Thursday, December 20, 2007

“Ukuthwalwa”

12 year old *Dineo was playing with her friends in the backyard when a tall, dark, towering figure of a man approached her. He asked for her by name. The man then took her (Dineo) to her mother who introduced the man as her late father’s friend. Suddenly, the forty-something man noticed that there was no food in the shabby compound house, and with Dineo’s mother’s consent, he convinced Dineo to take him to a nearby butchery.

Dineo and the man walked a short distance when suddenly the man stopped to pick up a briefcase that he had hidden in the bush. He grabbed Dineo and dragged her to a nearby E.T (Emergency Taxi); that day turned out to be Dineo’s last day at home and it marked the beginning of a life long struggle with abuse and attempts to self annihilate.

Dineo’s ‘husband’ was nothing but abusive, they had several kids and he would beat her up badly to the extent of creating a permanent scar on her face with an axe, at times he would beat her up with a hoe. He has been known to bring many different women home, get Dineo to sleep on the floor while he ‘entertains’ all these women. He is an extremely jealous and insecure man. The only reason why Dineo, some 32 years later, hasn’t left her ‘husband’ is because she simply has no where else to go – she lost all contact with her mother and sisters, doesn’t have much of an education to talk about - which makes it difficult to get a job, and most importantly, she asks who will take care of her younger children, who will protect them from their father?

I think to some extent, because Dineo didn’t go through the normal emotional, and psychological stages of growing up, she kind of still thinks like the little 12 year old that was abducted and the culture that she lives in dictates what a woman can and can not do. The culture may imply that a woman can not make it on her own, and may possibly paint an evil and bad image of a woman living alone with her kids. Also, it is highly unlikely that she’ll ever see her children if she leaves the man. She lives with a constant fear of someone approaching her husband and abducting one of their daughters. Incidentally, one of their daughters ran away with her husband’s friend, as Dineo relates her story she says that her husband got a taste of his own medicine as he spent many months crying every night for his daughter’s return – isn’t it ironic!

Dineo’s story is one of many untold ones. This is a true story and every year some young girls, especially from impoverished backgrounds, are being abducted or forced into lifelong loveless marriages, they are forced into modern-day-type-of slavery. Young girls may also find themselves in Dineo’s situation when they are made to pay for the sins of their families e.g. appease the spirits of another family (where it has been proven that her family’s son murdered the other family’s child - the belief here is that the abducted girl will reproduce children to replace the murdered child), or to quench their parents’ thirst for money. The Bible rightly says that, “The love of money is the root of many evils.”

Tell me, Why didn’t Dineo’s mother report the abduction? Surely she knew the man and could have had him questioned or arrested.

“Ukuthwalwa” loosely put means “to be carried” and in this case it means to be forcibly taken from your home, removed from school, forced into marriage and deprived of all your chances of a normal childhood. In my opinion, “ukuthwalwa” with or without the parents consent, is a cruel act that abruptly ends the girl’s relationship with her family, it breaks all family bonds and cruelly places the girl-child in an unbearable, new environment. At a tender age, the girl gets engulfed with new terrifying emotions: very early motherhood – a child having children, confusion, she becomes quite vulnerable and is almost always abused by her ‘new’ family, in some cases she has to adapt to a new culture, accept a new religion, she will feel alone (no one to relate to), isolated and alienated. There is nothing as painful as being in a very bad place with no one to turn to - the mother you loved and cherished having forsaken you. At 11 or 12, you probably wouldn’t have established a very strong relationship with God so in essence you really feel alone in a cruel, cruel world.

I think that young girls from certain cultures or societies are more susceptible to “ukuthwalwa” than others, and whether or not the girl is taken, largely depends on the parents; I mean if I had a child that anyone even proposed to forcibly marry, I would go so mad that the guy who even considered such a thing would soon enough regret it.

I was also almost ‘forcibly married’. I was between the ages of 9-11, my parents were letting out our cottage to these university students; the students’ mother came to visit her children every now and then. The mother started to befriend me, she told me how pretty she thought I was and what a wonderful woman she thought I’d one day become. One day she held my hands and asked me to marry her twenty-something year old son! God knows that I was confused, in fact totally baffled by the request – I couldn’t quite comprehend all this with my 10/11 year old mind. Granted, I had probably sneaked to watch “Dallas” – you know, Bobby and J.R Ewing? And like any other young girl I had dreamt of my dream wedding, but marriage at 10 years?

Unfortunately, the woman was dead serious about marrying me to her son. She asked me to agree to marry him, she told me how great and good–looking a guy he was. Then she did it- she asked to meet my parents and since she was a very successful business woman, and my parents were ordinary middle-class folks, she offered them a lot of cash and said that she would pay for my all studies up to college or varsity level, but after High School I would have to relocate and live with ‘my husband’.

To this day, I’m baffled but I now realise that some people just do not care about other people’s feelings – as long as the situation favours/suits them then its fine, they think they know what is good for others; they do not believe in allowing another person, especially a girl, to exercise her right to choose.

My father was obviously tempted to accept the offer, in my family, my father gave the final say on everything whether any of us liked his ideas or not. Luckily for me, my dad refused and said that being his only daughter, he cherished me and would like me to grow up to be the best I can be. He felt that I should have the right to freely fall in love, and without force, get married. I truly respect my dad for his wise decision but above all I thank God for choosing to save me, I guess some of us escape painful and life changing events so that we are better able to relate to other peoples’ pain. I may have escaped forced marriage at the time but that doesn’t mean that God has let me escape every pain, I now know that some of the painful things we go through in life are meant to equip us with the tools we will need in order to help others in future – mind you, helping others is one of the core values of ubuntu. I believe that some of life’s painful lessons are God’s way of guiding us in the right path.

In retrospect, I sometimes wonder whether my dad refused to give me away because (a) he truly believed in my right to choose a husband, or (b) being the quasi tribalist person that he was, he could never imagine his daughter marrying into that woman’s tribe! He was a great man but I think having gone through a liberation struggle, and then a civil war that sought to ‘eliminate’ all the people from my tribe, he was understandably bitter. Personally, I hold no grudges against any race, people or tribe; I get to know people for who they are; I refuse to label every German as a Hitler or every person that doesn’t accept my religion as a bad person who will most likely go to hell or will cause us a lot of trouble.

I write to ogogo (grannies), okhulu (grandpas), omama labo baba (mothers and fathers) abanewethu labo dadewethu (brothers and sisters), we plead with you to stop girl-child abuse. Help to put an end to traditions such as “ukuthwalwa” or forced marriages. You can do it by not accepting it when your son or brother forces a young girl to marry him; if we as the family stand-up for the young women then I think this ‘way of life/thinking - ukuthwalwa’ will end.

I believe that if you can make a positive difference in one child’s life, if you can make a difference that will ensure that any child lives a normal, happy and productive life then this will be the greatest achievement of your life!

Let us all stand together and give the children, especially the abused girl-child a VOICE.

1 comment:

Yamkela Sigwili said...

I wish there was a way to share this blog, really inspired me a lot. There are many untold stories that woman die with them and drown them in silence. All they do is exist, but having to put such stories out there is almost like the women and girls in the situation are giving birth, and having to be free, starting over and help one another. We live in a morden society at times and we forget that such issues exist and needs to be dealt with. Most messages are passed on to the children in the morden society, while some serious occations occur in rural areas too. Who will hear them? Who will encourage them? The environment they live in is already disadvanged than other girls/ women. But the more we try to get the stories out there, the more we can reach out to them. Thanks again for such a touching blog.