The Consequence of Silence
People who are exposed to domestic violence often experience physical, mental or emotional trauma. For Sibulele Zenzile the manifestation of her experiences began showing in her physical form. She shares her story with us.
Sibulele (16) and her two brothers (26 and 11) were born in Mitchells Plain and raised by both her parents, she describes her childhood as complex and troubled.
“Growing up I was closer to my father than my mother, but life was difficult because my father was physically abusive to my mother.
“My earliest memory of my father’s violence was when I was five years old. One morning I woke up to shouting and noises coming from the kitchen. I felt nervous and scared because I could hear my father shouting and my mother screaming. I don’t know what they were shouting about but I know they were getting louder and when I tried to peep around the corner my father was slapping my mother. My mother kept saying that if he didn’t stop she was going to call the police. I sat in my room and hid because I felt frightened by what was happening.
“The next thing I heard was the police coming into our house. When I looked to see what was happening I saw that they were arresting my father. I was heartbroken to see him being arrested because I loved him but I also felt relieved because now he couldn’t hurt her.
“After the police left with my father I went into the kitchen and saw porridge all over the floor. There was a dented pot lying on the ground. When I asked my mother what happened she said that my father had hit her with the pot.”
Sibulele says that the following times when her parents fought she would feel overwhelmed and helpless.
“On another occasion when my parents were fighting, I began to cry very loudly. My brother, who was also at home, said I must be quiet because I was going to make it worse. When I couldn’t stop he locked me in the cupboard so that no one heard me. I think he thought that he was helping me but I was terrified in there. I felt scared and nervous, because I would hear the fighting but couldn’t do anything to stop it. So I would sit down, close my eyes and ears and hope that the fighting would stop.”
Over the years the violence in Sibulele’s home continued, with its peak being during a school holiday.
“I was visiting my granny in the Eastern Cape, so I don’t know the full details of what happened. However, when I returned home my mother’s leg was hurt. She walked with a lot of difficulty and had big bandages, so I asked her what had happened. She told me my father had a gun in the house and during one of their fights he shot her leg several times. My father was in jail for a little while, but my mother did not press charges so he was released. It was such a difficult situation to comprehend, my dad was a devil to my mom but an angel to me.”
Sibulele experiences of trauma and anxiety led her to develop a stutter and hunched back.
“I was nine and began stuttering and experiencing pain in my back. I couldn’t walk for long distances because of the pain. My mother said that she was worried about me and took me to a doctor a few days later, he checked my back and asked me where it was sore and when the pain started. I explained to him that it first started as a small pain but that now it was very sore and that I couldn’t run at school or play sports because of it.
“He examined me and told my mother that I needed to go to a physiotherapist. He gave her the contact number for a physio who was very good with children.
“A week later I started seeing the physiotherapist in a mall in our neighbourhood. I was happy when my mother told me that I was going to see somebody who was going to make me feel better. When I saw her she asked me similar questions to the ones the doctor had asked me.
“I told her that normally I would have energy and be able to play outside with my friends but because of the discomfort I was too tired to do anything. She looked at my back and asked me if I could make it straight but I told her that it felt too stiff.
“The first thing she did was place hot rocks on my back to help with the pain, then she showed me some stretches that I needed to do to help strengthen my back and get it straight again.
“Another exercise she showed me was to put my arms straight, my hands on my shoulders, press down and hold it for a few seconds. It would make my back feel better, less stiff. During the exercises she also spoke to my mom about our home life and asked if there was anything that could be causing me any stress.
“I think my mom told her about my dad’s behaviour because the physio then told us that my back problems were stress related.
“When the physiotherapist told me that my back was caused by stress I was shocked. She said that when we keep everything inside then our bodies react in different ways. My body reacted through stiffening and stuttering. If I think about the shape my back made it was very similar to the way I would hide when my father was violent.”
Sibulele continued to see the physiotherapist for three years.
“I became used to going to her, and also enjoyed seeing her. We developed a close relationship, I would talk to her about school and what was happening at home. My posture improved because I would also do shoulder rolls at home. The physiotherapist said that my back was healing because of the exercises I was doing. I was happy and feeling good about myself.”
During this time, Sibulele says that things calmed down at home because her parents separated and her father moved out.
“When my dad moved out, he took most of his belongings with him except his favourite blanket and pillow that he said were for me… his little girl. Things were much better at home, there were no fights and I began to feel more calm.
Sibulele is now in Grade 11 and says that her life has improved both physically and emotionally.
“Today I am much better, my back is healed and I just have a slight stutter.”
In conclusion, Sibulele says she has learned a great lesson about the damaging effects of stress.
“If I knew then what I know today, I would have spoken to more people about what was happening and how it was making me feel. Too many of us keep things inside because we are too shy or embarrassed to speak about what is bothering us, but then we damage ourselves in the process. We are given a voice for a reason, we should use it, if we don’t - our bodies will speak for us.”
Sibulele is a Leaders’ Quest participant