The stereotype around depression in black communities has been a totally destructive force for many young people who never had the opportunity to challenge the negative voices in their head, leading them to commit suicide. A few years back, I lost a friend through suicide. I never saw it coming because we live in communities that don’t allow a boy child to cry, and where sexual fluidity is seen as a disgrace.

I was doubtful about putting something this personal to me into words, but I believe words can heal the world. Hopefully his life journey will heal someone too. I write this piece today in his honour.

Growing up in the township is never easy. There are the set of standards that society implants in our minds, the undefined rules and regulations that were passed from generation to generation about what is reality. We were so young and as kids we don’t take much notice when these things happen, but now I’ve realised the signs that we missed and how people who were supposed to know, didn’t care.

Ayabonga was his name, we use to love playing soccer together, well that’s what I thought. I would go to his home, and on some days I would find him hiding in the back of the house, wearing female clothes. I would laugh at him since that behaviour was strange, foreign to what I was taught by my father. I would dismiss his dress-up party, force him to come to the park, and play wrestling or touch rugby. I believe he buried his emotions. We started going to school and we became distant, he started playing with girls at school during lunchtimes, only seeing me after school.

I didn’t pay much attention to it then, but now I think since we were so close growing up, and his father would ask me about his whereabouts, he made it his habit to always look for me after school so we can travel together, so his father didn’t find out he was playing with girls. A pawn in the game..

“A hidden coin will never know its true value.” I realise he was hiding his true personality. Living with the voices that diminished his own values destroyed him completely, he was never the person I grew up with. He became distant, even to his family. Our parents don’t know the psychological attributes that drive people to the darkness of life, maybe because they’re not well educated about matters of the mind, or the normality of being born different. Depression is not talked about, it does not receive the full attention it requires in our homes.

Before the tragedy, he would ask joking questions that didn’t make sense. “Would I be missed?” he would ask, and I would ignore him.

We woke up one morning to the sad news, that he was no more, he drank rat poison. His body was discovered lifeless after his mother was worried because he didn’t join them at dinner after an altercation with his father. Apparently his father had found him wearing his mother’s dress and make-up. He was beaten so badly that the bruises showed on his lifeless body.

I still carry him in my memories. He was a friend to me and still is. The fact is, our parents don’t prioritise mental-health issues. We are told to look a certain way, that a man must bury his emotions, a man should not be weak. And girls too, what about our sisters who are different, who feel trapped in a female body but deep down they’re males at heart. We need to understand that being different is not a curse, but a way to live a fruitful, happy life.

We as black people should overcome the stigma associated with psychology. Depression is a mind illness that destroys the value of life to its victim. We should try to normalise the ‘white culture’ practice of seeing a therapist, living a healthy lifestyle and spending time with people that uplift us to be best versions of ourselves. That way we can conquer depression since this illness has no colour barrier, no one is immune to it. Being truthful to people around us can help improve the way we view each other, not different but as equal.