THE POWER OF STORY TELLING
At 17, Yamkela Nkinqa wrote a play that she performed at an Art Festival in Stellenbosch last year. She tells us how performing helped her find peace from a childhood of abuse and abandonment.
Yamkela was born in Crossroads and she became the third born to an already shattered family. Her father was employed but spent all his money on alcohol and left her mother to support the family with the earnings she made at a shebeen* situated at the front of their house.
“I remember my father got paid on a Friday and we wouldn’t see him until Sunday. There were days that he came home over the weekend, but that was mainly in the middle of the night when he would stumble inside and fight with my mother when he wanted more money for alcohol – I would be woken up by the arguments.”
Five at the time, Yamkela would often find hiding places around the house so that she wouldn’t be found.
“I felt silenced as a child, I was beaten and told to shut up so much, that I believed that my voice didn’t matter.”
The violence in the home had a dreadful effect on the entire family, but Yamkela was often protected by her older brother who, 11 at the time, would shield her from the beatings and often get the worst for himself. “I really admired my brother for his strength, he really taught and showed me what courage is. He stood up to my dad and it showed me that there are good people in the world.”
The moment that would change the trajectory of Yamekela’s life was a Friday afternoon, this day her father beat her mother once again.
“Normally I would just play inside the house but this day I decided to play outside – today I am very grateful that I did – I was kneeling and drawing on the dusty gravelled road with a stone when my sister shouted for me to come home. I remember my sister gripping my shoulder hard and telling me not to cry.”
When Yamkela walked inside the house, the normally clean home had broken glass on the floor, pillows and torn slashes in the furniture, all surrounded by spattered blood on the ground and walls. She said that she looked up and saw her mom standing with a knife in hand. “My mom was covered in blood by the wounds caused by my dad, but in an act of rage she had stabbed him back. The neighbors called an ambulance and my dad was brought to the hospital.”
Yamkela’s dad survived and threatened the family saying that he would kill them all when he healed.
At that point, Yamkela’s aunt took her in to raise her as her own. She was 12 and would never see her father again and stopped seeing her mom and siblings for the next three years. “I felt completely abandoned, those three years were terrible, no one would tell me where my mom was, I thought my dad killed her and I had nightmares often about it.”
She would later find out that her mom became a Sangoma* and moved to live in the Eastern Cape after divorcing her father. Her older sister had fallen pregnant at the age of 16 and her brother became addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Miraculously, Yamkela says that out of all that darkness she has found peace and has learned more about herself. “I used to think I was weak because I was always put down by others and I was told that what I have to say doesn’t matter – but through it all I have found out that I am a strong person.”
Yamkela says that her life came full circle when a story she wrote at the age of 16, about a girl facing abuse was made into a play, and was performed at an arts festival in Stellenbosch last year.
“I was part of a drama group at school and I gave my written story to them. They adapted the story to a play and I played the main character. The girl I played was me, when I cried in the play those were real tears. It was me releasing my pain and opening the door to my future.”
Hearing the applause was the most cathartic moment of Yamekela’s life, she called it a moment of closure. “In that moment I breathed out every negative thought and experience I was holding on to and felt the most whole and free in my life.”
In closing Yamkela says, “to share my story helped me heal. At first I was the main character of the story and I could feel all the emotions very strongly, but as the story unfold, I started to feel I was no longer the story but the story teller. Each time I shared my story the negative emotions got weaker and weaker and I was empowered to face my future in a more positive way. Everyone should share their stories as a way to heal.”
Yamkela is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices