THE GIRL THAT CAN SAY NO
A teenage pregnancy at the age of 16 taught Bongiwe to stand her ground and to say no to what is not in her best interests.
Bongiwe Majija (18) was born in Cape Town. She was raised in Lost City, Mitchells Plain and still lives there with her family.
“I grew up with my mother, who raised us all. She works in a dog parlour as a groomer. I think my father left when I was two years old, my mom told me about it. My three older siblings are from a different father. I don’t know why my parents split up and I’ve never asked my mom because I just figured that it would be painful for her. He hasn’t called or done anything ever since he left.”
Bongiwe tried to reconnect with her father once.
“My father is from Angola and he lives in Philippi not too far away from where I stay. I visited him once and met my other sisters and brothers. I was happy and hopeful. But soon I realized that nothing was going to change. He did not even try, he doesn’t support me or anything. He doesn’t even call on birthdays. It makes me feel very sad, to be honest.”
When she was eight years old, Bongiwe welcomed a new member into her family – her stepfather.
“He is a very nice person. He closes that part in my heart that says I don’t have a father. We have a good relationship and it has been good to have him in my life. He is a long-distance driver who drives goods to different countries, so he is away a lot. He goes away for two months at a time sometimes.”
Bongiwe’s family has experienced some challenges over the years.
“My second eldest brother got involved with drugs. We used to have a good relationship but the drugs changed him. Every time he got home he would insult me, saying that I shouldn’t be in South Africa because my father is foreign. He would say bad things just to see me cry. My mother was very upset. He wasn’t even sleeping at the house – we didn’t know where he was sleeping. Last year the family sent him to the Eastern Cape. We were told that he has gained a lot of weight and doesn’t drink or smoke anymore.
Another sibling is in prison.
“The one sibling, [closest to Bongiwe in age] is in prison. He loves driving taxis and there was this incident when a person was crossing the N2 freeway and he bumped her. She is alive. His side of the story is that he was driving the kombi* and this woman came out of nowhere and he accidentally bumped her. And then he was arrested because he didn’t have a driver’s license. It’s been three years now, later this year he will be released. I miss him.”
Her first experience of romantic love turned Bongiwe’s life upside down.
“I was in grade 9 and I was 15 years old. I think it was around the end of January that I met this guy who lives close to where I stay. Every day coming from school we bumped into each other and we became friends and then more than friends. He was 19 years old and he was doing matric. My mother did not know I was dating, I couldn’t tell her. She always warned me about boys and said that if she ever found out that I was dating a boy she would hit me.
“On the 14th of February, he asked me if he could be intimate with me. It was the first time I had a boyfriend and I didn’t have anyone to guide me. I knew about the consequences of falling pregnant but I never thought about it. I was too infatuated and I really wanted to make him happy.”
It wasn’t long before Bongiwe felt pressured into regular intimacy.
“He started intimidating me into doing it. He would drink on Fridays and on weekends. I didn’t drink with him because I don’t drink alcohol. He would say, ‘you can’t just come here and think you can’t give it to me.’ I felt pressured and ended up doing it.
“At first I thought that he was a very nice person. He had a good heart and he was kind. That’s why I fell for him. When he threatened me, he would say, ‘if you don’t give this to me I will find another girlfriend who will.’ I was afraid, I thought that if I don’t, he might leave me for someone else. He told me that he loved me and I believed him. I loved him, I was very fond of him and I told myself, ‘okay, maybe this is going to be a lifetime thing’ so I would give in. I told him to use a condom and he only did after three weeks.”
Bongiwe was bowled over by her boyfriend who was charming, most of the time. But her Prince Charming would soon become a frog.
“I have an uncle who lives opposite his house and one day my mom sent me to my uncle’s house. On my way there, I saw him entering his house with this girl and I just knew that that was another girlfriend. I did not do anything, but the next time I saw him I asked about it. He denied it but then his friend told him to tell the truth because his friend was with him. He admitted that that was his girlfriend. He treated it like a joke. I was sad, I was upset because that’s the guy I actually gave my virginity to. That was the day we broke up.”
Everything changed for Bongiwe after the breakup.
“We broke up in late May and then about a month later in July, I could feel that there was something moving in my stomach. I always had a problem with my periods, which was irregular, so I didn’t think anything of it. My stomach was getting bigger but I was also gaining weight and just thought it was part of it. When my stomach was moving and my feet were swollen I started being scared, like really scared. At the time I was immature and I was afraid to tell anyone about it. I began using a belly belt just to keep my tummy tight so that it wouldn’t show.
“In August on my birthday, I met up with my ex and told him that something was going on in my tummy. He was smiling and shocked at the same time and he was asking out loud how he was going to tell his father if I was pregnant. I told him that he needed to buy a pregnancy test and he said he will ask his cousin who is a nurse to do the test. I waited and waited, days and weeks, he never came back to me.”
Bongiwe experienced suicidal thoughts as reality started to kick in.
“There was this day I took a lot of tablets, I took paracetamol. I think I took more than half of the bottle. I was very scared. I just wanted to end everything. I had these suicidal thoughts in my mind. I thought that by tomorrow I would be dead or maybe I would end up in hospital but nothing happened. There was no one I could trust at that point and I thought if I died it would be better for everyone. But the following day I awakened normally, nothing happened.”
Soon friends and family around her started asking questions about her sudden weight gain.
“My best friend noticed it at school, she would say, ‘You look pregnant’ and I would always change the subject. Nobody else noticed at school. Honestly, I felt ashamed… it felt like I had this baggage on my shoulders. I wasn’t ready to tell anybody about it. I felt like I would disappoint everyone and disappointed myself. It was almost as if I believed that if no one knew, it would go away.
“It was October and was my aunt’s 40th birthday. Everyone in my family started looking at me in a weird way, they were like ‘Haibo, why are you so white and why have you gained so much weight?’ I just acted like nothing was wrong with me.”
But the truth was eventually revealed.
“Later that night after the party, at home, I was closing the curtains and my mom started looking at me closely. My tummy was showing and my mom asked me, ‘Are you pregnant?’ I became scared, I just felt hot, I denied it and said I am not. And she asked me again and again and again and I still denied it. I even cried. She could see that I was upset and she went straight to bed. The next morning, I went to the bathroom to wash and my mom came in and looked at my stomach, she started pressing it and said, ‘Can’t you see there’s someone in here?’ I actually freaked out. I didn’t even say a word. She started pressing my breast and then water came out. She told me, ‘You’re pregnant.’ And then I could see she got very upset. She gave me the silent treatment when I was busy with my school uniform and then on the way to the bus stop she said she was very disappointed in me. She started asking me why I didn’t say anything earlier and then I told her that she never asked me about boys or dating or those things. She said it’s her first time having a girl child so she doesn’t actually know how to talk to me about things like that. I went to school.
“By the time I went back home, my mother called me to the room and told me that we will be going to the clinic on the 8th of November, she had made an appointment. Days passed and she didn’t talk about my pregnancy in the house, even though I knew they all knew. I continued going to school as per normal.”
Bongiwe’s mother accompanied her for her first visit to the clinic.
“When we arrived at the clinic they told us that we should go to Victoria hospital for a scan. I was happy that my mom was with me, I didn’t feel alone any longer. She was calm, she wasn’t shouting or upset. She told me that we will get through this. She told me that my stomach is very big and I would be giving birth soon. Then she said, ‘Bongiwe, after this child you must never fall for a boy ever again, because now you are alone in this and he’s not here with you.’
I was no longer in the process of hiding and at that moment I told her everything – how it started, and that I was disappointed in myself because I never saw myself pregnant. I was the one who was crying. My mom is actually a very tough woman, she doesn’t cry easily. She hugged me. She just said I must forget about everything that had happened because the baby would be here soon. We got to Victoria hospital and after the scan, they told us that I was 32 weeks pregnant.”
Little did Bongiwe or her mother know that Bongiwe was to become a new mother that very night.
“At night around 8 PM, I started feeling contractions. My mom told me to lie on my bed and my brother called the ambulance. They were busy calling the ambulance and I was giving birth on my own. It was painful. It felt like there was something that wanted to come out so I must push it out. I was alone in the room, I wasn’t screaming. It was quick. The baby came out. I started calling my mother and then she saw the baby lying on the bed. He wasn’t crying and then my brother called the ambulance again to ask if they were coming and he told them the baby was not crying. They told him to pinch the baby and then the baby started crying. My mom started laughing. She was shocked at the fact that I did it on my own. Then the ambulance came 30 minutes later. I went to the hospital alone. I went for checkups and everything was okay and I came back home the next day. I was happy I won’t lie. I couldn’t believe that this little human came out of me.”
Bongiwe has transformed her teenage pregnancy into her strength.
“It was tiring to be honest because I had many sleepless nights. By the time I got to school, I was tired and I couldn’t concentrate. I was ashamed of myself and I was teased by a group of girls. I started seeing a counsellor and it actually helped me. I gained self-confidence and I never felt ashamed again. I still had my friends at school and the teachers didn’t give me a hard time. They told me that I shouldn’t worry and that these things happen and they understand why I didn’t tell them. With time, I learnt to enjoy motherhood.
“I decided to take justice in my own hands, I was not going to allow the father of my baby to do the same as my father had done to me. I brought him to court for financial support of my child. He denied that he was the father and the court ordered a DNA test. I won the case. One thing my story has taught me is to be able to say ‘No!’ and to have my voice heard. I am no longer the girl who lets a boy walk all over her.”
But life always has its challenges and COVID-19 is the one that the world is currently grappling with.
“There are a few things that were affected badly, and my school work was one of them. I’m not really sure what I should study and what I should not study, because we are not getting any help from our teachers. For the past three months we – as students – have been on our own. I wonder how we will be able to catch up this year.
“There were also some times when we didn’t know what we would have for supper, but luckily my mom went back to work, so since then our situation has become better.”
Bongiwe explains the motivation to hand out food to the needy during this time.
“My mom and I just decided to give food to the poorest. We were inspired by this old Muslim lady who always comes to our house and asks for food, we call her granny. We know that around us there are many people who go to bed without eating. So, we decided to do just something small to help others. We don’t have a lot, we cooked rice and soup and gave it away in small takeaways to some of our neighbours. It wasn’t something big, but it felt good to share. It is as if the small things that are shared become something bigger.”
Bongiwe is a Leaders’ Quest participant.
*Kombi is a minibus used to transport passengers commercially.