Fatima Machaba


Can you imagine finding out that your father is actually your brother? How would you deal with the stress of knowing that you had been lied to by the people you are closest to? This is how life unfolded for 16-year-old Fatima Machaba, whose story explores the topics of trust, betrayal and loneliness.

Fatima was born in Johannesburg. Shortly after her birth, Fatima and her family moved back to their country of origin, Mozambique.

“I grew up in Mozambique, in a family where not too many questions were asked and you just accepted what you are told. We didn’t talk much about my mother; I was told that she died when I was young. My father told me that my mother was poisoned by someone who was jealous of her. I would wonder about her sometimes, but didn’t ask any questions.”

Growing up, Fatima felt alone, as if she did not have any strong connection with anyone in the family. Her father was a provider; he was physically there if she needed him but they did not have a strong emotional connection. The other members of the family were older and cold towards her, especially an aunt who treated her badly.

“It started when I was six years old: my aunt would leave me alone with her child, who was about six months old. She would beat me whenever the child was crying because she said I wasn’t looking after her properly. It wasn’t a good time, and I would run away because I was so unhappy. Sometimes I would just stand in the road, not knowing where to go. No one really looked for me and I would always end up going back.”

Fatima’s father returned to South Africa to look for a job, as it had become difficult for him to find work in Mozambique and to survive. Fatima remained with her relatives.

“He was gone for about a year. When he came back I told him that I wanted to move with him. I didn’t want to tell him what was happening with my aunt because I was fearful that he would stop supporting her. She wasn’t working so he would buy stuff for her and her son.”

“At first he didn’t agree because he was concerned about who would look after me. His girlfriend said that I  should go with him and that she would move with us and care for me. I felt she did it because she knew what was happening at home.”

Fatima says that she was about eight years old and on the drive to South Africa she was excited. For the first time, she felt she was going to get the family life that she always wanted.

“We first stayed in Johannesburg for about six months, then came to Cape Town where I started school. I remember it being a hectic time because I couldn’t speak English – I could only speak Shangaan, that is similar to Tsonga in Limpopo. I struggled at school and it was tough, but I would concentrate on how much better my home life was, compared to what it used to be in Mozambique. We stayed with my father’s friend in a house in Khayelitsha; my father’s girlfriend treated me well and I met friends who taught me how to speak Xhosa.”

“After staying with my dad’s friend for a year, we moved to a shack. The living standard was difficult: it was a small one-room structure. But I was happy because I was going to school, I had friends and we never argued at home.”

“My relationship with my father improved and we were happy. When I was nine, his girlfriend moved back to Mozambique and life changed. My father asked the ladies at the aftercare if I could sleep there because he could not look after me alone during the week. He was working as a tiler, and would fetch me close to eight or nine o’clock in the evenings, so he thought it was best like that.”

“They treated me well, and I knew that my father was doing his best; despite his absence I felt cared for. Like the journey to South Africa I looked at this experience as something new and exciting.”

For the next two years, Fatima lived in the aftercare centre until the age of 11, when she moved back full time with her father, because he decided to live in a different section of Khayelitsha.

“When we moved, I stopped going to aftercare so I would be alone after school. I would play outside on my own and I made few friends. One day a group of teenagers approached me and asked me what my name was. I only knew one person in the group – my neighbour Ryan. He was walking with his friends and I overheard him telling them he liked me. I wasn’t interested but my friends told me he was a good guy. I was lonely and they put pressure on me because they all had boyfriends.”

“I was 12 when I met him, and we started dating when I was 13. He was 15 and my first boyfriend. My father didn’t know because he hardly saw me. He would work all day and then drink at night. My father had changed a lot, so having my boyfriend’s company felt good.”

Fatima’s boyfriend began pressurising her to have sex with him.

“At school they spoke about things like when you get periods but nothing about relationships. I had a friend who told me about sex; she would say that a lot of our friends were having it. I was too embarrassed to ask her more about it because I thought I would sound stupid.”

Fatima says that she told her boyfriend to use a condom, but that he made it difficult for her.

“My boyfriend told me that he can’t feel anything when we use condoms so sometimes we didn’t use it. He would tell me that I wouldn’t fall pregnant because he would be careful, and I believed him. Even when I said I didn’t feel like it, he would do it anyway and say I must try and enjoy it.”

After about a year and a half of dating, Fatima fell pregnant.

“I was in Grade Eight when I found out I was pregnant. I was already six months along; I thought missing periods was normal. One night I was lying on the bed and my stomach felt hard, so the next day I went to the clinic and they told me I was pregnant. I told them I don’t want the baby, so they gave me a letter for a day hospital. They told me I needed to go with an adult, and because I didn’t have anyone I just let it be.”

“I would hide it from my father, but then his friend’s wife asked me if I was pregnant. I told her the truth because she said she would help me. She told her husband who told my father.”

The moment Fatima was confronted by her father, she began the path of finding out the truth about her past.

“He sat down and asked me if I was pregnant; I still lied and said no. He insisted and then I finally confessed. He kept asking me questions like “Do you know what it’s like being a mother?” and “How are you going to care for and provide for the baby?” I had no answers. He told me how disappointed he was. I felt terrible because I did not want to hurt him as he had always been there for me.”

“During my pregnancy, he took me back to Mozambique. When we arrived we went to his girlfriend and we had a family meeting. My two uncles and aunt were all there; they told me that now that I’m pregnant, I’m mature enough to know the truth.”

“My father told me that he is my brother and that my uncles and aunt were my siblings. I went outside and cried because I felt betrayed; all my life was a lie. They called me inside and the man that I thought was my father told me that our real father died when I was a baby.  Before dying, our mom asked him to take care of me and for that reason he became a father figure in my life. He also said he would continue taking care of me and that I must stay in Mozambique for a year and go back to South Africa when the child is one.”

“I was reeling after they told me the truth; it was one of the most confusing times in my life. I didn’t have anyone else to depend on and I knew that I couldn’t raise my baby on my own so I decided to look at my situation from a positive perspective. Instead of blaming and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to believe that whatever they did, they did because they cared for me.”

After a month of living in Mozambique, Fatima received an unexpected call.

“The mother of my child’s father called me. She said that she had heard that I was pregnant and that she wanted to be part of her grandchild’s life. She asked me to come back, so I told her that she should ask my brother.”

Despite pleas from her child’s grandmother, Fatima stayed in Mozambique until the baby was born.

“When I came back to South Africa, my child’s grandmother told me that I must go back to school and she would take care of the baby for me. My brother was still staying at the same small place, so it was difficult because there was no space and I had more responsibilities. What made it bearable was the support I received from her.”

Becoming a mom gave Fatima a different view on life.

“My daughter is two years old and this experience made me view life and school differently.  I was naïve because I did not have proper guidance as a child. Becoming a mom has forced me to mature rapidly. For the first time in my life, I am clear about what I want and where I want to go.”

Fatima concludes by saying, “I understood that when I was young I had confused being alone with loneliness. Throughout my story the common theme was that I was alone often. I know now that you can be with someone and still feel lonely or be alone and feel complete. My life has taught me to enjoy my own company and, only when I am comfortable with it, should I open myself to others.”

Fatima is a Leaders’ Quest participant

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