There Is Light After Dark
A succession of personal losses derailed Musa Ngcobo’s life, leading to serious depression and suicide attempts.
Musa (26) was born in Cape Town and grew up in Khayelitsha. He is the youngest of six and they all lived with both parents - mom and dad - under one roof.
“The eight of us lived in an RDP* house that my father extended, to accommodate all of us. Both my parents worked until I was 7 years old. At that time my mom stopped working and my father became the only breadwinner. Overall, our life was good.”
From an early age, Musa’s life has been marked with tragedies.
“I was eight years old at the time. My second oldest brother complained of a headache, drank a grandpa* and went to sleep. He was the first to go to sleep in the house that day. The next day everyone woke up to go to school. Our parents got up early for work and had already left. My older brother and second oldest brother shared a room at the time. My oldest brother tried to wake him up but couldn’t.”
Musa was too young to comprehend the sudden loss of his brother, and it affected him in a way he found difficult to express as a child.
“At that time, I didn’t know what was happening. I was still confused because I was still young. My siblings called my mother to come home from work and I overheard the conversation. Then I knew that my brother had died in his sleep.
“Everyone in the family was in shock. It was quite a heavy burden for me as a child. The brother who passed away was always the one who protected me, no matter what was happening. We had a special bond. For those months after he passed, I wasn’t doing well at school because I was angry at his death and no one followed up with me about how I felt. I guess we all were struggling to make meaning of the loss and we dealt with it, not as a family, but individually.”
Four years later, Musa’s family was faced with another blow.
“I was 13 years old and my dad had a stroke. He had been sick before and this was the second stroke. The first one was a light stroke, but this one killed him. That was a very difficult time for me and my family.”
“You know, when you see your hero and role model die… it broke me. It killed me inside, slowly but surely, even though I was trying to be strong. I am his look-alike. People say I remind them of him. He was the one teaching me everything, like how to fold a tie and how to tie my laces. He was always motivating me and telling me to be neat. I was too close to him. He was the kind of person who would make sure I had everything that I needed. He was the family protector and made sure our home felt warm. He was tough, he liked discipline, but he was also fun, and made a lot of jokes.”
Musa’s father was the only breadwinner, leaving the family in a financial predicament.
“My mother did go back to work when my dad died, but she got retrenched after one-year. After that, we survived on debt and small loans of cash from my older sister who was working as a cashier at the bank. By then, my oldest brother and oldest sister had moved out and they provided us with money, but it wasn’t enough to cover the bills. It was tough to see my mom in debt. Some nights we didn’t have food. She made sure that even if she didn’t eat, us children would eat. Sometimes we would have to borrow money for electricity and that’s where the debt mainly came from. She would borrow money from loan sharks*.
“My mom was too proud to ask other family members for help and would instead make a plan. Our home situation made me grow up fast. While I was still young, I could not stop thinking about how I could bring money home. One thing I am proud of though is that I have never robbed to get money.”
Musa had the dream of studying further after finishing high school. Without his family’s knowledge, he applied to study at the University of the Western Cape. His application was successful.
“I never told my family that I was accepted because I was worried that they could not afford to pay the fees. At the time, I thought that I could find a job to pay for my studies. But I couldn’t and instead, I took up a learnership. The learnership was in entrepreneurship and I learned how to draw up a business plan and to do proper market research. I did it for a year. During this time, I was getting paid a stipend and I could finally contribute to the household’s expenses. I felt less of a burden because I was able to help my mom.”
Unfortunately, Musa’s financial duties increased unexpectedly when he became a father.
“I became a father at 21 years of age. My girlfriend was 20. Neither of us expected her pregnancy. I was shocked but at the same time happy since it's a blessing to have a child. With my stipend, I was supporting my mother’s house, my son and my girlfriend who was living at her parents’ home. I didn’t immediately tell my mom about my girlfriend’s pregnancy but she suspected it and asked me one day if my girlfriend was pregnant. I said, ‘yes’. My mom was happy that at least I was taking responsibility.”
“I can’t say that it was easy. All my money went to support others and I ended up with nothing. I was unable to buy a pair of socks for myself or join other young people in doing things after work.”
Things began looking up for Musa financially, when he secured a job at an insurance company. When Musa got the job, he recalls his mother’s happiness. He remembers her smiling and hugging him.
“I was proud and I knew that I could finally change things at home with my salary. I could give some peace of mind to my mom. She had been sick for the past month. In and out of the hospital without finding a proper solution to her health. I knew this had cheered her up.
“I decided that the news deserved a special celebration and I went out with friends that night. I was walking back home late in the evening when a group of local guys robbed me and stabbed me twice in my back.
“I managed to escape and while I was running away and screaming, I tripped over the pavement and broke my ankle. By the time I fell, I was close to where some of my friends lived. The group of guys who attacked me knew that and turned away, leaving me alone. I managed to hop to my friends’ house and they took me to hospital.
“My brother came to fetch me from the hospital, but I could see on my older brother's face that something was not ok. He was extremely quiet and in his eyes, I saw sadness. In a split second, without him saying a word, I felt a deep sorrow inside of me. The thought in my mind was that my mom had not been feeling well lately and something must have happened to her.
“When we arrived home, I already knew that my mom was no more. I tried to be strong and I tried not to cry but I couldn’t. She had died at the age of 59 years of pneumonia.
“When the funeral happened, people were surprised at how strong I was, but I was not strong. Deep down I was cracking. I can say that I didn’t know how I was feeling - whether I was angry or sad. It was like a total emotional turmoil ending in a shutdown. I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘I was trying to make her happy by all means. Why would she have given up now? Why would she have left me? I felt God was unfair.”
Musa’s personal losses began to take an emotional toll on him.
“I never realised that all of the losses in my life were having an impact on me. I felt like I was cursed. I started drinking a lot. I was 23 years old at the time. I think I was drinking because I was angry and trying to forget things. I didn’t sleep well either. I couldn’t wait for the weekend to arrive so that I could drink.
“I only drank on the weekends, starting from Friday to Sunday. Even in my relationship, I was not treating my girlfriend the way I used to. I ignored her complaints about my behaviour.
“Time went on and I was promoted at work to branch administrator. I earned good money and I extended my mom’s house and I bought new furniture for the house. I wanted to support my siblings and their children who were still staying at home.
“I also bought a car and, together with my girlfriend and son, we rented a place to live as a family. We lived together but I was distant and not sharing things with her. She was closing every financial gap that was occurring. Sometimes she paid the rent because my performance at work was not great and so my commission on top of my basic salary wasn’t good.
“After a few months, I woke up one day and my legs weren’t working. When I tried to get up from bed, I was not feeling anything in my legs. They were numb. I hit my legs but couldn’t feel anything. I was lost, because hours earlier I was walking. I was asking myself so many questions about why this was happening to me. A similar thing happened to my sister before. She stopped feeling in her legs and spent a month in hospital. They did so many tests to determine the problem but they didn’t find the reason. They said it was stress-related at the time.
“My girlfriend called my sisters and they took me to the hospital. In the hospital they ran tests but couldn’t find what the problem was. The doctor referred me to a specialist at Tygerberg hospital. I stayed there for three weeks and they couldn’t find the problem. My family came to visit me in hospital every day.
“I tried to convince myself that I am going to walk again. I started moving my toes then began to move my legs. After three weeks, I was able to walk again with crutches but I had a lot of pain in my back and legs.”
While Musa was physically recovering at home, the pressure of his negative thoughts and of earning money to sustain his family was overwhelming.
“At this stage, I was tired. I began wondering if there was a point to my life because negative things would continuously happen. I could see people around me and I could talk to them but my mind was not present.
“Even though the doctors said I must have a two-month break; my employer didn’t agree with that. My employer told me that I had two options: unpaid sick leave for that period or come back to work.
“I went back to work. But I was unable to cope, I would get angry at everything. I also realised that I was not getting paid enough money since I was no longer able to pay the bills. I would end up with nothing after recurrent bills were paid at the beginning of the month. I resigned. I had a car and joined Taxify.
“But I couldn’t cope with Taxify because my legs were not fit to drive the whole day. This had a terrible impact on our finances and my girlfriend, who is a teacher, covered what I couldn’t.
“The way I was raised was that I, as the man, was supposed to be the provider. So, to me, not being able to cover all the bills were making me feel even worse.
The straw that broke the camel's back happened late one night.
“I was driving my car in the evening and at a stop street, two guys opened the car doors, since my car was not locked. They pointed a gun to my head, pulled me out of the car and threw me into the street. I am not sure if they knew how to drive the car, but they abandoned the car further down the street.”
Musa’s wallet and car keys were stolen. Even though it was the early hours of the morning, he decided to walk to his girlfriend’s family home since she was sleeping there that night. She had the spare keys to the car. Once he retrieved the spare car keys, he made his way back to his car and then drove home.
“I called my girlfriend, and she sensed that there was something that I was going to do. I was telling her that I loved her and my son. She kept asking, ‘what are you saying Musa?’ I just hung up the phone. Then I drank the pills I was given for the pain in my legs and back. I drank more than 30 pills.
“I just felt like I was really tired of my life. Like there was nothing that could ever go well. I just wanted to end it. I was dead inside. Then I passed out. I didn’t even know what happened because I just woke up in the hospital.
“My girlfriend came to our place in a taxi after the call. She found me laying in bed. She tried to wake me up but couldn’t. She asked the people who we were renting from to help and they took me to the hospital. They drained all the pills and that same day I was discharged. The hospital gave me a referral letter to see a psychologist but I never did. By that time, I didn’t feel like speaking to anyone about anything.
“My girlfriend was angry with me because I wanted to kill myself and leave her. I didn’t care about anything and the depression took its toll. Depression is like hell. It is like being in the dark. You have that dark anger in you and you can’t see the good things that people are doing around you or any good things that are happening. I continued to have negative thoughts and feeling hopeless.
“It took one month before my second suicide attempt. I drank 15 *grandpa’s because I thought they were strong, so it would have a quick effect, but it just made me fall asleep. I wrote my girlfriend a message and told her my goodbyes. After many hours, I awoke from a deep sleep.”
Musa moved back to the house he grew up in, believing that the move would ease the financial burden he and his girlfriend were under.
“After two failed suicide attempts, I tried to convince myself to be positive. I began looking for a driver for my car so that I could still earn money with Taxify but I couldn’t find a driver. I thought to myself, ‘even this small thing - finding a driver - I can’t do’. I couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t take it any longer and I tried to end my life again.”
Musa tried to commit suicide for the third time, by slitting his wrists with a knife.
“I was at home and my 12-year-old niece found me bleeding in the bed. She called my older brother to help. I ended up in hospital once again.”
After Musa’s third suicide attempt, his girlfriend distanced herself from him.
“She could not cope. She lost so much weight.”
Musa survived but tried once more to end his life with a plan to hang himself.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about ending my life. I was certain that was the only way for my problems and pain to go away. I planned that when I would arrive home I would hang myself. I don’t know what happened this time, but there was the image of my girlfriend and my son in my mind. I just realised that what I was doing to them was not fair. I had not cried since my mom’s passing and now I was finally crying again.
“My brothers consoled and encouraged me. They told me that they would be there for me and also committed to helping me to resolve my financial problems.”
“I became determined to train my mind to focus on the positive. My son keeps me going. I lost my father, so why would I do that to my son? I know my thoughts manifest things in life. I now put a lot of care in manifesting positivity in my life. I found a driver for the car.”
“I also decided to scan my life for harmful things. I stopped being on social media because it was not good for me. I stopped drinking. And I am paying extra attention to my thoughts. Every time I have negative thoughts, I repeat affirmations to myself. I also put energy in to building myself and decided to gain a new skill – coding – that can move me forward in life. I am able to maintain myself due to the passive income I am generating with Taxify, other odd jobs, and the support of my family. I am in a good space now and I have begun therapy to deal with my losses.”
When asked for his final remarks, Musa concluded: “There are many things I have learnt in my short life, but the two closest to my heart are: 1) Don’t bottle things inside you. Share with others the pain that you are feeling because the more you bottle up, the more it will grow. And one day, it might take control in a way that will harm you and others. 2) No matter what, there is light after dark. It doesn’t matter if you struggle for 20 years. If you keep going, you will have a breakthrough. I am living proof of that.”
Musa is a Life Choices Academy student.
*Loan shark – a moneylender who charges extremely high rates of interest, typically under illegal conditions.
*Grandpa - headache powder.