Monalisa Mcatshelwa’s (16) life has been marked by loss and constant change, but she has learned to forgive and to get out while there’s still time.
“I was told that I was born in Cape Town. I lived in Samora with my aunt, her son and her daughter. I lived with them until I was two years old and then I was moved to the Eastern Cape. I don’t really remember anything about that time because I was so young.”
Monalisa lived with her grandmother and her girl cousin, who was seven years older than her, in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape.
“It was just us in the house. My grandmother’s job was to clean the church. Our situation was good because my father would send money for my care. We never suffered. I lived there up until I was five years old. I never went to school because I was with my grandmother all the time. I didn’t know where my mother was.”
“Growing up in those early years I thought my grandmother was my mother. Later, my family told me that my mother was in Cape Town working, but she had never made contact with me. I was fine with that because my maternal grandmother treated me like I was her daughter.”
“When my grandmother went to work I went to work with her. Living there were some of my happiest memories.”
When Monalisa was five years old, tragedy struck.
“My cousin and I slept in one room together and my grandmother slept in the other room. One day, my cousin woke up as usual in the morning to go to school, while I stayed in bed. When I woke up, I went to the kitchen and I found my grandmother laying on the floor.”
“I tried to wake her up but she wouldn’t wake up. I went to call for help from the other grandmother because usually in the Eastern Cape we have many family houses and so I went to another family house and told them everything. I wasn’t crying, I just felt lost because I didn’t know what was happening.”
“They told me to remain behind while they went to my grandmother’s house. Afterwards, they came to fetch me but they didn’t explain anything to me. When I was got back to my grandmother’s house I could see that my grandmother was no longer there. But at the time, I just thought that they had taken her somewhere. I didn’t know where but I didn’t think that she was dead. By then my cousin was back home from school.”
That night Monalisa and her cousin didn’t sleep at their grandmother’s house.
“I remember sleeping with my cousin in another house and she was crying and other people there were also crying. Every time I asked what was happening, no one answered me. We stayed in that house for a week. We bought new dresses for the funeral but still, no one explained to me why the new dresses. I still didn’t think she was dead. I just hoped that she would be back. At the time, I just thought that maybe my grandmother found a new job and that she would come back with some food. I was too young to understand.”
“After a week, it was time for my grandmother’s funeral and that’s when I found out that she was dead. When I looked at her body in the coffin I started crying. At first, I thought she was sleeping but when I called her, she didn’t answer me. That’s when I started crying.”
“As the funeral proceeded, reality sank in because when the coffin was lowered into the ground, I accepted that she was no more. After the funeral, my family told me that I was never going to see my grandmother again and that my father was coming to fetch me.”
“I had never met my dad before. I had only spoken to him over the phone but I’d never met him. He phoned me a lot. I loved talking to him because he would promise a lot of things like he was going to come to visit and buy me clothes. He arrived the next day. That’s when I started getting scared because I realised then that I didn’t want to go to Cape Town. I felt like my life was in the Eastern Cape and that I was leaving my cousin behind, who was like a sister to me. But my father told me that he was going to take me to live with him and that I’m going to see the beach. What made me happy about the trip was that he had a car. Back then he was a manager at an Engen garage. Now he is working at another company but I’m not sure what his role is there.”
When Monalisa arrived at her father’s home in Samora, it was a different world!
“We arrived in Samora which was a very different place to where I’d lived in King Williams Town, in the small rural village called Mxaxo. The houses in Samora were different and everything was so different from where I had come from. I felt like the houses were too close to each other.”
Monalisa began a new life with her father and his family in Samora in Cape Town.
“We lived in a house. I lived with my father’s wife and her son who was the same age as me. It was not a nice time in my life because I wasn’t happy living there. My stepmother showed me from the beginning that she hated me. She always shouted at me but never shouted at her son. She would beat me once in a while, but I would tell my father about it and then they would have physical fights. My father told her that she must leave me alone, but she would find other ways to hurt me. She would tell me often that she doesn’t know why I’m in her house when my mother hates me, and why should she love me!”
“I started school in Samora at the same school her son went to. My relationship with my dad was good because sometimes we would go out just the two of us and visit the mall or my father’s family. I never told my father the cruel things my stepmother told me because she had told me that I was destroying their marriage, and that was definitely not my intention.”
“Despite it all, my grades were fine and I was one of the top achievers at school. I didn’t make friends easily at school though. I didn’t want them to meet my horrible stepmother when they came home to play with me. During break time I would eat my lunch alone in the class and then after school I would go straight home. In a way, I would ignore people if they tried to make friends with me.”
When Monalisa was seven years old she met her older sister for the first time.
“I was seven at the time and my sister was 19 years old. She is from my father’s previous relationship. My father introduced the two of us. That was the day we went to fetch her to come and live with us. I don’t know why she came to live with us except that she wasn’t working and she was no longer at school.”
“She was nice to me. It was great to have my sister in the house because now I had someone to fight my battles with me because the tension between my stepmother continued. My stepmother would try and say nasty things to my sister but my sister could defend herself. They fought a lot, sometimes they physically fought.”
Monalisa found out that her older sister was not her only sibling.
“Ndibulela was my father’s firstborn, the second born was Siviwe who was three years younger than her, then there is Lindi who is one year younger than Siviwe and then it’s me. Siviwe and Lindi were living with their mothers in George. I only met them once when they came to Samora to visit us. I was happy because I now knew I had a brother and sisters. But unfortunately, I only met them once because their mothers refused for them to visit us regularly.”
Things were to change after Monalisa’s eldest sister met her boyfriend.
“We used to visit my uncle (my dad’s brother) during school holidays. He lived in Worcester and we used to have a lot of fun with my cousins. My sister began dating someone from there and she fell pregnant when she was about to turn 21. She decided to move to Worcester because she wanted to be close to the father of the baby.”
“She moved to stay at my uncle’s house. When she moved out, I also decided to move to my aunt. She was the same aunt I had stayed with when I was little. My dad was fine with me moving. Living with my aunt was fun and she was welcoming. It was a relief because I no longer had to live with my stepmother and also my dad would visit me regularly.”
When Monalisa’s sister was about to give birth she returned to Samora.
“When my sister was about to give birth she moved back to Samora because she wanted to give birth with my father present. I also moved back home because I wanted to be around her, I missed her a lot. My sister and I lived in my dad’s house for a few weeks. She gave birth to a boy in November and when she went back to Worcester, I went back to my aunt.”
Monalisa decided to visit her sister and her new nephew in March.
“I really missed them during the March holidays so I asked my dad to visit them in Worcester. When I arrived there, I could sense my sister was different. When I asked her how she was doing she would change the topic, and ask about me how I was instead.”
“Her face was bruised and when I asked her about it, she said that it was nothing… until one time I visited her at her boyfriend’s house. By then she was living with her boyfriend and the baby. It was just them in the house. Her boyfriend was three years older than her. He was working and my sister was taking care of the child.”
It was a day that Monalisa would never forget.
“I was 11 years old at the time. They lived in a two-roomed house and I was sitting with their baby watching TV. I heard a noise coming from their bedroom. My sister and boyfriend were arguing. I didn’t know what they were arguing about. I just raised the volume of the TV because they were making a noise. I wasn’t worried because I never thought that anything would happen to her. The noises became louder than the TV. Then I decided to go and check what was happening. I opened the door and found the boyfriend on top of my sister and he was beating her. She was bleeding and screaming. I never said anything. I was in shock. I froze.”
“Then I think my sister lost consciousness, she was no longer screaming. That is when he got scared. He immediately stood up and eventually looked at me. I had nothing to say. I don’t even know how I felt because I was still frozen. He grabbed his phone. There was a lot of blood coming from my sister’s head. He made a call to his friends. He said that he needed a car. I was just standing there. I still couldn’t move. He picked me up and put me on the couch. He told me everything is going to be fine and I must take the baby home with me.”
“I took the baby back to my uncle’s place. What was going through my mind was that my sister was dead. I didn’t have words to confront my sister’s boyfriend about it. I was numb, everything felt like unreal.”
“I explained everything to my uncle’s wife but I was still not crying. She screamed and cried and told me to remain behind and that she was going somewhere. My uncle was at work at the time.”
“What I came to know is that my aunt went to the police station first and then to the hospital because by then the boyfriend’s friends had apparently taken my sister to the hospital.”
“While I was waiting at home with the baby I developed this hatred towards the boyfriend. I felt like I was not there to protect my sister. I thought that maybe, if at the moment when I had opened the door, if I had said something, then he would have stopped. Those were the thoughts going through my head.”
“When my aunt came back home at night, she told me that my sister was no more. I was still, emotionless, in disbelief at what had happened.”
“When my uncle came back from work, my aunt told him what had happened and they called my father. My aunt and uncle did not explain to my dad what happened, only that he should come to Worcester.”
“He arrived in the morning and that’s when they told him. My father broke down, he cried. I was still not crying. We left Worcester the next day to go back to Samora but this time my father, the baby and I lived in our own place. Maybe my father felt like my stepmother would do something to the baby. When I went to school my father was working from home. He worked on his laptop but I didn’t know what he was doing. He took care of the baby during the day. He never divorced his wife and he would visit her twice a week. She never came to our place and he never slept there. It was okay! It was a simple way of living, just the three of us. I was happy with our living arrangement. My father and I never spoke about what had happened to my sister.”
Monalisa heard about the fate of her sister’s boyfriend; “We heard that he got arrested and he was stabbed to death while he was an awaiting trial prisoner.”
“Me, my dad and the baby lived together for three years. I was close to the baby, he called me mother. I didn’t tell him that I was not his mother at that time, but he knows now.”
Meanwhile, Monalisa’s mother came looking for her.
“It was a surprise. She told me that things were not going her way because she had abandoned me. To be honest, I even forgot over the years that I had a mother. However, when she showed up, it triggered me because I asked; ‘Where have you been?’”
“She explained that she never lived with me because she was not able to take care of me. She asked for forgiveness. She was working at the time as a petrol attendant. I moved in with her, I didn’t want to but I went to live with her because she begged me to.”
“I felt like I was living with a stranger. We lived alone. She tried to have a relationship with me but I just gave her the cold shoulder because I was still angry with her. We have been living together for the past three years.”
“After one year of staying together, I decided to truly forgive her. I asked myself how long I would be angry with her. What am I gaining by being angry? She did what she did, and I felt how I felt, so it was time to move on. It felt like a big burden was removed when I forgave her. I can’t say that we are close but our relationship is fine. We get on with each other. I’m still her only child. I decided to continue staying with my mother because I decided to give her another chance. I’m happy with that decision.”
“My father and I still see each other almost every day. My nephew moved to the Eastern Cape where he moved in with my father’s mother and I still see him during school holidays. After he and I moved out, my father went back to his wife. She started getting sick but I don’t know what the illness was. She ended up passing away and now my father is living alone.”
Monalisa has learned some important lessons in her life.
“Gender-based violence is an epidemic in South Africa. You should never settle for less than what you deserve - a partner who respects you and makes you feel safe. You are worth more than you think you are, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Sometimes people get abused in relationships and stay with the hope that the abusive partner will change. Get out! To wait for them to change is too risky for you.”
“I have learnt that true love begins with oneself. Would you allow someone to abuse the person you love the most? Would you advise the person you love to stay in an abusive relationship? So, why do you do it to yourself?”
“True love is kindness. Please don’t be fooled to believe that someone who abuses you (physically and verbally) loves you! Love yourself first, be kind to both of you and get out before it’s too late.”
Monalisa is a Leaders’ Quest participant.