FINDING BRAVERY IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION
Having the courage to dismantle your family when you are youth can be daunting, but for 17-year-old Siposihle Rala it was something she had to do. She tells us her story of strength and how she convinced her mother to leave a life of abuse.
A fighter from a young age, Siposihle was born in Cape Town and at four-months-old was diagnosed with asthma. Her parents were both working at the time and couldn’t care properly for an ill baby. So, they decided it was better that she lived with her grandparents and three siblings (two older brothers (11), (8) and a sister (5)) in the Eastern Cape.
“I enjoyed living with my grandparents, it was difficult sometimes because we were staying in a rural place where there was no electricity but I liked being with my granny we had a good relationship. I would help her at home and I remember she would always ask me if I was okay. It was good times.”
Siposihle lived a happy life with her grandparents until the age of six when her grandfather died and she moved back to Cape Town to live with her parents.
“I remember being scared and nervous moving back to my parents because I didn’t know what it was like living with them. I also missed my grandmother a lot as I had grown close to her.”
Living in a shack in Phillipi with her parents, Siposihle says that she doesn’t remember much about the move, but she does remember the change in the home environment to be a lot more tense.
“My father would get angry very quickly and when he would drink (alcohol) it would get very bad – he would hit us over anything. I remember how afraid we were when my father would return home from work. We never knew which state he would be in, but we knew that if he had been drinking somebody would get beaten that night.”
When Siphosihle learned that her eldest brother would be moving to Cape Town in the year that she started primary school she was very happy.
“He is much older than me, we didn’t play together a lot but we were close. I was happy because I thought he would help me with my father.”
But Siphosihle says that things didn’t get better when her brother moved in. Having dropped out of school in the Eastern Cape at 16, her brother moved to Cape Town with the hope of finding work at the age of 18. After a few months of rejection, he joined a gang and started a life of crime.
“My father would hear about the petty crimes by brother would be involved in. He would wait for my brother to get home and he would confront him shouting. My father would punch and kick him and my brother would try to defend himself. My mother would always try to stop the fight but she would get hurt too. I felt helpless and I would stand in a corner and cry. I always felt he was pushing my brother away.”
At 10-years-old, Siphosihle had returned from school one day and was sitting in the front area of her home when three police officers flung the front door open.
“They were looking for my brother, they came in and asked me where he was but I remember not being able to say anything. My brother was boiling water at the back and he heard them. He tried to escape but two more policeman were standing there. He tried to run away from them but they caught him and I saw them beating him.”
“Then they left. I was still sitting on the chair. I was too scared to do anything, no one spoke to me. I remember I didn’t know what to do. My parents were at work, so I walked to my aunt’s house that was close by to get some support.”
Siphosihle would later find out that her brother and a few of his friends had broken into a primary school and stolen computers.
He was released from prison a week later and Siphosihle says that her father was waiting for her brother when he returned home.
“My brother got home at night and my dad started shouting at him again, asking him how he could be so stupid to bring the police in our home. My father hit my brother with the belt bucklet. My mom tried to help, but my father just pushed her down. I was crying and asking him to stop but he didn’t. My brother left that night. He kicked us out too and we went to stay with my uncle, but we went back home a week later.”
“My brother never came back and I don’t know why my mother did. When I asked her she would say that we are a family and must stay together. I couldn’t understand.”
By the age of 14, Siphosihle’s sister who was 19 came to Cape Town.
“We found out that she came here because she was pregnant, she had her first child and lived with us for few years. Today she has three children from different fathers her two older children (7 and 5) stay with us and her youngest (5 months) stays with her and her new boyfriend in Crossroads.”
“Having my nephews at home is both good and bad. I share a room with the older one and sometimes find it very difficult to study, but I love him very much. I take care of him, I walk him to school and try to spend time with him.”
A close relationship with her nephews gave her the courage to motivate her family to leave her father.
“One day, the little one (5) did not eat all his food. After we had supper and my father shouted at him asking why he was wasting his food. My nephew did not answer and my father slapped him on his face and said he was disrespectful.”
“I got so angry. And raised my voice to my father – something I never did – and told him that he was wrong to hit the baby. I remember I was holding my nephew because he was crying so hard and tried to make him feel better. I called my sister and told her that her children shouldn’t stay here because it wasn’t good for them. She was crying and told me she knows.”
The next day, Siphosihle says that she knew she had to give her mother the courage to leave her father because she didn’t want the abuse to be repeated with her nephews.
“Education is very important to my mother, so I first told her that I can’t live like this and that it is affecting my studies. Then I told her that I know she is scared to leave but that I am with her. I told her that his drinking is getting worse and that he’s hitting the babies and that we deserve better.”
Siphosihle says that she felt so happy when her mother agreed with her and thanked her for being there for her.
“My mother looked at me, and we both cried. I think she needed to hear that from me. Because I know that leaving him goes against her beliefs but we both knew that it was the best decision for everyone.”
“I found the strength to stand up to my father and help my mother and nephews because I know that we don’t have to live in a situation where there is no love. I had the courage to help my family leave the situation because of the love I have for them. I know that the affection I have for my family is stronger than any fear I had for my father.”
Today, Siphosihle and her mother have moved out and she is focussing on her studies to become a teacher and help other girls who are going through difficult times.
Siphosihle concluded by saying, “all my life I was passive because my mom kept telling me that breaking a marriage was breaking a family and she did not wish that for us. Through this process, I have learned that true marriage is about love and respect. When these two ingredients are taken away, the hurt caused to everyone in the family is huge. True love is about knowing when it is time to let go.”
Siphosihle is a Leaders’ Quest participant, and intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.