knew it was wrong for her uncle to do these things to her, but so did her boy cousin; did this mean that these men, she knew who was meant to protect her, did they know something, about life that she didn’t? At age 12 she started seeing blood on her panties but could not let her mother know that she was bleeding, how could she, and remained silent for 2 months, maybe this blood was as a result of what was happening, maybe the blood was her bodies way of ridding itself of all the bad feelings she felt everytime he touched her there. How would her mother understand, she was so busy trying to please her father, who was always away working, she surely could not burden her mother with any of this? As an adult when she did have the courage to tell her mommy about what happened to her all this time, she had to hear that her mommy too had to endure this state of emptiness at the hands of her own father! She was angry, angry at herself for not knowing how to deal with this, angry at her mother for not knowing how to make her feel better and angry at the world, for not encouraging women to tell the truth.
Now as she walked into the discussion room, where only women sat, waiting to share their attitudes about women in a forum, she knew she needed to speak out, she knew that being a woman meant that she needed to tell others who saw themselves as empowered, enlightened that her definition of being a women is grounded in a belief that the 6 year old girl who used rags when menstruating, even if they could afford to buy sanitary towels, was a little girl still trapped in a 32 year old woman’s body. Just 2 months ago when the church minister she called uncle, known to the family took advantage of this 6 year old child again. I thought I dealt with it she said, but I cannot help but feel angry at my mother for not being there. She turned to her girl cousin who was also raped at age 12 and came with her to tell her story of no longer seeing herself as a victim, but a woman liberated. She learned over and said to her; tell your story, break the silence cousin, she said this as if speaking out was going to change all this, with a knowing that speaking about what happened could mean, breaking the cycle of abuse in their family.
The cousin spoke with conviction about being a woman, after having numerous counselling sessions and numerous failed relationships with men, she had endured an abuse relationship with her child’s father and now is happy in a relationship with a woman for the past 12 years. She seemed to survive this? She seemed to have made sense of what happened in her life? Why is it then that I cannot move past this point of feeling helpless, lonely and sorry for myself?
This is the story of many women in my country, South Africa. A country where the world believes that any change is possible, look at what they achieved after the release of Mr. Mandela, look at how the black man has emancipated themselves! Surely these bad things only happened to those still caught up in the past said the president of the country in a recent parliament address and press release. Surely in this good country we can deal with these few incidents and show the world that this too shall pass! The media portrays images of woman being abused everyday, in communities where caring in community groups are based on the perspective of Ubuntu. The word ubuntu has its origins in the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. The literal translation from the Zulu proverb, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu is ‘a person is a person through other persons.’ (Louw, JD. 2001. Ubuntu and the Challengers of Multiculturalism in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Quest: An African Journal of Philosophy, vol XV, no 1-2; p 15). In Xhosa, ubuntu is expressed as umuntu ngumuntu ngabanye abantu, which in English is understood as “people are people through other people” and “I am because I belong to the human community and I view and treat others accordingly”
The sense of belonging is important to the very survival of the individual. Women, mothers and grandmothers rely on each other for support and have to keep quiet about things that will threathen this support-even if it means covering up for that brother, son, father, husband who is abusing their child, sisters child, neighbours child, your child, my child. Thus when we say someone has ubuntu, we mean that they have attained the point in which they understand the interconnectedness of life and reflect this in their actions towards others. It emphasizes the notion of mutual understanding and the active appreciation of the value of human difference. It calls us to appreciate our wellbeing in terms of the wellbeing of others, including strangers. I am everyone’s responsibility as everyone is mine (Ahiazu, 2006:33).
The notion of a collective caring community is not common to South Africa and the many incidents of rape, brings to question the individual in this collective, both the (victim) and the (perpertrator). The story narrated here, shows us the strength of one woman (the cousin) who choose to not focus on her experience as the victim, yet, like many others who too experienced this beastly invasion of their bodies, this woman, wanted the world to see her as liberated, as a woman who allowed to move beyond her circumstances and show other woman that they too can emancipate themselves from the cruel power men still have over women in society.
This is my story, the cousin who believed.