MY SISTER’S KEEPER
16-year-old Sisipho Mafrika believes that forgiving the people who have hurt her has opened the door to a life of peace and happiness for her. She tells us how she has overcome childhood neglect by being a role model to her younger sister.
Born in Masiphumelele, a township in Fish Hoek, Sisipho was raised by a single mother in an impoverished environment. Unemployed and struggling financially, Sisipho’s mother sent her daughter to the Eastern Cape to live with a family friend when she was two years old.
“My grandmother disowned my mother when she fell pregnant and my father was absent from our lives. My mother had no one to help her, so it was difficult for her to get a job and to take care of me at the same time. She thought it was best for me to be sent to the Eastern Cape.”
Her time in the Eastern Cape ended when Sisipho was four years old.
“I don’t know why I came back to Cape Town, but I know that the situation was not good. My mother was living with her boyfriend and they had a baby. When they would drink, they would fight. Many times he would tell us to leave the house in the middle of the night.”
Sisipho says that her mother moved to another shack when she turned seven and her sister was two. Unfortunately, this did not improve Sisipho’s life, because her mother would often drink and was not always around.
“I remember often being alone and taking care of my sister. We would play outside the shack and when it got dark I would take my sister inside and everyone else would go home to eat. We would wait for our mom to come and give us food but many nights she never came.”
At eight years old, Sisipho was raped by a neighbour.
“One night I was walking outside to go to the toilet, and a man asked me to buy him a cigarette at the shop. He had asked me to do this for him many times, but this time he told me that when I come back, I must give him the cigarette inside his shack. Then he held me down and raped me. He told me that he would kill me if I told anyone, so I was very scared.”
“I went home and didn’t say anything to my mother, I just lay down and cried. My mother noticed that something was wrong and told our neighbours. They came to me and said that I could trust them and they would protect me, so I told them what had happened.”
“The police came and I was first taken to the hospital and then to the police station to answer some questions. A week later, my mom and I went to court. After that, a social worker told my sister and I that they were going to protect us and were taking us away from my mother because she could not take care of us.”
Sisipho and her sister were found to be neglected children and were taken to a foster home where they lived for four years.
“I remember my mom never came to visit us and living with the foster mother was terrible. We wouldn’t get any food if we didn’t wash the dishes. Sometimes I would eat at school in the morning and have nothing more to eat for the rest of the day. When my sister would wet herself they would take her outside and hose her down with cold water in winter or summer.”
“It was a very painful life. I wanted to help my sister and I would tell her that we needed to eat, so we would beg for food from the neighbours. The social worker just put us there, and she never spoke to us again or came to visit us. I was too scared to speak to anyone at school, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone.”
Unable to deal with the situation, Sisipho ran away from her foster home many times. She would go looking for her mother and would tell her that she wanted to come back home.
“I would beg for money and take a few taxis to go and find my mom. She would tell me that if she took us away from the foster home they would arrest her, but that she loved us very much. After that, I would return to the foster care home because I knew my sister needed me.”
Years passed, but their situation did not improve.
“When my sister turned seven, seeing her suffering became too much for me. We would be together all day and would walk around the area. One day, we begged for money and took a train to my mother. When the police found us they asked us why we were running away, so we told them about everything that was happening to us.” They then moved us to a place of safety, ‘Home From Home’, where Sisipho says her life changed for the better.
“Everything changed with Mama Rachel. Everyone who lived there was treated like sisters and brothers, and things were completely different. We were fed everyday and when my mom bought us clothes, they would give the clothes to us. The best part was seeing my sister happy.”
The sisters stayed there for two years and during that time, the social workers would take them to visit their mother over weekends and holidays.
“My mother had started working and her life was getting better. The social workers would inspect the place to see if my mom was well enough to take care of us.”
With their mother’s life improving, Sisipho and her sister were sent back home to live with their mother. This was six years after they had been removed.
“The most challenging part was that my mother and I didn’t understand each other. I couldn’t call her mom and it was difficult. I would see a psychologist who told me that I needed to talk about what was making me angry. I would tell myself that I needed to let go of my anger towards the people who had let me down. I would fight a lot, because over the years I had learnt that that was the only behaviour which enabled me to survive. However, I realised that my sister looked up to me and she was copying what I was doing, so I knew I needed to change.”
“I visited ‘Home from Home’ after I left, and I met a girl there. Talking to her helped me through this situation, and I cried a lot until I had let go of the pain. Now, I feel better and I share my story with the other kids that Mama Rachel cares for.”
Sisipho says that although her life has had many lows, she is happy today.
Sisipho concludes by saying: “Not being angry at the people who have broken my trust throughout my life has helped me the most. I have decided to be the reliable and trustworthy person for my sister. Even if I did not have anyone to count on when I was growing up, at least I can change that reality for her. I am only 16, and I feel like my life has just started again.”
Sisipho is a Health4Life participant.