After almost nine hours of driving, finally we arrived at a beautiful grassy, cold Matatiele. This was my first time visiting my father’s family. Big mountains, beautiful views, rivers flowing swiftly, and the smell of clean air, the place was magical.

I was born and raise in Sasoulburg in the Free State so I wasn’t used to the villages. It was my first time visiting my grandparents, they always visit us.

I admired the beauty of the village and its friendly people. At night we gathered by the bonfire and burned mielies as it was harvest time. Everyone was there and they kept on talking about the weekend. They were excited about it. It was only me who knew nothing about what was planned. My grandmother told me that I would find out the next morning what the weekend would bring.

At exactly 6 am my grandmother woke me up and told me that on Saturday I would be going away with my other cousins and sisters to the mountain where we would stay for 2-3 weeks. “ As a women there comes a time where you need to go to away and come back as a new person. You see where you are going they will teach you how to behave as a Ndlovu young women and give you tests and tasks which will have lessons for you. Every woman who is 21 years or older goes through this process, it is an old tradition. After two to three weeks you will come back and we will have a ritual ‘umgidi’ to welcome you back a reborn woman,” said my grandmother. I just looked at her and the elders who kept on nodding their heads while she spoke.

I ran away because I was so angry at my parents because they knew I would never agree to doing the ritual or the ceremony. They told me when I was sixteen and I told them that I wouldn’t do it so they sent my Granny to do their dirty job for them – they knew I couldn’t argue with my old lady.

I ran to the top of the mountain. When I got there I just prayed to God to give me strength and help me fight my family. While praying I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. It was my uncle (my father’s young brother).

“Ntomban,” Uncle said.

“Tamnci,” I replied.

“I know what you are going through as a Christian. I was in a similar position 15 years ago,” he said. “I won’t tell you what to do, but never let anyone tell you how to live your life. Your choices are what makes you a better person.”

“What did you do, Tamnci?” I asked him.

“I made a decision and that’s what you need to do right now and stand by your decision no matter what. Oh, and please go back home my mother is worried about you – you know you are her favourite.” With that he left.

He didn’t make any sense. I kept on praying until I felt the weight on my shoulders lighten.

I went back home and told my elders I wouldn’t be part of the ritual or ceremony because at the age of 17 I was reborn and saved. I had been baptised so it wouldn’t make any sense to redo what was done in church.

My grandmother was smiling and she said, “Standing up and not letting anyone dictate your life, that alone shows that you are indeed a Ndlovu woman. I admire how you stick to your God and choose Him over family. You are indeed your father’s daughter, so stubborn,” she laughed.

I was so happy that I was not forced to do what went against my will and beliefs. I watched as the young women left for the mountain.

In the days that followed I found out much about my family, something I had never bothered to do before I came to Matatielee. I found out how we came to South Africa from Swaziland in the early 1900s. Over the weeks we shared with each other – our different beliefs, our convictions, what was expected of us.

When the three weeks were over and the young woman were coming back from the mountain, the preparation for the ‘newborns’ had everyone on their toes. You could smell the joy and excitement in the air.

The whole village came to help prepare for the big day. My granny was so happy yet disappointed because I was not part of the ceremony. I had church to attend so I left early in the morning, leaving the excited crowd.

Later that day I returned home to find the celebration still ongoing – much drinking was going on. Ululating greeted me when I entered the room that was full with

“Gogo, kwenzekani?” I asked bewildered.

“Siyakwamkela ntombam,” she replied, squeezing my lungs out with her embrace.

What a warm welcome, I thought to myself.

After the gifts were given away I was also given advise and some words of wisdom.

“We don’t expect you to change who you are and what you believe in. We want you to be the best version of yourself and represent us well to the world. We want you to know what you want and go for it. You are destined to be great. Be great Ndlovukazi,” my mother concluded.

The celebration continued until late. People left having only had a few hours of sleep because we had to drive back to Free State bright and early so we would beat the back to school traffic nightmare.

In the cold, the mountains covered with a bright white table cloth of cloud, icy grass, frozen waters – leaving all that beauty of Matatiele was just as emotional as leaving uGogo. I made a promise to her that I would always come back during harvest time.