“Izandla ziyangezana (hands wash another)” – a phrase that cost me my treasure.

My mom was the breadwinner at home since my dad went to Johannesburg. He never turned back, even when my mom passed on; neither did his family. Mom was sick in bed for weeks and then the heavens decided to take her from us. Our very own breadwinner. She supported us through the hustle, which was selling fruits and vegetables in the streets. I couldn’t ask for much, but with the little we had, we survived. When she passed on I had to fill her big shoes and become a mother to my three siblings. I had to take on motherhood at the age of seventeen.

I remember the day she departed, her very last words were, “Ngibhekele ingane zami Noxolo, nibe Noxolo njenge gama lakho. Umama uyanithanda. (Look after my kids, Noxolo, have peace like your name. Your mother loves you.)” Then she closed her beautiful brown eyes in front of me. I couldn’t speak or move for a while, only tears streamed down my cheeks. She went to heaven so soon, the burden on my shoulders was way too much for me to handle.

At least maybe if she had taught me how to take care of my siblings and how to hustle, then maybe things would’ve been easier. Without all that, I stepped into motherhood and faced the music. As for our dad, he never bothered to even pay us a visit or send us money. What he was good at was giving us false hope. We decided to ask for donations in the community for my mom’s burial. Luckily, the community was really supportive. With the money they gave us it was more than enough to cover my mom’s burial and last for two weeks more. Still I tried calling our daddy. If he didn’t answer, some random ladies would answer his phone and speak a language I didn’t understand, “O mang? O nyaka eng mo monneng wa me?” Then the voices would argue on the phone and I’d hang up.

I remembered my mom’s strategy to survive. I started by asking my dad for money to start up a business. Who was I fooling then? He never came through for me, it didn’t surprise me at all. He rejected my calls when I needed him the most. He wasn’t there for me. The struggles would never end. I would go to people’s houses and assist with their laundry and cleaning just to get paid, maybe get food for the night. Some would just pay me with ruined food that had to be thrown out, because we had nothing to eat. I would just take off the mould and serve a ‘beautiful’ dinner to my siblings.

Through it all we survived, until one day a lady from a church that my mom used to attend invited us for dinner. Before we left she said, “I saw the way you work hard with school and filling your mom’s shoes and I want to offer you a job. You have been through a lot, allow me to give you something and then promise me that you’ll focus on your schoolwork and your beautiful siblings. I work almost every day, sometimes night shifts. I only want your help with cooking, maybe some cleaning now and then. A helper only comes in three days each and every week. My house is so clean since I have no kids. You can start today or tomorrow if you want.” Her name was MamKhoza. She offered me money and the job was straightforward. I was thrilled and accepted the job offer.

When I attended school, I couldn’t play or have fun like other teenagers. I had no friends, even our closest family had deserted us, it was only my siblings and me. Sometimes they would ask questions that touched me about mom. Questions like, “Xolo, umama ukuphi? Uyasibona? Uyobuya nini? (Sorry, where is your mother? Can she see us? When is she coming back?)”

Then I would tell them a white lie and say she’s around us, keeping us out of danger and stopping us from being naughty. Such talk made me miss her. I would cry all alone, but I tried so hard not to make them miss her too much. People would talk behind my back and mock me saying that the wealthy Khoza family hired me because we were about to die from hunger, and we were a burden to them. It’s a pity my mom died so soon, she couldn’t overcome her diagnosis of cancer. Anyway, who can stand against the will of the man above? When it’s time, it’s time.

The other day I was working at the Khozas as usual. When I was about to finish the dishes, Mr Khoza came in and put a glass in the sink. Then he stood opposite me and complimented my curves. His eyes were glued to me, telling me he had already undressed me in his mind, but with so much respect for him I thought the contrary.

He came closer and said, “Ntombi Noxolo, come to daddy! Izandla ziyagezana (hands wash another, meaning people should help each other).” The next thing he was pushing me against the wall. I tried to scream and run for my life only to find out the door was locked and I didn’t hesitate. I looked for my keys in the bag, but he grabbed my bag and said angrily, “Looking for these? You’ll do as I say right now, I gave you and your three little brats things I should have given my own kids!” He was shouting now. “You’ll get laid today, unless you want your siblings’ blood on your hands. I can send my people to burn that little house of yours and everyone will blame you for being reckless, never mind not looking out for your siblings! Nobody will assist you because you’re poor. Do as I say! Now come here!”

As I walked closer, I could see fire burning my home in my mind. I imagined burning screams in my head and it hurt. I had no choice. He molested me anyway. I pleaded for him to stop, instead he carried on and left me there naked, weak and helpless. After hours he left me on the cold floor. Then he came back and said, “Look now, let’s forget what just happened. If you tell my wife about this I will say you were seducing me and wore her clothes and earrings, even her expensive perfume. She will have no choice but to believe me. I’m her husband after all. Besides, we’ve been together for years and again, this didn’t happen. Now get up and dress. Let me take you to your siblings, they are waiting for you.”

As I tried to stand up, he said, “Izandla ziyagezana ntombi, there’s nothing for mahala.”

I lost my precious gift, my virginity, through rape. If only my mom had lived long enough for me to finish school and learn how to survive, then I wouldn’t be in this state. Remember, if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t think twice: seek help. No matter who it is, report it, don’t keep quiet. The Rape Crisis helpline is 021 447 9762 and Childline is 080 0055 555.


Tell us: What would you say to Noxolo, the main character?