Posted on | februari 5, 2011 | 1 Comment
I was born in Soweto. You might have heard about it. It’s a township in the south of Gauteng. I used live in Dube with my drunkard father, spineless mother and absent brother. Some people think they know the sort of people that live in such townships. They have read about us in their fancy newspapers. They are ostensibly informed. But I can’t imagine that they know who we really are. How could they? They haven’t seen what we’ve seen.
I do miss the outside world. The crisp flippancy of sunny freedom all around you. I never got the chance to appreciate life until I was taken in. Even when I can feel that it’s a beautiful day, it’s never real to me when I’m in here.
There is no real sunshine in here. The few rays of sun that dare to fall on you are obscured and demeaned by the sullenness of this place. Nimrod Prison is just another classic South African prison. It’s overcrowded and run-down and stinks of guilt.
After a brief trial, I was judged and it was decided that I had no right to do what I did and should therefore pay. My sentence was harsh, but my lawyer says I might get out before I rot.
LIFE. When I heard the words, I froze. It had just dawned on me what was about to happen around me … to me. Uncensored, unsympathetic – LIFE!
I looked back at my father who would not look at me or show a sign of sentiment, if my mother had been there, her tears would have pierced through my heart like a knife. And my little girl, Patience for whom I was most sorry. I had pled guilty, I guess I was guilty but Patience who had done nothing would be punished along with me. She’ll suffer more pain now than if I was dead or something of the sort. They sat there, the two of them, like lumpy baggage that I was leaving behind on my new journey. They were all I had left and I would have to leave them behind.
I was in the headlines for a short while, you might have read my story, but now I am old news. Most of the articles were short and tabloid-like. I know how it has affected my family. My father will be furious with me until he is dead. He has no need to hear the truth from me. It was on the news.
They couldn’t talk long, my father pointed out. They had to go. I understood. Just like I understand why their visits have ceased. I understand it, but still each morning, my heart flickers in the hope that I might see her face once more.
Life. I understand. I wouldn’t dare complain. This is who I am now – old news.
My name is Lerato Rabosiwane. My name – Lerato – means love in my language, Sesotho. I am twenty-nine years old. Some people think that I had a decent childhood because of who my father is, but they are wrong. How many things there are that people think of me that are absolutely untrue.
My father was a teacher at Sakhisizwe Secondary School while my mother was a housewife. My father was an esteemed man in the thinning township society. He was sternly traditional with his moral values intact. Even children spoke of him with the highest regard and thought him faultless, but once again, they were quite wrong.
We went to Sakhisizwe every morning together and came home together in the evening. My mother would have ready for us a warm meal on the table, just the way my father liked it. I had looked up to my father before I got to know him. I too used to do things solely because my father wanted it that way.
As I grew older and wiser, I met the man who was really my father. The man who closes the windows and shades in his classroom so that he could go through some ‘paperwork’ with the student teachers or sometimes even the students which, may I add were all female. For a while I didn’t think anything of it but I caught on soon enough with the counsel of my brother, Tshepang. My father had a secret life of women and booze, which many people weren’t aware of. Or they knew of it, but never let on. They spoke of him as the respectable principal and his family saw him as a drunken cheater.
I could understand what my father was doing with those women and girls. That was quite usual. But I never understood what he found in a bottle of wine that he couldn’t find in us. He would come in late at night smelling like booze and pussy and he would have that look on his face if my mother confronted him as if to say: I dare you. My mother crept away like a frightened, maltreated dog with its tail between its legs. He was unfaithful to his family but mostly to my mother. She was hopelessly devoted. Everything she did was in his name. She feared him, she was at his feet and all he had to say was:’ This tea is cold, woman!’; ‘When is the last time you cleaned this filthy hole?’ It’s your fault this, it’s your fault that! And my mother would accept.
We were never happy. None of us were. I’m not blaming my father for our misfortunes but he certainly had a hand in some of the destruction.
As children, my brother and I were very close. He laughed at me in that way that an older brother laughs at his younger sister and taught me and protected me. I looked up to him because, even from an early age, he stood up for what he believed in and persevered, enduring even the toughest turns in order to get what he wanted. He was six years older than me and he wanted to be a scientist. When my brother turned twenty-one, he went off to study at Sussex in the United Kingdom. Everyone was so proud of him and I looked up to him, hoping to one day be like him.
I wanted to be a nurse, I wanted to deliver children, see the beginning of life. I never really wanted children myself but I wanted to help in bringing them into the world. I wanted to finish school and go overseas to join my brother and become a nurse.
When I was about to finish school, my father had found a girl for my brother to marry. It is customary in my culture for the parents to help choose their offspring’s spouse when they are old enough. My father had planned all the festivities and rituals and all that was left was the groom’s arrival. What my father had forgotten is that it is only customary in the culture and not universally. Tshepang refused to marry unless it was his own choice in his own time, but my father was adamant. He had made up his mind but so had Tshepang. That was the end of that. I never saw Tshepang again.
My parents never made a big deal of Tshepang’s rebellion. They never spoke of it or mourned over him. In fact, now that I think about it – it was never a deal at all.
My father and I still rode to school in his beige Mercedes and the empty passenger’s seat was never mentioned. My mother accompanied us on Sundays to church and we prayed as a family, never once acknowledging that Tshepang was gone. I heard from the grapevine that he had fallen in love with an English woman. I saw my father shredding the postcards he would send us monthly. Gradually, the postcards stopped and in the Rabosiwane household, Tshepang ceased to exist.
There were kids at school who would ask me about Tshepang and I would assure them that I knew about as much as they did. As the years went by, I began to forget him, just like my father had intended it to be.
My father became very vicious around this time. Whenever he heard that I had been seen with some guy or other, he’d beat them to a pulp. That way, boys would stay away from me and in that way, so would girls. When all the teenagers were out partying and having a good time, I was at home with my mother, making clothes, making jam, making whatever it is we had to make to satisfy my father.
Eventually my mother would open up to me and tell me about the things she abhorred about my father. That was the time during which I began to know my mother. She wasn’t an accessory, made to make his life comfortable. She was a woman, full and rich with complexities my father could never make out.
My father never allowed her out of the house except to do things with other women in the township. Of course he was gone often and she could sneak out, but if she were to have visitors, he was to be notified in advance. She needed permission from him for everything. Perhaps he was scared that she would do the same thing he was doing when he left the house. Perhaps he worried that she too would leave as Tsephang had done.
I pitied my mother. She was illiterate, she had never had a job and she has no other family. My father married her when she was sixteen years old. All she knew was how to be a wife and a mother and even though I had my complaints, she was a good mother and a good wife.
As my father sank deeper into his desolation, it came to pass that it was my mother and I against him. She would let me sneak out to see this boy, Mpho who I liked and I would let her sneak out to buy do things on her own. If my father was to come home and one of us was gone, the other would cover up by saying that the other was on her period. There is nothing my father loathed more than menstruation. He did not want to see or touch a woman who was menstruating. He wouldn’t even eat food made by a menstruating woman. If we were both on our period and couldn’t cook, he would go to elsewhere for a meal. My mother and I would secretly titter amongst ourselves if we knew or thought the woman cooking his food wherever he was going was also on her period.
As a teenager, I was always aware of the crushing power of a man in my community. I was aware of the things that were allowed and the things that were not allowed for a woman. I knew what was expected of me and even though I dared to dream, I knew how my life would turn out. I just never knew it would all happen so soon and so severely.
We came home from church one day and my father sat us down to tell us some wonderful news. My father had never sat us down for anything before and we were expecting something immense. He told us how he’d been speaking with some men in the township and he had decided that it was about time I was married off. It was the hardest blow. My mother tried to talk to him. She knew from the way I spoke of the future that I had had no desire to marry or being strained into it. She also didn’t want to lose another child. She had lost enough, hadn’t she? But my father told the woman to shut her gob. I would be married whether I liked it or not.
I didn’t want to. I wanted to go to school, become a nurse and get out of that wretched place. My father unleashed his stiff right hand and from the back of his hand sending me hard into the wall. He screamed at me while I lay there, dejectedly sobbing for mercy. How dare I speak to him this way? Had I no respect? He had a good mind to kill me then and there.
There was nothing I could have done save run away and fend for myself. But I had too much patience to realise; it had all come to an abrupt end. If I was lucky, my future husband would let me do my own shopping but my education, my dream was a thing of the past.
The wedding day approached with the slyest speed and stunned me into wedlock. His name was Kgotso Lechuba. I had seen him around Soweto a couple of times, and heard of him. I had heard that he was a player and he broke all the girls’ hearts. People told me what a lucky girl I was. That I should find such a popular husband. He had a job and he was handsome – lucky me.
The ceremony was unsightly. I wore my mother’s horrible white wedding dress and for the traditional ceremony, a homemade rag. Kgotso looked proud and loved all the attention, barely noticing his bride. I hadn’t ever spoken to him in my life before but he held my hand and waved at everyone like he was some sort of icon. I smiled warily but I was shattering inside. I didn’t want to get married, especially not to this portentous ass.
After the ceremony, we arrived at the house late in the evening. The house, which was also situated in Dube, Soweto had four-rooms. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, a lounge and a kitchen, cosy and clean. It was a new house, I could tell. I could still smell the paint in every room. The furniture was nice but cheap which I really didn’t mind. The thirty-seven centimetre television was second hand, but the stove and fridge were both brand new. The walls were all painted white and there were odd pieces of flee market artwork scattered on the wall.
He said he hoped I was impressed and I said I was. When we had gotten some things out of the way, he called me to the bedroom and we settled down as husband and wife. I still hadn’t accepted him as my husband, but as I was his wife, in his house, I was open to persuasion. He told me to join him in the bed where he lay, half naked, sprawled and smiling. When I got on, he touched me and took off my clothes. I told him I was nervous and he said ‘don’t be’ and carried on. I had never even kissed a man before, so I was shaking as he commenced. He said do this and do that and I did what he said. He made me lie on my back and straddled me and put his penis into my vagina and we had sex for the first time.
I had always wondered what sex was like. I wanted to know why people on television wouldn’t stop talking about it. I wanted to have it and wake up next morning feeling good and loving the man, who stared at me when I opened my eyes, just like on television. But whenever my husband ‘made love’ to me, it was just a poking feeling. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! At first it took five minutes or so and later on it lasted longer but it was never any good. He would wake up in the morning, I would make his breakfast and send him off to work, staying behind to do some chores and cook. When he came home, he would eat and watch television and later on he would fall off to sleep after making love. Unlike my father, he didn’t mind menstruation. In fact, he would make love to me during my period no matter what I said to try to put him off it. It had seemed like nothing could keep him from having sex.
I saw my parents often and I still felt like their child even after so much had happened. Kgotso let me go shopping and see some friends as I wished. After a year of being husband and wife, we began to love each other. He said he fell in love with me because I was good in the kitchen and the bedroom. I suppose I loved him because he was nothing like my father… or so I thought. He told me how he loathed men who went outside the home to find things they think they’re missing. A man has everything in his family, he would say proudly. He was in no doubt that we were ideal family. He said all we needed was a child and then we would be sorted. So I closed my eyes and tried to make believe: I have everything in my family!
It had been almost a year since we were married when I first realized that I was pregnant. I was talking to a friend and she mentioned her period when I wondered where the hell mine was. I didn’t tell her of course, nor did I tell my husband or anyone at all. I had hoped my period would come, or that I would miscarry. But when I started to vomit and eat funny things, I knew that I had fallen pregnant. I told Kgotso one evening while he was eating his supper and he was ecstatic. Once again, we made love that evening.
The next nine months would be taxing. My husband would continue to go to work and he would pet my stomach whenever he remembered that I was pregnant. I had never wanted to have my own children but I had always wanted to see the birth of children. Here was my chance to experience the creation life – that is how I consoled myself. I wanted a son because I knew the consequence of being a girl. I didn’t want any daughter of mine to go through what I had. I wanted to make sure that my child had a better chance. As son could run as far as he could, but a daughter would wait and only be consoled by her belly when it became big with child.
I saw Mpho during this time. He would visit me he would help me with my chores. I thought of Mpho as a real man. He didn’t just see me as a woman – a cleaning utensil or a sex slave, he saw deeper than that, he saw and treated me like a real woman. I never told him but I wished that I had married him and not Kgotso.
One evening though, Kgotso returned after a bad day at work to find me in the kitchen with Mpho. He was furious and decided that I was never to see him again. I would stay at home for the remaining months of my pregnancy and I that was the last saw of Mpho.
I was lonely during my pregnancy. Even though Kgotso still had time to have sex, he was out most of the time. I began to see a different side of him. He became like a vulture. Once he came home late and just began fucking me while I was asleep. I awoke and looked at him with astonishment but he never mentioned it again. After he came, he rolled over and fell asleep, leaving me there with my legs open. I was his property and therefore obligated to spread my legs when he said so. There are many incidents like this one where I began to see my husband’s affection as a vulgar danger
I talked to my mother about it when she visited and she told me that I should do whatever he said. It’s amazing. My mother had told me stories about her youth, when women held the community together, fighting against the Boers, raising the families. Yet she sat there lecturing her daughter on how to reject rebellion. Hypocrite? I’ll never know. Just like I’ll never know why the rest of the women in my tribe wither in the storm that is the man. I was about to have a child and I wanted more than ever to be freed from that obligation. But obligation, as I have found, is like a birthmark, encrypted on the township woman. It’s not the way we like it but it’s the way it is.
Finally, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Although I had never wanted children, as soon as I saw her, I was convinced that she was perfect. It is the most memorable moment of my life. Even though I had resented Kgotso, I was happy I had married him because he gave me Patience.
She grew up quietly in my arms. Her father loved and I loved her also. We were united by our love for her. She was bliss for us and we could never get enough of her. She grew up swiftly, before I knew it, she was saying her first words and then walking. Patience became my life and the reason for everything good in it. Because of her, Kgotso began to spend more time with us. I began to enjoy cooking for him, entertaining his guests, cleaning his house and making love to him. We still made love quite often but the older Patience grew the more preoccupied he was with her. I didn’t mind it. I was thankful. Patience never knew it but she was saving me from him. My husband had always been extremely keen on sex, but when Patience came along he became caught up in her and gave me space to breathe. We became a family and I thought we would be happy this way forever.
I had never suspected anything. Not when my husband and I stopped having sex, not when he suddenly encouraged me go to college, not when Patience went from being a bundle of joy to being low recluse, not when he insisted that I should visit my mother more often. Not once did I stop to think what was going on. I might have considered that he may have a mistress on the side, or that my daughter missed me spending more time at home, but I never even saw a glimpse of the reality.
A man has everything in his family.
That evening changed everything. There was nothing I could have done to stop my world from imploding as I walked home from class. My heart had broken when I had lost my brother, when my father had forced me into wedlock, when I had given up my good friend Mpho, but what I experienced that night was far beyond heartbreak. It was demolition, vertigo. Far beyond heartbreak!
A man has everything in his family.
I heard little Patience crying while I was opening the gate from Tladi Street. She had come home from Kindergarten with her father and I was wondering what he had done to upset her. I opened the door and headed for the bedroom where I could hear the two of them.
There, on the same bed where Patience was conceived. On the bed where my husband and I make love, he hovered over her; pumping and sweating like a sick bastard. She was crying and he had his hand over her mouth, which muffled her cries. For a second, I froze and then instinctively, I went on the bed and fought him off her tiny body. I screeched and asked him what the fuck he thought he was doing but he sat there like he had done nothing wrong. I wanted to hit him so hard – to hurt him and break him. But I knew he was stronger than me so I took my Patience from him and tried to comfort her.
I looked at her and my heart tore so utterly. What had he done? I had been able to tolerate him for six years but this was the last straw. She was sobbing now. I looked at her and saw that I had failed her. I sincerely felt as though I was entirely guilty for her suffering. She did not deserve any of it. She was just a little girl. Although she had come into my life like rain onto desert soil, quenching me … saving me, she was still just a little girl. My little Patience!
I hated that man. I did then and I do now. No sentence or prosecution can change that. I’d do what I did a million times over if I had to. I have no regrets with regard to why I am here. I’d do it a million times over.
I had given up my college studies in order to make sure that Patience was safe. I was assured that he had only done this to her once, but I never believed it for a moment. I would do what I could to make sure he never did it again. I had even gone to the police station twice to report my husband but all the officers were men and they were disgusted at this woman who goes behind her husband’s back and drags her daughter into it. ‘It’s between the two of you. Work it out.’ I was told that if I ever came back, I would be reported to my husband. All I could do for my daughter is be there for her. I felt powerless.
I called my mother after returning from the police station who offered to take Patience off my hands while I sorted things out with Kgotso. I did this all without consulting him even though I told my parents that Kgotso was fine with Patience leaving home. He came home that evening and asked where Patience was. I told him where she was and for the first time in our marriage, Kgotso hit me. I felt the hard pang of his knee in my stomach and his hand banging the back of my head into the concrete wall. He planted his fist hard on the side of my head as many times as he could and pulled me by my hair all the way to the car and I knew we were on our way to get Patience back. I tried to fight back, I tried to duck and escape but he had me. Patience was coming home.
We walked into my parents’ house together and my mother could see the hot effects of the assault because she tried to run to me but my father held her back. There was blood everywhere, my mother tried desperately to comfort a howling Patience, but the men stood firm, abandoning their wives and prepared to settle. My father asked courteously if he could talk to Kgotso so they left the room and my mother ran to me and burst into tears at once.
I would suck it up and return home with my family. I was not given a choice. Patience was Kgotso’s child and I had no choice.
I slept in Patience’s room that evening. She asked me what was going to happen to us and I answered the only way I knew how, I told her I didn’t know but she should just wait and mummy would find help. Patience fell asleep in my arms, as she had done many nights before. I held her tightly as I had done many nights before. But this night was different. On this night, I was not given a choice.
On the next night as we endeavoured our concord like we had done before, he barged in and grabbed her. I screamed as loud as I could and he muted me with a backhander. ‘She’s my daughter too!’, he shouted. And he shoved me back as I attempted to grab Patience and locked the door behind him. I screamed for my life and kicked and banged at the door but he was not bringing her back. I heard a door bang and Patience’s lament. This prompted me to squeal louder and louder but I soon learned that my screams would not draw pity from anyone. Surely the neighbours could hear and my parents could feel, but they would let it be.
All of them! For the sake of dense mores? What was so important in a man that made him so superior to his wife? Yes! Patience was his daughter too, but she was mine first. I was sharing her with him, but ultimately, she was mine. He could never understand the bond I have with her. He could never understand why her pain is my pain. There is nothing in the world like having a child, not making one, not delivering one … nothing!
This would happen over the next few weeks. I detest myself for letting it go on that long. Patience and I would be stuck in the house all day and when he came back, I had to serve his food and then he’d decide whether he would sleep with her or not. On some nights he called me in and ‘make love’ to me. If I rebelled in any way, there was hell to pay. I came to understand how my mother came to teach me to bow to a man’s orders for I myself had begun to tell my daughter to obey her father’s every move in order to avoid further abuse. I was always desperately trying to find as escape, but I surrendered by all means necessary. There was always a feeling in my heart but I let him think that I had surrendered.
During this period of time, my mother began to visit furiously and on some nights, stayed until Kgotso was so annoyed that he asked her to leave. I saw something growing in my mother. Perhaps she was remembering what she had given up when she was married, perhaps she was beginning to regret or perhaps she had always regretted. She spoke to me about being brave and I distinctly remember her saying that she wished our men were dead.
This is when I began to wish for Kgotso’s death. I pondered on how I would do it, how I would escape. These things harassed my mind day and night and my newly oriented mother only encouraged my sentiments. Sometimes I was frightened by her merciless thoughts because of their uncanny likeness to my own.
I waited for weeks and finally, I had come to a resolve. I always thought I’d be patient with my fate no matter how things turned out. They say patience is a virtue, I was slowly learning that these men have no virtue. We are a cold-breed. If I had dared to have more patience with Kgotso, what would it be for? What would I have been waiting for? If there is an answer to that question, my reply is that Patience is worth more. I had established that my mother was on my side, but she was all I had to help protect my daughter against an army of men.
The pain I felt when I looked into my daughter’s eyes that I had promised to protect was insufferable. I had lost my daughter to the fiend that I had married. He was an illegitimate monster and it wouldn’t do any of us any good to allow him to live. The only form of escape I had was murder. I hadn’t enough money to try and leave Soweto, so I decided that I’d rather take both Patience’s parents away from her than leave her to suffer this man.
This was not a rash decision. I thought it over, so many times. While I was locked in my daughter’s room as he fucked her or while he fucked me. I knew I could do it. I was sure of it. I knew it from that look he got when he came in me. That hopeless pathetic look of a man gagging from pleasure. He slept with an open door, he never took care. Fucked one of us, rolled over and fell asleep. He had a lucid target marked right on his dick. I had never wanted to marry him in the first place but I had tolerated him. No more! I was fed up. I was going to kill him.
It was a dull Saturday afternoon and Kgotso was in front of the television screen with his favourite team Kaiser Chiefs losing, so he was a grouchy man. Patience was in her room. This was my chance, but I had to get myself a makeshift alibi. So I asked an inattentive husband if I could go to the phone booth to call my parents. He agreed coldly and told me to buy him a bottle of liquor while I was at it. I did call home hoping to get my mom to say I was there all along, but my mom wasn’t there and I had a fat chance of getting my dad to lie for me for any purpose. I wondered where my mother was but I wasn’t about to let a missing alibi stop me from doing what I had to. I could already smell life without him. I would miraculously get away with it. I would be a widow, people would forget about me and I could take Patience and go wherever life took us. I had fashioned it all in my mind.
So I was off to the house to murder my husband with a reserved kitchen knife. I would get him desirably drunk, and then I would do what had to be done. I was never nervous or unsure. I hadn’t a spot of doubt in my mind. Things were going according to plan when suddenly – BHAM! BHAM! BHAM! At first I wasn’t concerned due to the frequency of gunshots in Dube, then I realized where the bangs had come from. I’ve never run faster in my life before. I stormed into the house to find my mother standing over Kgotso’s body, gauchely holding my father’s gun.
My heart froze!
I shouted in agony ‘Mother! What have you done?.
‘I’ve killed him’, she said curiously. The shock sent me into a reel of fantastic reality and I hear my little girl crying out from her locked room in the corner of the house. Suddenly I found myself preparing to judge my mother when I had been about to do the same thing. Not my mother! Not her! All these years I had thought of her as a coward for conforming. I had looked up to my father at one point and to my brother but never to my mother who had more balls than both of them put together.
I rushed to her and we cried together for a length of time, totally disregarding the dead man who lay beside us, and the weeping child in the other room. But we soon realized that the gunshots had attracted some interest.
What are we going to do? My mother looked at me in a way she never had before and I was dreading to hear what I knew she would say. She began talking to me at an incomprehensible speed but I think she was trying to tell me how much she loved me and how sorry she was. My mouth would not utter any sort of reply, I was paralysed and could act only as a spectator in the whole catastrophe. She told me to close my eyes because she didn’t want me to see what she was about to do. I was too confused to obey and I saw what she didn’t want me see. She pulled the trigger of a gun aimed into her mouth and my reaching out to stop her would only soften the blow of a falling fortress. Her brains and my husband’s brains sprawled on the floor, ironically mingling. There were now people outside, there were deafening police vans but the harshest screams would come from inside my heart, though I didn’t utter a sound. I cannot possibly describe what I had seen. This is not a scene one can convey or begin to envisage.
Policemen stormed in to find my husband and mother dead. I was considering pulling the trigger on myself also. It seemed like a viable escape. My mother had done in and she looked free. But I was thinking … Patience…
The gun was in my hands, I would have been guilty of killing myself, but I thought of Patience and I crumbled and was caught red handed.
Lerato Rabosiwane – guilty of murder. Life imprisonment.
Mother– forgive me. It’s all that I can say. I yearned always for my soul mate and you were right before my eyes. Rest in peace.
Patience – I wish I could see you just once more before you go. Mummy loves you very much. I know you’ll grow up to be a beautiful young woman. Please remember me, Patience. And how I was just trying to save you from that man like you had saved me from him.
I hope we will meet again someday … every day I wait. Hoping you will come.
I am a Sowetan, I am a woman, I am a mother, and I am a prisoner. But none of these things can rule me. Those who think they know of me and how my life has been have never seen anything like what I have seen. I have been judged and it has been said that people like me deserve to rot.
None of you know who I am, but you will know when you see a smiling woman in prison for life that I am patient. You may be puzzled by my attitude and ask me why, but I can’t answer you. All I know is that I have never been freer than I am behind these walls. We are all women here. Mothers, daughters and prisoners. To some people we are statistics, proof of the terrible state of our community and even though it seems as though it will never improve – we know how to wait.