I Am Enough
Selemela Makhetha has experienced violence, prejudice and major losses, but it hasn’t changed her perspective of herself - that she is enough as she is, and she will be OK.
Selemela (17) was born in Lesotho but at the age of two, she left her parents’ home and started living with her grandmother in Langa.
“At the time I was born, I was my parents’ only child. I didn’t have any siblings. I don’t really know why my grandmother took me in, but she says that she wanted me to have more opportunities in Cape Town since there are fewer opportunities in Lesotho. My grandmother’s home is where I grew up and I still live there.”
Selemela’s grandmother was her primary caregiver since she never had any contact with her own parents.
“My mom and dad stayed in Lesotho. They never visited me. I don’t know why. They never called or wrote. I often wondered why and whenever I asked my grandmother about it, she would say I should just focus on what I have now, rather than digging up the past. I just needed to accept my reality.”
However, Selemela felt like she missed out on not having her parents in her life.
“At school, I always heard other kids talk about their parents and I also wanted to talk about my parents. I went home to tell my grandmother about how I felt and she would say that my parents are not here and I should not tell her things that don’t matter because she is only my grandmother. I would often cry, feel lonely and unheard.”
Despite these feelings and some disagreements, Selemela describes her relationship with her grandmother as good.
“I appreciate the relationship I have with my grandmother. We get along well even though sometimes we do have our fights.”
When she was nine years old, Selemela received news about her mother, which saw her travelling to her place of birth in Lesotho for the first time.
“My grandmother told me that my mother had been in hospital and that she had passed away. I actually didn’t feel anything because I didn’t know her. My grandmother and I travelled to Lesotho for the funeral. It was so different, I wasn’t happy to be there. It was difficult for me to adapt to being in a rural area. I met my grandmother’s mother, my uncles, my cousins and my dad.”
Selemela felt indifferent towards her father.
“I didn’t even look at him as my dad. It was more like he was just another person that I met. It took me some time to realise that he was my father. He looked happy to meet me, but we hardly talked because I felt really uncomfortable. Whenever he called me to talk, I would run away and go someplace else because I was not used to him. I don’t really talk to people that I’m not used to.”
“At the time I thought if he cared he would’ve contacted me, but he didn’t. So, why should we engage now? There is nothing I need to know from him!”
While Selemela had a chance to meet her father, she never had the opportunity to meet her mother.
“Whenever I asked family for a picture of my mother, they would say that the house in which her pictures were kept, burnt down. I’ve never seen my mother though people say that I look like her. I did not even see her at her funeral.”
Selemela returned to Cape Town and life continued as normal.
“When I was 12, I noticed my sexuality for the first time. I saw boys just as my friends and nothing more. At school, I was told that I’m stupid because I was hanging out with boys more than girls. I didn’t take that as bullying and I didn’t feel discouraged. I didn’t care what anyone had to say at that time.”
“Whenever I saw a girl that I liked I would think that I want to marry that girl, but I didn’t think that it would be possible. I honestly didn’t know what it meant because I always saw a boy and girl together. I never saw two girls being in a relationship.”
“I began thinking about myself as special and different and I felt really happy about that. I told my school friends that I liked girls. My best friend told me that I was crazy and that it was just a temporary feeling and that it will go away.”
When Selemela started high school she became aware that there were others with the same sexual orientation as she had.
“During my first year of high school, I realized that some girls were like me. I realized that I’m not crazy. However, even with the realisation that there were others who identified with my sexual orientation, my life became difficult.”
“I began being discriminated against because of my sexuality. Many people didn’t want to interact with me. They would say, ‘don’t go close to her because what she has will just spread’. I hardly had any friends, I had regrets about who I was. I even tried forcing myself to change and interact more with girls rather than boys, but it didn’t work. During that time, I really hated myself. I only told my best friend and he would say that I shouldn’t focus on what others were saying about me.”
Her family did not know about her sexual orientation and Selemela didn’t know how to begin to talk about it with them.
“I was scared to tell my family I’m like this. Whenever we watched a TV show and a gay couple appears they would say that gay people are demonic and then I told myself I am not going to tell them because they will never accept me.”
Selemela’s sense of safety became uncertain at school.
“In Grade 9, when I was 15, my sexual orientation led to boys from Grade 12 at my school following me home. It made me really scared. They would shout that my day is coming and I tried to figure out which day is this. I told my best friend about it since he is also a boy, and asked him what it means when boys say your day is coming. He just said I should be careful and watch out. He said that he didn’t know what those words meant.”
The group of boys followed Selemela home for a week.
“Then one day a different group of boys came when I was walking alone going to school. There was no one on the road. To get to my school, there are many corners which take you down passages. That day I was really scared. Then one of them came in front of me and said that this is the day our friends told you is coming. Now, it’s here. I became even more scared, I didn’t even reply. That’s when they raped me, right in the passage. It was so hard to fight back and when I tried to scream, they closed my mouth. There were four of them.”
After the attack, Selemela picked herself up and went home.
“I didn’t go to school that day, I just went back home. There was no-one at home and I cried. I even thought of killing myself. That was my first thought. Then I thought that I would drop out of school but I thought that would raise too many questions and so I kept quiet about it. I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I felt like everyone would say it’s my fault, people are so judgmental. They would probably blame me.”
The next day Selemela went to school.
“The same boys who started following me home passed by me at school and they just laughed and walked past.”
A week after the rape, she told her best friend who in turn notified Selemela’s teacher that she was going through difficulty and the teacher began checking in on Selemela’s well-being on a daily basis.
“I realized that people do care. It gave me the confidence to continue going to school and face those boys every single day. They would look at me and I would smile, thinking to myself; you are all probably shocked that I’m still standing.”
The group of boys never followed her home again.
“One day one of them came up to me and asked; ‘Aren’t you supposed to be dead by now? Why haven’t you killed yourself?’ I answered him and said; ‘I always take experiences as life lessons.’ He just turned and walked away. After that, they just ignored me. Inside, I was still terrified and broken, but I managed to still cope.”
“After a year, I began feeling a bit more at ease and I fell in love. I was happy that finally, I could be myself without being afraid that something is going to happen. I told her what happened to me. She had also been raped and she had a daughter as a result. I could open up fully with her. We knew how each other felt because we had both been there.”
Selemela recalls that she had another close brush with sexual violence as a result of her relationship. She was at her girlfriend’s home at the time when someone came into the house looking for her girlfriend.
“I said to him that my girlfriend went out. He then started making comments that it’s an insult to guys that I’m lesbian and that I’m too beautiful to be lesbian. He wanted to touch me and that’s when I screamed. I didn’t want the same thing to happen again. My girlfriend’s cousin came running into the house after he heard my scream and I told him what the guy was trying to do. Then the guy apologized and said that he won’t do that again.”
Selemela kept being supported by her best friend and her girlfriend to navigate an unfriendly and unsafe world. They were both her confidantes and support system. But what was about to happen was unimaginable to her.
“I was at a street party with my best friend and he was stabbed to death. Gangsters had mistaken him for someone else. I saw him die slowly. I screamed and I tried to stop the blood, but it was too late. I begged him to wake up, he died in my arms. He was only 18 years old. I felt like a piece was taken away from me. He was one of the few people who had really understood me.”
“As time went by, I accepted that he was gone because he always told me that I should always accept matters as they are and that death is one of those matters. After his funeral, everything was so different. For a long time, I had this fantasy that it was all a mistake and that one day he would just visit and we would talk.”
Little did Selemela know at the time, that she would suffer another blow in the same month that her best friend passed away.
“My girlfriend was ill with Lupus and she had become quite weak. She began asking me to treat her daughter as my own. She also insisted on introducing me to her mother.”
“Her mother was so welcoming. She was just waiting for her daughter to say I’m her girlfriend, but she already knew.”
On the day her girlfriend passed, Selemela had bought her friend some pain relief pills and promised to visit her again in the evening after completing chores and homework.
“When I got to her house everyone was standing outside and I was wondering what was going on. I asked her mother what was going on and her mother said that she had passed away. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand why everything was happening all at once.”
Selemela has kept her promise to her girlfriend and has remained in her daughter’s life.
“I always check up on her and have her stay at my house. I let her stay over a lot because I can see that she is lonely. We have a good relationship and my family accepts her. I’m doing a good thing because I feel like her mother’s last wishes are being respected.”
Selemela is still processing the loss of her best friend and her girlfriend.
“I feel alone in many ways. I am without my best friend and my girlfriend. I feel like no-one can replace them in my life. I don’t have anyone to talk to because they were the only ones I trusted. I miss them a lot. I wish I could turn back the clock but that’s impossible.”
Though her life has been tough in some parts Selemela is hopeful.
“People and life can be cruel, however, you need to believe that somehow at the end, things will make sense. You need to trust that every experience happens for a reason, it happens to teach you something. I am choosing to embrace two journeys in my life: the work of acceptance and the work of self-love … because I know that I am enough and I will be OK at the end.”
Selemela is a Leaders’ Quest participant.