“I will no longer touch any drug, this is not me. I should go back home,” Mandla had told himself.
But the craving was there, the sickness was there urging him to take that dagga, to smoke that weed one more time and he’d be fine. He had pledged to rather stay in that filthy shelter, with those dirty street kids than go back home. The broken home that had brought him nothing but scars and pain, always watching conflict and fights between his parents.
He didn’t want to see his father again. A father who drank alcohol a lot and came home drunk and swore, threatened, and beat up his mother in front of him and his older sister, Naledi. A father who was selfish, who never cared about any of them but himself. That’s why Mandla had decided to leave his house, to sacrifice seeing his family and stay in the streets very far away from home, leaving behind his mother and his older sister, Naledi.
Mandla had been reported missing five years ago, no one ever saw him – police looked him everywhere and he was nowhere to be found. After he left the streets of Zweletemba in Worcester, he found himself in the streets of Cape Town, sleeping under the bridges.
There were lot of homeless kids there who were the same age as his, fifteen. The streets of Cape Town became his new home and he tried so hard to completely forget about his home in Worcester. He made his living by begging for money and food from the passing cars and the people on the road. Some of his money would be spent feeding his drug addiction. He never forgot to say his prayers before he slept, following his mother’s teachings. “Always pray before you sleep and ask the power of God and for God to always show you the way.”
Today, Mandla was hungry, he hadn’t eaten anything for two days. He wore his dirty, torn clothes. It had been long since he took a bath and washed his clothes – the bad smell explained everything. He was standing on the road carrying his placard. As the traffic lights turned red, he went straight to this newly looking Golf GTI and stood by the window.
I haven’t eaten for two days, I am hungry, please help.
The beautiful lady who was driving the car didn’t hesitate, she reached down on the passenger side and took out a sandwich. As she turned to give him, taking a closer look than before, she saw a face she recognised.
“Mandla! Nguwe lo, is that you?” she quickly said, shocked. She was not sure because Mandla was very dirty and unshaven; his beard covered his face. The traffic lights turned green and the lady had to drive. But, she quickly made a U-turn and stopped to make sure it was really Mandla. But Mandla had run away. She stood there confused, wanting to cry. This all didn’t make sense, why would he run away from her?
When Mandla got to his bridge he was out of breath. While he was eating the bread he was crying, thinking about the lady who had given it to him. What was she doing in Cape Town?
The following day the lady went searching for Mandla again. She went to the same spot Mandla was at and luckily found him sitting on a corner of a building.
“Mandla!” she yelled. “Yes, Mandla Khuzwayo nguwe, ungu brother wam (it’s you my brother). You left us five years ago, usandikhumbula, do you still remember me?” she said teary.
“Ndicela uxolo Naledi, I’m sorry,” Mandla responded.
Naledi started shouting at him…
“You never ever told us when you left. What are you doing here? We’ve been looking for you all this time.”
Mandla couldn’t speak, his heart was aching. He was only fifteen when he left home. He had had no choice, his father was not himself anymore and had become a monster. Mandla never forgot this father’s conflicts as he beat his mother up, and sometimes them when they tried to stop him. It was hard for both of them because they were young and didn’t know what to do or who to tell.
They were also starving while his father spent his money drinking. The reason Mandla stayed in the streets of Cape Town, to forget of his family and the pain at home, was now confronting him. Mandla didn’t want to go back. That’s why he ran the day before, he knew his sister would want to take him back. And now she was.
They took the 111 km drive to Worcester. Zweletemba was different to Mandla this time. When they arrived at home Mandla was doubtful, he didn’t want to enter the house.
“Don’t worry, Tata is not in the house anymore,” Naledi said.
If his father was not in the house, Mandla at least expected to see his mother. But his mother was not in the house as well, his heart pumped faster now. Where were they? Mandla had explained to Naledi why he left, now it was time for Naledi to explain. What happened to their parents while Mandla was away? Naledi couldn’t stop crying.
“Mandla, Mama couldn’t make it. She died two years ago after Tata beat her up badly. She couldn’t cope, she died in a hospital after she was in a comma. She couldn’t take it anymore Mandla, the doctor said she even had dementia…maybe if ubukhona things would be different.”
Mandla was shocked. He couldn’t believe what his sister was saying and started to blame himself. The news saddened and pained him.
“Kwenzeka ntoni, what happened? Tata yena uphi, where is he? I swear I’ll kill him!”
Mandla was fuming with anger, demanding to see his father angrily.
“Yima! stop maan! Tata couldn’t make it as well. After he heard the Law was after him, he…he shot himself. If azange uhambe, if only you hadn’t left, Mandla, maybe things would be different now. I had no one, I felt all the pain by myself. I am a girl for God’s sake,” she was still crying.”
“You’re right, Naledi, I shouldn’t have left. This is all my fault, I take the blame. If I…” Mandla was blaming himself.
“Mandla No! It’s not worth it blaming yourself. They were adults and let’s accept that they are gone now and move on with our lives,” Naledi said.
It was only them left at home now. Naledi was a successful woman. Out of the struggle and the pain she faced alone, she managed to persevere and continued her studies. She was now a nurse at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, Observatory. She advised Mandla to go back to school the following year and Mandla agreed.