A Second Chance
Malika Petersen (17) knows first-hand the devastating effects of drug abuse, having watched the decline of both her parents and being forced to fend for herself and her siblings.
Born in Cape Town, Malika grew up in Bonteheuwel and lived in a Wendy House* in the backyard of what had been her grandmother’s house.
“My uncle and his family stayed in the house and we stayed in the Wendy House at the back since I was born. It was a two-roomed Wendy house. Me and my three younger siblings (16, 12 and 9) slept in one room and my parents slept in the other room.”
“My parents were together until I was about eight years old. At that time, we were happy. Both my parents looked after us very nicely and we got what we needed. They did what they were supposed to do as parents.”
Malika acknowledges that being so young at the time, her perspective may have not been fully informed by the reality of how her parents made ends meet.
“The way my daddy provided for us was that he used to steal. He would take stuff that didn’t belong to him. He and his friends would go to places far away from Bonteheuwel to steal. He basically raised us with that money. He would take gold rings and smartphones and he would sell them to make money. Over the years he would go to jail several times for stealing.”
Malika’s father was also addicted to drugs. She recalls her father being abusive. In her memory of her childhood, things suddenly began taking a turn for the worse as her father spiralled out of control.
“He used to smoke drugs in the toilet, he was addicted. My dad is also a very short-tempered person. He used to hit us and the way he did it was very aggressive. He was like that with my mom, and he used to hit her. It was bad! There were times that my daddy would get so furious that my mom used to take us inside my uncle’s house and made us sleep there for the night to stay out of my daddy’s way. I also remember my brother who is light of complexion with green eyes being called a ‘moffie’* by my father. He would hit my brother with his fists like he was a grown man.”
Malika attributes her father’s rage towards her brother to the rumours that her brother was not her father’s biological son “because he looks different to us.”
“My dad used to throw that in my mother’s face because for a year she was married to someone else in the road before we were all born. The rumours were that my brother was that man’s child from the times when my daddy used to be away in jail.”
Malika’s father’s frequent imprisonment was a way of life for the family.
“There were times that we didn’t even know that my daddy was in jail. My mommy didn’t visit him because of the same mistakes he made over and over again. He would be away for a long time and then one day, just like that, he would arrive at home.”
Malika’s mother used to work as a cleaner but had to give up her job when Malika was in Grade 4 since she needed to take care of the children whenever Malika’s father was in prison. It was a difficult time for the family and her mother turned to one of her brothers for financial support to feed and clothe her children.
“My mother had a favourite brother, and he was very well-off. He took care of us as his own children. He was the one helping us. There were a few times when he bailed my daddy out of jail. Whenever we needed something, my uncle was there for us. He used to help us with everything like getting school clothes and food.”
But his support was cut short when he suddenly died of a heart attack.
“After that, that’s when things got out of hand,” Malika recalls.
Her mother began a new relationship during one of her father’s long stints in jail. In her new relationship, she began dabbling in drugs and the habit stuck.
“Things started changing. My mommy started selling things in the house to buy drugs. She sold our furniture, our kitchen equipment, our fridge and our stove. There was a time when only the dining room light would work, and the rest of the house was in darkness.”
In order to feed her children, her mother asked for help from her neighbours using letters she wrote to them. Malika and her siblings would deliver the letters to neighbours.
“Sometimes the neighbours would give and sometimes not. They would say, if you are hungry we will give you food but we won’t give you money. My uncle who lived in the house next door would also give us food.”
The relationship she had with her mother changed.
“It was like she was distant from us and we knew to stay out of her way. She wasn’t herself in that state. Before she started taking drugs, I had a very good mom. She would do our hair, bathe us and dress us. She was a very clean and neat person. She liked everything to be in its place. But most of the time she was also afraid because of my daddy’s temper, she couldn’t be who she was and she had to be who my daddy wanted her to be.”
Malika remembers pleading with her mother to change her ways and come back to her and her siblings as the mother they knew.
“My siblings and I used to cry a lot when we spoke to her to try and stop her from what she was doing, we would ask her to change her ways. But she never answered us. Her state of mind was just different to what it used to be.”
As her addiction intensified, her mother would leave Malika and her siblings alone at home overnight to spent time with her new boyfriend. It was something she did discreetly since Malika’s uncle did not approve of her new relationship.
“She would stay there the whole night, and this is something that she would do every night. In the morning for school, I was the one who had to make sure my siblings would wake up in time to get to school. There were times that we didn’t eat and we had to be like that for the entire day. We would go for several days without food. There was a time my school principal spoke to me about my situation, and he brought food for me and my siblings. Sometimes I would take my brother and sisters to my father’s family so that we could eat there.”
School wasn’t much easier for Malika either, she was bullied about her home life.
“When I reached Grade five, I was bullied and called names about my father being in and out of jail. Despite that and the unpredictable nature of my home life, I passed all my grades during this time and I never failed. I was 12 years old when my mommy left us for good.”
That’s when Malika and her siblings split up, each finding a way to survive.
“My aunt and uncle couldn’t take us in because they had their own children.”
“My sister after me is staying with strangers. She used to play with their grandchildren every day and that’s how she got to know them. My mommy agreed that she stay there but they wanted to do it the legal way, but my mommy never followed through. Ever since then my sister has been living there and she is well and happy.”
“My brother moved to one of my eldest sisters in Somerset West.”
“I went to stay by my neighbour. She knew our family and what was going on. She’s been good to me. She makes sure I go to school. We actually have a good relationship. She feeds me and clothes me.”
“My baby sister was with my mommy when we all split up. There was no choice for her. Wherever my mommy went she had to go with her.”
Malika lived with her neighbour for three years. But she faced another change when her father was released from jail.
“There were times he would fetch me and my youngest sister and we would sleepover at his place during the weekends. He used to stay with friends at the time. He had his own room and me and my sister would watch TV. We wouldn’t talk to him and we didn’t have a relationship with him, we were just there in his presence. For two months we did that. At the time he told me that he wanted to make a change in his life. I explained to him what happened to us while he was in jail. He told me that he wanted us all to be back together again.”
Malika’s father contracted an illness while in prison that made him eligible for a disability grant and with it, he was able to support Malika and her baby sister.
“He found a place for us, but my brother didn’t want to come back and my sister born after me is still happy where she is. She said she will come back after she finishes high school, so it’s me and my baby sister who are living with my dad in a Wendy House. On and off my father works at family businesses. He is more relaxed, and he has focused on making a change in his life. It’s been a while now and he is still humble. I can see that he is trying to do things differently. He still has an aggressive streak but it’s not to the extent of how he used to be. He doesn’t hit us and he stopped using drugs.”
“This living arrangement is like a second chance. We are happy and we are together. We can sleep well because we are fine. I still see my mommy every day because she stays on the same road. My mom and dad don’t get on at all, but I still visit her where she stays though she is still moving around. Me and my siblings get together once in a while and when we are together, we motivate each other.”
Malika is in Grade 12 and her father couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s almost like I’m his pot of gold, especially now that I’m in matric. He didn’t finish school and neither did my mother. I am the first person in the family to get to the end of high school.”
The unpredictability and uncertainty of her life has made Malika value stability.
“My main aim in life is to be able to provide stability to my loved ones. That is very important to me. I am going to bring my siblings together. I feel that they are still young and that I have to be there for them. I still love my mommy because she’s been with me when my daddy was away. I will help her if she needs it. I’m waiting for her because I can’t help her if she doesn’t want it.”
Malika is not bitter about her life.
“I know my parents love us and they did their best with what they had at the time. My life experiences made me who I am today and I am confident that I will be able to make better choices for me and my young siblings than my parents did. We can choose to learn from our parents’ mistakes and become finer versions of them.”
Malika is a Leaders’ Quest participant
*Wendy House – a wooden temporary accommodation normally erected in someone’s backyard.
*Moffie – a derogative term for a homosexual or a weak feminine man.