Breaking Emotional Chains
20-year-old Lerato Sekame has moved too many times to count, and as a child he was raised mostly by his father who ruled the little boy’s life with an iron fist. He says the instability sent his life spiralling into a world where he made bad decisions, but as a true victor, Lerato bounced back and has replaced drugs with books and street corners for podiums.
Born in Cape Town, Lerato’s mother is from Bonteheuwel and his father is from Johannesburg. Having never lived together, his parents decided that it would be better if he moved to Johannesburg with his father because of the high levels of crime in his mother’s area.
“I was a small child when we moved and my mother told me that they thought it would be better for me.”
Unfortunately the violence that his mother wanted to protect her son from would creep into Lerato’s home, in the shape of his father.
“I only have memories of my father instilling fear in me. When I was eight, my friend took my bicycle and when I told my dad he got very mad, so he hit me and blamed me. He put me outside and told me not to come home until I found it. I remember it was dark outside and I was walking alone when I saw his car come down the road. He decided I needed some motivation so he got out of his car and kicked and shouted at me to hurry up. I don’t remember if I found the bicycle but I remember the rest of the night clearly.”
From a very young age, Lerato learned how to work around and pander to his father’s moods in order to survive. He says that looking back on his situation today, he knows that he was always too scared to be himself while he lived with his father. He also added that when he moved to Cape Town he didn’t really know who he was.
When Lerato turned 12, they moved back to Cape Town and Lerato went to live with his mother in Bonteheuwel.
“There were many changes that I had to get used to. One of the most difficult things was the language barrier, the gangster mentality and seeing people getting drunk around me all the time. I couldn’t speak Afrikaans and most of the people in the area spoke it. I went from living in a nice flat and being terrified of my father, to living in a one-bedroom wendy house with my mother, two step-sisters and one of their babies. I was disgusted with the social norms in the community.”
“I didn’t feel wanted by either side of my family because my dad had a child with his girlfriend and my mom would always be really busy. She worked all day and when she was at home she was busy with my sisters’ problems.”
Lerato says that he would spend most of his time with children who lived nearby and that he would see his father mostly over the weekend.
At the end of Grade Seven, Lerato went to his school party to celebrate the end of junior school.
“I started taking drugs at the party, mostly smoking weed (marijuana).”
A few years later, Lerato’s world began spiralling out of control, fuelled by a lack of guidance and a general disinterest in what was happening in his life.
“At 14, I was smoking weed heavily. I would come home and my mom would threaten me, but everybody was using drugs at home. So my mom blamed her daughters and said that it was because of them that I was smoking weed. I didn’t do very well in my exams that year, so my mom sent me to live with my dad because she said she couldn’t handle me.”
Life didn’t pick up for Lerato. He says that when he began high school he hated it, and he also resented his dad for the way he was being treated.
“He wouldn’t hit me but always told me that I was a disappointment and I was useless. I know today that he really hurt me and pushed me away from most things in my life because I thought that I did not deserve anything good.”
When Lerato turned 15 he started experimenting with ecstasy.
“In Grade Nine, I bunked school to spend time with friends. All my friends were rushing and I tried it. I liked it so much that I would leave school each day to take it. My addiction became high maintenance, so I began selling drugs at school.”
“One day, a few months later I came out of school and popped three pills, then left to go back to the maths class. I remember feeling terrible. I was feeling hot and uncomfortable so I went home and tried to sleep it off. The next day I couldn’t speak properly, I went outside for some air and sat down but I couldn’t get up. My mother took me to the day hospital and they said I was suffering from Hysteria.”
Lerato says that he was at home for two weeks before going to see a psychiatrist at the Red Cross Adolescent Centre.
“I was very nervous because I had never been anywhere like that before. After discussing different issues and being asked several questions, I was diagnosed with depression. I saw the psychiatrist for two years.”
Wanting to return to school, Lerato attempted to go back to his previous high school but they wouldn’t accept him. Unfortunately, his past of using and selling drugs had tainted his reputation.
“I then started at another high school, but I was still confused and continued bunking classes. Once again, I was drawn to the wrong crowd and even though my teachers tried to motivate me, I ended up failing Grade Ten.”
When completing Grade Ten for the second time, Lerato says that most of his new friends had been expelled.
At home, money was tight because only his mother was working. “I needed money so I started selling drugs again, but I got caught and the school said it was time for me to leave.”
Despite his bad habit of selling drugs at school, Lerato’s teachers told him that if he stopped his negative behaviour, his future would be bright. They saw potential in him.
“The school did not expel me and instead offered me a transfer so that I could go to another school. I can’t explain how it made me feel that my teachers believed in me. My parents had given up a long time ago, but my teachers saw something in me that no one had ever seen before.”
“I know it sounds cliché, but I decided to take this opportunity as a last chance to prove that what my teachers saw in me was true. In my new school, I became more active in class. No one knew me so it was easy to be a ‘new’ Lerato. I began working hard and my class teacher said she was happy because I brought a balance to the class. I was older than the rest, so I became a good influence on them as they looked up to me. I then became the top achiever in my class.”
“I have been earmarked to be the Head Boy for next year when I am in Grade 12. I plan to go to university and be the first in my family to get a degree.”
In conclusion, Lerato says “people can go through life without self-belief and easily fall into self-destructive behaviour, because they don’t feel they deserve anything better. You will be surrounded by many people that put you down and by a few others who believe in you. In the end, only when you realise your true value within, can you break your emotional chains and set yourself free.”
Lerato is a Health4Life participant.