BELIEVING IN WHO YOU TRULY ARE
Witchcraft is still common in some of Zimbabwe’s rural areas. 17-year-old Natasha Chigamba has had to bear the brunt of people believing that she was possessed by demons. Thousands of children are beaten, burnt, imprisoned and subjected to exorcism rituals each year, because they are believed to be witches, according to Kurt Madoerin, an adviser to the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), which operates in East and Southern Africa.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Natasha was raised mostly by her mom. She grew up in a close-knit family, living with her maternal uncle and his wife.
Natasha’s world changed dramatically at the age of seven when her mother became ill.
“She got sick and lost a lot of weight. I remember her mouth was very dry and she couldn’t move, so she spent most of her time in bed. My mom’s brother and his wife took care of her with some help from me. I would support her for walks outside when she had energy. I would do anything to make her comfortable. I felt very sad during that time because it wasn’t easy seeing my mother like that.”
At the time of her mother’s illness, her family was struggling financially so they told Natasha that she would have to stay with her paternal grandmother and aunt.
“I didn’t want to go, but everybody was telling me I must because they had money and that they would send me to school. The day that my aunt fetched me was the first time that I met her, so I was nervous and a bit scared. She just took me without saying anything.”
Before leaving with her aunt, Natasha spoke to her mom who was bedridden at this time.
“It was the last conversation I had with my mom and she said that I must be a good girl. At the time I was expecting to see her again.”
One of the advantages of leaving was that Natasha could now attend school.
“I wasn’t going to school at home because we couldn’t afford the fees, so the idea of going to school was exciting.”
A week after leaving her home, Natasha’s mom passed away.
“In the morning my aunt said that we were going to my uncle’s house; she didn’t say why we were going there, we just drove. I wanted to ask what was going on, but I was nervous because she intimidated me.”
“I was looking forward to seeing my mom. When we got to the house my aunt just dropped me off. I saw the furniture outside and my mom’s sister-in-law was crying. Nobody told me that she had died, they just surrounded me and said that they would support me. It all felt like a dream and not reality!”
Three days later, Natasha’s mom was buried.
“I remember we went to view her body and I didn’t recognise her. Her face was different, there was something weird about her skin. I was there with my mom’s family, I didn’t know where my aunt was. I remember one of the people telling me: “Whatever God gives you, you should accept it.””
At the burial, Natasha’s aunt made a speech.
“She said that my mom must not look back because she was going to take care of me. Hearing her say this made me feel good. Knowing I would have someone to look up to as a mother figure, made the situation easier.”
After the burial, Natasha returned to her aunt’s house.
“There were only three of us staying in the house, my aunt, my grandmother (father’s mom) and me. They hardly spoke to me, I felt like an outsider. It was a nice house in the suburbs so it was very different to where I had been staying. Although there were empty rooms, I slept in a small storeroom, with just a mattress on the floor. The other rooms were for guests.”
“They were very strict and cold towards me, and small things like eating together were not done – this was very different to the kind of closeness we had had at my uncle’s house. My aunty was a teacher at the primary school I was attending, but I would walk to school while she drove. I was too scared to ask for anything and was grateful to attend school so I didn’t complain.”
At the time, Natasha was nine years old and she began to be physically abused by her aunt and gran.
“The first time she beat me was because of my socks. One evening, I washed my school socks but I didn’t hang them up properly, so in the morning they were full of mud stains. I picked them up and shook them off and wore them like that. My aunt asked me why they didn’t look clean and told me to take them off, then she beat me with a long rubber tube (sjambok).”
Anything became an excuse for my aunt or grandmother to beat me. One day, I accepted a lift to school from one of our neighbours and I was beaten for taking a lift. It was painful, I felt unworthy and unloved. I had friends but I would distance myself from them because I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening to me at home.”
Natasha says that she would sit alone looking at the trees and the sky, and this helped her feel better during this time, but that nothing could prepare her for what was going to happen next.
“I don’t remember how it started, but one day they just started talking about my mom saying that she was a gold digger, a snake, and that she used witchcraft to kill my father. All I knew about my dad’s death was that he was killed when I was 6 months old – my mom told me that he was robbed and killed on his way back home from church one night.”
“I loved my mom very much, so hearing that about her broke my heart. I was too scared to tell them to stop.”
“They also said that I was possessed by demons, and that my mother’s family had made me that way. They made me fast every day, and would sometimes only give me one meal a day. They told me that they were trying to heal me.”
“During the holidays my grandmother’s church went to pray in the mountains and she took me with them. We walked to the top, it was just the two of us, I was very scared. The rest of the church satyed at the base of the mountain praying. When we reached the top, she told me to pray, asking God to save me. I wanted to die so I prayed for God to take me with him. I didn’t know what was happening, I can’t remember how long we were on the mountain but I do remember having to sleep overnight on the ground.
“When we got to the bottom of the mountain, the church’s prophet made a red garment for me; it looked like a sack and he told me I must sleep in it. I hated wearing it but if I didn’t I would be beaten by my aunt. She said I must wear it to cast out the demons. I was so afraid because I didn’t know why they thought I was a demon child. I did not believe that I had demons in me. I believed that they were making it up.”
One day, Natasha’s mom’s youngest sister came from South Africa to visit her and life began changing.
“She was just there for about an hour, and I wanted to tell her about the way I was being treated. But I was scared. I remember her saying as the taxi was leaving, that I should come and stay with her for the holidays, and that made me feel like she wanted me.”
“The next day I told my grandmother that I wanted to stay with my mom’s family, and she said that no one would want me. But I said to her that if she didn’t let me go, I would run away.”
“When I saw my aunt, she gave me hope that my life could be different. I knew that I could not stay with people that thought I was a demon, I would die if I stayed.”
Speaking about what she wanted, Natasha set the ball rolling and change began to happen in her life.
“The day after I spoke to my grandmother, she called my aunt and told her that I don’t listen, I steal, and that I am a mischievous child. My aunty came to the house after that, to talk to me.”
“She came to our house and fetched me. I took no bags because her intention was just to talk to me. Then we took a taxi back home, to the place where I had lived with my mom. I told her everything that was happening to me. I felt like something heavy had been lifted off my shoulders. I told her what they said about my mom, that they beat me and that they thought I was a demon.”
“She was very emotional and hugged me, I felt relieved, because she believed me.”
At this time, Natasha was 11 years old and ready for a new life.
“My aunt told me that I should not go back, so I went to stay in the house I grew up in. I was happy to be back, there was a closeness there that I missed.”
“When my aunt went back to the house I had been staying in to collect my clothes, they told her that they had given all my clothes away, because they were afraid I was going to use them for witchcraft. When my aunt told me, I wasn’t sad at all – I felt free!”
Following that, Natasha returned to her family home which she had shared with her mom, and she stayed there for a year while she finished Grade Six.
“At the end of the year on the day school was closing, I received my report and my uncle told me I was going to Cape Town to live with my aunt. I knew my aunt very well, because I had lived with her when I was younger, so I felt happy.”
“It took three days to get to my aunt’s house, and I kept praying that my aunt wouldn’t treat me badly.”
“When we got to Cape Town, everyone was happy to see me. I felt so loved, it was like I had found a family again.”
It’s a few years later now and Natasha is living happily with her new family.
“Today, my aunt is like a mother to me and my five cousins (21), (19), (12) (3) (1/2 weeks old) are my siblings. They have all helped me to overcome everything I went through. I am doing well at school and last year I got a school academic award for achieving more than 75% in my Grade 10 final marks.”
Natasha says that she has learned many lessons through her short life, but one that stands out for her is, “People will believe what they want to believe about you. There is nothing you can do to change the way they see you. The important thing is not to let their voices change how you perceive yourself. Deep inside, you know who you truly are… you are a perfect child of God.”
Natasha is a Leaders’ Quest participant.