Holding onto the Good
Living with a disability comes with many challenges. When that disability is the result of violence used against you, the emotional effects can be as damaging as the physical ones. Mihle Doe* tells us her story.
Born and raised in the Eastern Cape, Mihle (19) grew up in a village in Umtata with two brothers (21 and 16).
“We lived with both my parents and life was enjoyable. We were well cared for and our parents tried to keep us safe as there was lots of crime in the area. They decided we should stay in a flat because it would be safer and invited a younger aunt, who was studying, to stay with us so that she could look after us while our parents were at work.”
Mihle says that despite her parents’ caring ways they were unable to protect their family.
“I was four years old and I was at home with my little brother (nine months) and aunt (17). My aunt was studying and we were lying on the bed watching cartoons. She decided to open the front door because it was a warm day. She told us it would be okay because our mom was on her way back from work. I remember it being during the day because it was light outside. We heard people walking towards the room, then two guys came through the door wearing balaclavas covering their faces. We screamed when we saw them. They took the TV and the washing basket and told us to shut up and stop crying. We were too frightened to keep quiet and they began hitting us with a sjambok (a leather whip). I remember screaming and crying more because it was painful. At this point I was crouching on the floor. Then they took a gun out and pointed it to my aunt’s head. As I looked up in shock they pointed it to me and fired. They shot me on the left side of my head, I was still awake, but I felt dizzy.
“The guy who shot me took off his balaclava. He didn’t look at me but I saw his face; full of scars. I remember being even more scared after I saw his face. Then they ran away and my aunt just stood there in shock.”
Not long after Mihle’s mother came home from work.
“I was lying on the ground and my mom came to me and shook me very hard. I remember sitting up but then falling back to the ground. After that, the first thing I saw was people lying in beds around me. I was in hospital. When I tried to speak I couldn’t.
“My mom was standing next to the bed when she told me the bullet was still stuck in my head and that I would need an operation.
“I can’t remember going in for the operation, all I remember was being scared. Waking up after the operation I was alone in the room with another patient, I needed to go to the toilet but when I got out of bed, I fell on the ground because I couldn’t stand. My legs were paralysed.
“At the hospital I would cry a lot after the operation, I was scared that the robbers would come back for me and I would get hurt again. All I wanted was to be with my family because I missed them.
“I don’t remember much about being in hospital other than the fear, and my mother being always by my side. She would tell me that I was going to be okay. I was only able to communicate with her with a heavy slur and I would ask if the robbers were in jail, she would say no, the police did not find them.”
When Mihle left the hospital after few months she found herself in a new space, as her parents had moved from the flat where she was shot.
“I never went back to the flat because my parents had moved to my father’s village in Tsolo to live with relatives. I was happy because I had lots of cousins there, even though I couldn’t talk or play with them properly.
“My cousins would ask me to play with them, but I couldn’t move. My mom would help me to walk. She would place her arms under my shoulders, help me to stand and hold me up while she showed me how to walk. She would say ‘hamba kanje’ (go this way). My right foot always felt heavy, and it was difficult to lift but my mother always motivated me so I would push myself.”
At the age of six, resilient Mihle pulled through and began walking.
“I was happy that I was walking again but I noticed that my right hand was different. I was with my neighbours and cousins, we were writing on a piece of paper. I tried to put the pencil in my right hand but I couldn’t use it. I would try to move my hand but my wrist wouldn’t respond. I could move my fingers but not my wrist; I couldn’t hold anything in that hand. It was like my hand was curled. I couldn’t wash dishes, or wash myself so I would get shown by my mother how to do it. Because I couldn’t hold anything in my right hand I began to learn how to write with my left.”
The right side of Mihle’s body had been semi-paralysed due to the brain injury. She says that with this realisation she began feeling bad about herself.
“I would keep asking myself why this had happened to me. I was feeling angry and sad about my situation. To help myself I joined a community theatre group and would take part in plays. Acting made me feel better, I would enjoy learning new things and all the movements.”
At the age of seven, Mihle’s parents divorced. She moved with her mother and brothers to live with her mom’s family and began attending school.
“One of the hardest parts of starting school was that the other children would tease me. They would make fun of my hand and imitate the way it looked. I would cry and tell my mother, she would shout at them but they would just run away, and start again the next day. I had one friend, Yoliswa who was always there for me, when others made fun of me she would defend me.”
Growing up, Mihle would continually be on the receiving end of cruel jokes about her disability.
“I began standing up for myself, I would tell them that my disability doesn’t matter to me, so it shouldn’t matter to them either. I began accepting what I was unable to do physically, I would also use it as motivation to work harder in school because I felt that I needed to prove that I was a normal person.”
Even though Mihle was able to deal with her disability, she still carried anger towards those who shot her because they were never caught. The anger grew when, at the beginning of high school, Mihle moved to stay in a hostel near to the flat where she was shot.
“The move made me more aware of all the anger I was carrying. I no longer feared them but often wished for revenge.
“When I was 17, I met a guy who stayed close to the hostel and we became close friends. We were talking one day and I told him my story. While I was talking about it I began to get angry, and told him that I wanted revenge; I wanted them to feel what I had felt when I was younger. I explained to him in detail what the face full of scars looked like. An image forever engraved in my mind. He was shocked, and said he was sorry for what had happened.
“A week later, he came to me and told me that he thought he knew who had shot me. He saw a guy with all the scars I had described and when asking people about him, they said he was ruthless and notorious for shooting a child a long time ago. He told me that he knew where he lived and that he could take me there. I agreed to go to the house so that I could see if it was him. My friend had a gun to protect us, so I thought I would be safe.
“We waited for a while on the street until he came home. Looking at him, all my memories of being shot came rushing to my mind. I knew it was the same person.
“At that point I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to kill him. I asked my friend to give me his gun. I had never held a gun before but my rage kept pushing me. For a short moment, I felt scared because I didn’t know how I was going to react when I faced him.
“With the gun in my hand I walked inside the house, the guy was alone watching TV. I froze, my mind kept playing back to the day I was shot, I was scared and had tears running down my cheeks. He saw me, did not recognise me and asked who I was. I didn’t respond, I just shot.
“He threw himself on the floor and cried. I couldn’t believe that I had shot at him. My friend was outside and when he saw me he just hugged me and said that everything was going to be okay. He took the gun and I don’t know what he did with it.
“We left the area very quickly because the gun shot was loud, I kept thinking that the police were close by, but they never came after me.”
Mihle says that because it was a weekend she was not staying at the hostel and took a taxi home. She was unprepared to deal with the remorse that she would come to feel.
“Soon after I remember having a headache and feeling like I wanted to throw up. At home my mother saw that I wasn’t okay and asked me what was wrong but I told her that I was getting sick. The next day I continued thinking that the police were coming and that I was going to get caught. I couldn’t sleep and kept throwing up.
“Going back to the hostel on Sunday was terrible because it was close to where he stays. I was worried that he would come and look for me and shoot me again. I couldn’t sleep at night, and continued feeling sick but I never saw him again. I began living in fear.”
Mihle says that after a while she felt safe and believed that she would probably never be caught. However, her emotional turmoil continued as she deeply regretted to shooting at the man.
“I regret what I did because it didn’t better my life in any way. I thought I was going to be happier and free, but there was not one moment after I shot at him that I felt good. The thought of revenge was better than the reality of it. I am glad that he didn’t die but I know that he could have and that my life would be very different today if he had. I wouldn’t be able to live with the fact that I killed someone.
“My schoolwork was also affected by the way I was feeling about myself and what I had done. The guilt of my actions kept me away from concentrating at school and I failed Grade 11. When that happened my dad told my mom that I should move in with him in Cape Town.
“Coming to Cape Town is a fresh start for me, I have two step brothers (21) (1 month baby) and I get along well with my dad and step mom. I have let go of anger and am working through my guilt. I want to be a different person to the girl who shot the guy.”
Today, Mihle is working hard at school with hopes of becoming an actress – living the dream that she had as a child.
Mihle concludes by saying, “I realise that revenge is not worthy of anyone’s time and I want other youth to know that. I should have accepted what happened to me – even though it was very hard and left me with every day reminders. I carried anger with me for many years and never dealt with it properly. It kept festering inside me to the point where I shot someone. I’ve learned that it is important that the evil deeds of others do not make you evil. Dark cannot be fought with dark and only light can truly transform things. We need to hold onto the good inside ourselves especially in the toughest moments of our lives. If we do this we will always feel good about who we are, and that will change the way we see the world… and the way the world sees us. ”
* Name has been changed to protect her identity.