I was asked to write my life story, so here goes. I will try to keep it as short as I can, and be as honest as I can.
I was born 47 years ago to a very poor family and have two sisters younger than me, and two older who had already left the home. My father died when I was 4 years old, leaving my mother behind with three small kids. My mother was illiterate and had no education she had also never worked.
I took over a lot of responsibilities from a very young age, assisting with my younger siblings and giving my mother emotional support. My mother was my life and I loved her dearly. By age 8, I was an adult with no childhood.
At the age of 16 I left school to find employment in a bakery selling bread. I figured that with even a small salary I could assist the household. My mother eventually found a job in a kitchen cooking for school children. The only problem was this position was hundreds of miles from our home, so it was just easier for her to move into the school property and come home one day a month. This left me in the family home alone with my younger sisters. My mother sent me her salary monthly and together with my small wage we managed to survive.
That same year I met what was to be my first husband. To be honest I was desperate and married him within a couple of months. I did not take the time to get to know him, but I knew he had a good job and he promised to help me pay for the education of my sisters. This was enough reason for me to give him my commitment. We got married and he moved in, only for me to discover that he was an alcoholic. I put up with his drinking and beatings for 7 years. Knowing, if I leave, he wouldn’t pay for the education of my sisters anymore. I didn’t want my sisters to be without an education, like me.
I fell pregnant in 1979, gave birth to a little boy who died 2 days later due to abnormalities. In 1982 I again fell pregnant and gave birth to my only daughter Michelle. After her birth the doctors discovered that I had cancer. I had to have a hysterectomy at the age of 21. One year later the doctors discovered that I had breast cancer. This tumor was removed as well.
My sisters finally got their degrees, found nice jobs and left the house. This is when I divorced my husband. I had to protect my child and there was no reason for me to stay. I stayed on my own with my daughter. It was hard taking care of her, because I had no education or money. I found a job in a bar as a bar lady. I used the money I made to put my child through school. I received no financial support from my ex-husband. He disappeared out our lives and we only discovered years later that he had died as a result of his drinking problems. Michelle never really knew him; she was just a baby when I left him.
Four years after my divorce I met, what I thought to be a wonderful man. He was a musician and an absolute charmer. I was struggling and he offered me a nice home, so I moved in with him. He had two children, a boy of 5, Shawn, and a girl of 4, Nades.
Their mother had abandoned them. All I ever wanted was a family and I thought this was going to be it. I was very happy the first couple of months. He never drank any alcohol, which I thought was wonderful. But after 6 months the cruelty and aggression started. I can remember the first encounter very clearly. He was beating up his four year old girl.
I was shocked to the core and I immediately tried to get him off the child. He turned on me instead and I received the blows. This was to be the first of many such beatings.
He always used his fists or a thick leather guitar strap. On numerous occasions he beat me up so badly that I landed up in hospital, bleeding, broken ribs and bruised. I became a master at disguising the marks on my body. To this day I have limited sight in my one eye. The most degrading was that even though I was bleeding, battered and bruised, he would demand sex, I gave in just to keep the peace and avoid further beatings. The power and control he had over me was phenomenal. I was a pathetic, scared human being.
Now I know it was rape. After his beatings he would sincerely apologize and buy me gold jewelry. He would spoil me until the next time.
The beatings got worse, the hospital visits more frequent and my gold jewellery collection was eventually so big I could not wear it all at the same time.
Not satisfied with beating me. He eventually held a gun to my head, threatening to kill me if I did not do as I was told. I was his servant and always obeyed.
I tried to leave him on many occasions, but the children were petrified and begged me to stay. They saw me as their mother. I looked at their little faces and realized that he would kill them if I left him. These two children were depending on me as their mother. I was not strong enough to leave so I stayed for their sake always praying that one day there would be a solution. I know today that the only person who could have found that solution was me but I was after all the years of abuse not strong enough to leave. I contemplated suicide, but realized that if I died three children would be left at his mercy, so I tried to keep him happy as best I could. I was not strong enough at that time to know or realize that there was a welfare system or organizations that helped abused women. You may ask yourself how I coped, and may sound absurd, but I found comfort in my handbag!
I used to put my handbag at the backdoor of our house. My handbag contained enough money and medicines for the kids to get away for one night. So that if he beat me I knew that I could grab my handbag and run with the kids for one night and come back in the morning when his anger had subsided. I never left my handbag out of my site. My handbag was my source of comfort and I felt safe when I had it with me.
Being a successful musician and a very handsome man, he eventually had an affair. Till this day I believe that, that saved my life. I was rid of him. One night I came home from work and found what was our home, totally empty; he had taken everything including all the jewellery he had given me in lieu of the hidings. I did not care. He only left me two bags of clothes on the floor, mine and Michelle’s. It was one of the best days of my life. I cried with happiness, I wanted to celebrate. I would not have the strength to break the circle of abuse, but thank God he did it for me. He took his two children with him. That broke my heart. I was extremely worried for them, but prayed that the new woman in his life would care for them and protect them as I did.
My only consolation was that they were much older now and they could defend themselves. Both children never accepted her and secretly kept in contact with me during the years that followed.
I had to start from nothing again. I had to build a home, educate myself and find a job. I vowed then to never get involved with a man again. My mother died in this year. I was devastated.
That was until I was invited to a braai at a friend’s house. I met a wonderful man there that day, who in later years became my husband, Naas.
Still very broken from my past, I did not want to rush into a relationship. So Naas and I lived together for almost 10 years and then got married 4 years ago. Naas has two daughters from his previous marriage. Natashia 23 and Lizelle 19. Together we raised our 3 daughters, who consider themselves to be biological sisters.
Eight years ago I received a phone call from Nades. She told me that she was a drug addict and that she lived in a park with her two children. She still considered me to be her “mother” and wanted me to fetch her two children. She had a baby boy of 7 months and a girl of 4 years. Michelle and I arrived at this filthy park to find her in a drug state and the little baby very ill. I took the two children home with me and immediately tried to find medical attention as I could see the baby was critical. We rushed him to the hospital. The emergency staff looked at him and gave him a 2% chance of survival. They thought he would not make it through the weekend. I looked at this half dead baby in my arms and thought to myself: Your grandfather nearly beat me to death but I will fight to keep you alive.
On Monday morning our fight for justice for this little boy began. I contacted social services, the police and many other organizations. Not one person was prepared or interested in helping this baby. I phoned Jackie Branfield of Bobbi Bear who told me to come and see her immediately.
Naas and I finally for the first time knew that this was the first organization that was prepared to give us the kind of help or advice that we needed to help this child. I arrived at Jackie’s house and together with a wonderful Police woman from the Child Protection Unit, Capt. Erika Clifton-Parks we started the long road in saving this little boy. Erika loaded me in her private car with the baby and we went from office to office to try and get assistance. I knew at that stage, that financially we could not keep his little sister, so we managed to find family members to take her.
The main priority for my family and I was to save this little baby’s life and to give him a home. He was admitted into hospital, and Naas, Michelle and I, took turns at his hospital bed as he fought for his life. We received no assistance from the authorities at all, except for the endless assistance from Jackie, Erika and Bobbi Bear.
From birth to seven months this little baby had survived on brown bread and black tea only. He was malnutritioned. His lungs had collapsed due to the neglect and far more abnormalities were discovered later as more tests were done.
My daughter Michelle took a year off her studies and dedicated her time to this little baby. His body was riddled with sores and she had to feed him with a dropper as he could not swallow. We did not think at that stage that he would ever walk. He was strapped in a pram from the day he was born and never learned to crawl or walk. The first year was horrific. We never once considered the financial implications of giving him the best medical care. Our entire savings, love and time went in to this little baby who had become like our own. I had still not entirely got over the hurt of my life and was suffering from the symptoms of oppression but I did not have the time then to care about me, I knew this baby needed me to fight for him, I did.
He progressed very well and was eventually out of danger. His mother came to our house and signed the documents for us to adopt him. And so my life with Bobbi Bear continued. My family and I spent the next 6 years together with Jackie, Erika, my Bobbi Bear family and lawyers to get the adoption finalized. Only to attend the last court case and have this little boy ripped out of my hands to give him back to the very people that abused and neglected him in the first place. A piece of Naas and I died in that courtroom that day. We have never recovered. We lost our child. A child that we loved dearly and considered to be our own. The one consolation that we have, is that the court granted us one day visitation a month with him. To this day that one day a month is the most precious day in our lives. He is now in school but keeps telling us that “one day” he will come back and live with us, we are his family.
Walking out of court that day, crying my eyes out, I made a promise to myself that I would dedicate my life and my passion to Bobbi Bear and I would give back to the wonderful woman of this organization who tirelessly help my family to save this little boys’ life. We could never have walked this road alone without Jackie, Erika and my family.
I also knew that I could not allow, what had happened to this boy, to leave a negative effect on my life. I decided to turn it in to a positive and help other children so that they would not have to go through what this little boy had been through. He came into our lives for a purpose and I now realize that my purpose is to continue the fight with my Bobbi Bear family to make a difference in the lives of the children walking through our doors. Bobbi Bear has taught me patience, love, confidence and most importantly strength. I have overcome all my hurt and I am now empowered enough to fight back, not only for myself but for the justice of children who are raped and abused who cannot speak for themselves.
With the loving support of my husband Naas, my daughters Michelle, Natashia, Lizelle, my son-in-law Joseph, my beautiful granddaughter Chloe and my Bobbi Bear family I have managed to find love, peace and contentment in my life. I am finally happy and I have the family that I always dreamed of and I can finally now direct my energy and passion into the children that we serve at Bobbi Bear.
All I am now is just a “Rough Auntie” and to this day I still turn to my handbag for support and comfort..