Wanda Plaatjie


Wanda Plaatjie’s (16) experience of her father’s violent death was the catalyst for her sinking into depression and making harmful decisions. 

“I was born in Cape Town and I grew up in Khayelitsha. I lived with my grandfather, grandmother, mother and uncle. I was the only child in the house. My dad lived close by and we had a good relationship. We would call each other every day and he would come and visit me. My parents were never married.”

“My mother worked at a hotel as a waitress. My dad worked in the film industry on the electrical side but I don’t know precisely what he was doing. I had everything I needed and I got everything I wanted. As an only child in the home, it was fun. My family treated me with lots of care.”

“I do have a younger sister who is currently 12 years old, she is from my dad’s side. I knew her growing up. We were close. She would visit my dad’s house when I was there and we would also meet at family gatherings. She was from a relationship my dad had after he had me. School was fun, I had friends and I was an average student. I can confidently say that my childhood was great.”

When Wanda was 12, her father tied the knot with someone new.

“My dad got married and he divorced that same year. His new wife did not like me a lot. She felt that I was ruining her marriage. In the messages that she sent me she would write that I’m a marriage wrecker and that I was trying to create a bond between my parents. After I showed the messages to my dad, my dad divorced her because he said that he can’t stay in a marriage with someone who doesn’t love his child. They were only married for a few months. After he got divorced, he got into another relationship and had a child who is my youngest sibling. She is three years old.”

The following year, Wanda’s life took an abrupt turn.

“Apparently my dad received a letter from the bank stating that his ex-wife was selling the house where my dad lived in. He got angry about that and we suspect it triggered what happened next. It is still very confusing about what the circumstances are which led to my dad’s death but the day before he died he didn’t come home, and no one knew where he was.”

“The morning when he was supposed to go to work he went to his ex-wife’s workplace and shot her multiple times. Then he left the crime scene to go to a nearby relative’s house where he broke a window, threw the car keys inside and shot himself outside the house.”

“My dad was a very kind person. He didn’t like to hear about men killing their partners and would always make remarks about men being crazy when they did such a thing. It was shocking to me and to everybody who knew my dad. We couldn’t understand why he would kill himself and leave his three daughters behind.”

“My dad was a good person, but I do think he might have had anger issues. I remember this one time when we were coming back from his mother’s house and a taxi randomly took a turn in front of us and my dad got angry about that. They were swearing at each other. I was begging the taxi driver to leave my dad alone because my dad was so angry. The driver left but then my dad took a U-turn to follow the taxi, I started crying and begged him to leave the driver alone. I can say that he might have been short-tempered but he was not violent. This was the only time I saw him lose it. Everyone thought he was a good person.”

Wanda father’s sudden death was confusing to her since she felt that the way he died was not part of his nature.

“At that time I didn’t actually know what I was feeling. I remember screaming when I heard that he had died. I was in disbelief. I remember literally sending my dad a message asking him if what I had just heard was true. When he didn’t respond it dawned on me that he was really gone.”

“I just couldn’t believe it. I knew my dad loved me. I didn’t know he was capable of killing somebody. I couldn’t process how he died at that time. What really hurt me was that he was gone. His decisions on that day are still a puzzle that we are unable to complete.”

“After my dad’s funeral, life drastically changed. Now, I had to adjust to the way things were because when my dad was alive he would call me every day and visit me every Saturday. Every Saturday I would look through the keyhole as if I would see his car outside. I missed him and I could feel deep in my heart the sorrow of his absence.”

“Soon after all this, my mom began drowning in debt because my dad used to support me. While I could feel there was financial pressure, we never went to bed on an empty stomach but there were some things that we could no longer afford. We went to my dad’s workplace to get his money but my dad’s family had already come and received the money.”

“My dad’s family changed after the funeral. They sold everything my dad owned and they did not give us a share of the money. There were days when I could not go to school because there was no money for bus fare. I remember staying at home for a week because there was no money. I could see my mom being quite stressed out and beginning to distance herself from us too. She was always on her phone or sleeping.”

“My sister, who was nine years old at the time, was really struggling because her mother was selling fruit and chips at Cape Town station and they were really financially depleted after my dad died, so she came to live with us. She was welcomed into our home.”

Wanda was struggling to cope with her grief and all the changes.

“It became tense in my home because they didn’t know how to comfort me, I was depressed at that time, crying every day. I could not talk to my mom about how I was feeling, because I could see how stressed she was. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened to my dad, my mind couldn’t stop thinking. I felt I was drowning.”

“In my community, people smoke dagga* often to forget things. So I turned to taking dagga muffins for comfort because I wanted to forget about my dad’s death. I was using it as my comfort. I would take it with a friend of mine. It was affordable. It made me forget what I was really feeling and I wouldn’t stress when I took them.”

“I took them for two months and then one day after we ate them, something went wrong. Apparently, the one we ate had other substances such as mandrax, as well as glass, in them. That was the last day I took it.”

Wanda and her friend suffered such an extreme reaction after taking it at school that they were rushed to hospital.

“It was so extreme that I felt like my brain would explode. My friend fell from the stairs as we were walking at school and the remaining muffin fell out of her blazer. She began throwing up. The teachers had to be called and we were both taken to the office. They saw my eyes and how red they were. The ambulance came and we were rushed to the hospital. The police had to escort the ambulance because that area is not safe and ambulances often get robbed in our area. We got to the hospital and I remember being given an injection and then it was lights out for me.”

“I woke up with my granny praying next to my bed. I was scared to open my eyes because I knew they would interrogate me so I slept again. We were in the hospital for a few hours. I think they managed to remove the substances from our bodies.”

Wanda’s family were aware of what she had taken since the school notified them.

“We almost got suspended from school but the principal gave us another chance. So that’s when I stopped taking it for good.”

Besides dagga muffins, self-harming became another avenue of escape for Wanda.

“After my dad died I started self-harming and I would cut my arm with a blade. I did that about three times. I wasn’t doing it with the intention of ending my life. I was trying to get over what I was feeling. It was better to feel physical pain than emotional pain. I don’t know what got into me to do that. No one in my family knew that I did that because I did it secretly. I did my best to hide my scars from my family and even today they don’t know.”

However, despite her best efforts to hide the scars, someone did notice.

“One day a teacher noticed the scars and she freaked out and asked me why I am doing that to myself. She suggested that I attend counselling sessions at school. I went to counselling and it kind of helped. I promised the counsellor that I would not cut myself again and, since I always keep my promises, I never did it again.”

“However the counselling didn’t stop the grief and depression I felt. I used to pray and fast for a full day at a time and ask God to bring my father back. Then I realised that my father was not going to come back and I had to begin accepting that he was gone. As I was beginning to feel a little bit better, I experienced another setback.”

“My uncle who lived with us died. He was beaten to death. We didn’t actually get the full story about what happened. This was another loved one that we lost without being able to make sense of what had happened. When that happened it triggered me again to go onto a dark path. I was already struggling at school and this made things even worse. I managed to pass the year but by that time I had isolated myself completely from the world.”

“Looking back I can say that the only thing that kept me going was attending church. My life progressed spiritually and I began to have a closer relationship with God. I felt the scriptures were talking to me and, over time, they assisted me to make some meaning of what had happened. I began trusting that things happened for a reason and I stopped being stuck in the past.”

Wanda has learned a few valuable lessons on her life’s journey so far.

“I know my dad was a good person, so I have learnt that good people can do bad things. I wonder if we all have a breaking point of some sort that when it is reached, we can lose control of ourselves, become something we despise and do things that in normal circumstances we wouldn’t do.”

“I choose to remember my dad for all the love he showed me throughout my life and forgive him for his final mistake. I know that he did it, but that was not who he really was.”

“I now choose to look at people as good in essence. We are all perfect souls trying to navigate the shortfalls we have as humans.”

Wanda is a Leaders’ Quest participant.

*Dagga – cannabis.

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