Every book has a cover page and a title. We mostly look at the cover before we read the title or the book pages. We analyse, scrutinise and judge the outside before we’ve even flipped a page to see what the book is about. Same applies to us as people, we discuss someone or their life story, then we only see and believe what we want to about them. We judge without knowing the full story or having all the facts.
My mother was once called a jailbird by one of her relatives, I was there in the house when that happened. They were having an argument that led to a fight. And I heard everything, they were arguing about the money. At the end of their argument, I heard my aunt call my mom a jailbird.
I was curious, I wanted to know what a jailbird was. I sat down with my mother later that day and asked her what the fight was all about. She told me that it was about money that my aunt had borrowed from her, which she was taking her time to pay back.
Then I asked about the “jailbird”. I saw tears running down my mother’s cheeks. I became worried that I might’ve asked the wrong thing. But my mom told me that it was OK, then she told me that she would tell me about it. She started by showing me her home, which I knew, a home for the lady who just called her a jailbird. She told me that she worked and built it herself. There were five houses in our yard. You know how Xhosa’s do, they build many houses in a one yard so that everyone can have a space of his/her own. All those houses would then be inherited by the oldest male in the family when the oldest person in the family died.
In the mid-80s, my mother worked for the Government as a clerk in the Justice Department. She had 4 kids then, the youngest was 18-months-old, I wasn’t born yet at that time. She was the third oldest in her family and their father passed away when she was 9-years-old. She and her brother, were the only ones who were working in the family. Her brother was a miner at DeBeers mines, in the North West Province. He only came home once a year, it was still during the apartheid era, which made my mother the bread winner of the family.
There were so many children in their house, about 18 altogether. My mother had to support their entire family. She had other siblings, but they were married and had their own children, who they gave to my grandmother to raise. That too, was my mother’s responsibility.
Things were hard for her as she was the only one who was supporting the family. Each and every month, maybe twice a month, she had to buy groceries. Before the month ends again, they would come to her asking for more. So it was very much difficult for her. She couldn’t cope.
Everything was on her alone even the children’s school fees. My uncle, her brother, would buy the school uniforms during each December holiday, which made the financial burden easier on my mother. Even so, the situation with her family made her depressed, she wasn’t married, but had her own children to take care of as well. Money was an issue, because she was earning a limited pay check, and yet, she still had to provide.
In 1988, my brother was only a year old at the time, when my mother was arrested for fraud. She was supporting more people than she was able to, so she found a quick way of making money. She stole some money from work and deposited it in another account so that it couldn’t be traced to her. This was easy for her to do as she worked with money in the maintenance department.
People who paid their maintenance would deliver the money directly to the maintenance office so that it could be registered. My mother’s job was to sing in the money, but sometimes she wouldn’t sign it in. She would write the amount in her diary so that she could put it back when she got paid.
When the taxes of the maintenance department were being done, it was discovered that the books weren’t balancing, there was a significant amount of money missing. Then an investigation was done into the matter and it was discovered that she had neglected to sign in money that was paid but wasn’t there. My mother and two of her colleagues were then arrested for fraud and sentenced to jail.
It was tough for my mom, she thought of thought of her family, who was going to support and take care of them now that she would be behind bars.
When the news of what my mother had done reached the family, her sisters laughed and said that they knew that she was a crook and a thief all this time. My mother said and did nothing in her defence, she was the only one who knew the reasons for what she had done. She did that in order to not only support her children financially but theirs children as well. For them to judge her after all she had done for their kids was not right they should have supported her instead.
She didn’t mind being called names such as crook, jailbird and all the other offensive names they use to describe criminals. She believed that she was helping them at the time. Yet even today, they still judge her for something that happened over those words that describes a criminal, because she was helping them at that time. She was sentenced and served out an 18 month prison sentence with no fine. When she was released from prison, she had to find a job in order to support her children. No one wanted to hire her because she had a criminal record.
She had no choice but to leave, because she couldn’t take the humiliation anymore. She went to Welkom, to go and live with her older sister, who was the only one in her family to support her through that difficult time. Today, things are still awkward between her and her other sisters. Today, my mother lives in a shack because the money that she had worked for was used to support the “Nzuzo nation”.
People will judge you till you die, unless you sit them down and tell them your story. I am so proud of her, because she didn’t give up on life. She’s my inspiration. They judged a book by its cover, and they still do, she is 63-years-old, but they still refer to her as a jailbird.