Story by Dumi Mbona
August is celebrated as the women’s month in South Africa, where women are recognized for their input into a healthy society and democracy. However the recent attacks on women has reminded us that we live in a patriarchal society. The voices of women are either shut or killed. This year presented South Africa with two types of Pandemics, the Covid 19 as well as the murder of women.
Young men are best taught through actions not words, they grow up in an environment that teaches them through actions that they are superior to their female counterparts.
A young woman found herself at the face and the center of such treatment in 2014.
Noluthando Mokhali is a 23 year old single mother from the West of Durban in KwaZulu Natal. She and her siblings grew up in a Children’s Home based in KwaNyuswa near Botha’s hill. The Children’s Home provided her the warmth, friendships, education and sense of family.
But everything changed in a heartbeat in one fateful day, Noluthando popularly known as “Mei” became an outcast. In her own words she tells the story:
I’m glad to get an opportunity to tell my story; I do not mind sharing my story because for the longest time I have been asking myself questions as to why was I the only one ejected from the Home because I was not alone when I got pregnant!
I was impregnated by a boy in the same Children’s Home where I was raised; they sent me away to another Home while he remained behind and continued his education while I was dealing with pregnancy and homelessness. I ended up at my friends place who lived in the house rented by the Children’s Home close by the Home.
When it was discovered that I was pregnant, they asked me who was the father, I told them. Then they told me to go see my social worker, I didn’t know that I was being sent away to another Home.
At the time I was very confused and lonely. This Home was different from my previous Children’s Home. The environment was unkind to a 7 month pregnant 17 year old girl in me. I decided to leave that Home.
I don’t know why they sent me there, I don’t know whether they were getting rid of me; no words to describe it. One of the volunteer Doctors at my previous Children’s Home told me that they didn’t have a problem with me. She said that my unborn baby was to be given away for adoption.
I called Bunolo my Sister’s daughter to come get me, we went to live in Thornwood in Marianhill. She didn’t know what to do with me; she was younger than me, and looked up to me but yet here I was, pregnant and without education. As a little girl herself it became too much for her. She lived with her step-father so the set up was just not right.
Back to the place where I was raped before.
I decided to leave that Home, I went to stay with my Aunt, however she was emotionally disconnected and unavailable for me. She was not happy with the fact that when I stayed with her before, I was raped and didn’t tell her but decided to disclose this to the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa.
I called my friend and asked if I could come and live with her? She gracefully agreed.
I gave birth while living with my friend Sane; she had to take care of me, using her pocket money she hired transportation for me to go to the hospital. When my water broke, my friend tried calling the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa to ask them to help, they were not interested.
Sane tells the story….
When Mei called me to request to stay with me, I told her to come through since I had my own place. I shared a cottage with her at the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa; and so we became close from then on.
At first I hid her, but eventually I thought let me notify the Home. Our peers from the Home visited more often to see the baby including the boy who impregnated Mei.
But before all of that, the Children’s Home did not want to help when Mei was about to give birth.
We took her to the clinic not far from our house; I spent the night there but had to go to school in the morning because I was writing exams. While at school I received a call saying Mei had given birth. I then organized transport to fetch her from the hospital.
My friends and I had made plans to purchase clothing for the baby; on my way to fetch her I met people from the Home; they accompanied me, then on our way back, they said we need to pass by the Children’s Home offices so they can see the baby. Upon arrival, the management requested to speak with Mei alone.
I thought everything was fine until police came knocking at my house asking for Mei and the child. I asked them why bring the law enforcement if you only want the baby? They asked me butt-out they are here for the baby not me.
I asked them if it was lawful to separate a baby at the mother’s breasts? I said to Mei don’t ever allow them to separate you from your baby; go wherever they send you, but not without your baby!
After they took her and the baby; they told me that my support had ended, I then packed my stuff as well and left. For me it felt like I was being punished for helping Noluthando and her baby.
Mei continues her story, Children’s Home reaching out…
While at hospital, I received calls from the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa, congratulating me, which was surprising given the fact that I had not heard from them in a while.
They bought some things for the baby, they were excited after seeing the baby.
I remember this one night, breastmilk was not coming out; we called the Children’s Home asking for assistance; one of the ladies in management and also a residential social worker brought us her breastmilk because she was breastfeeding as well.
Then the Management at Children’s Home came the next morning and accused me of not being stable since I phoned them in middle of the night asking for breastmilk. I told them I didn’t know what to do since the baby’s milk was not coming out.
A month later they came to my friend’s place with social workers and police and they said that they were here to take my child from me. They told Sane to decide whether she stays with me or lose her support from them.
I told them that I didn’t want to give my baby away to them, I’d rather go back to my aunt’s house.
From there we were separated with Sane; my baby and I were sent to another Home in Pinetown. I didn’t stay long there, I requested to go back to my aunt. I felt like I was being punished by God, I hated myself so much.
Out in the cold.
We then had a Whatsapp support group for girls from the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa; the girls encouraged me not to give away my child.
My aunt then sent us (me, Bunolo and Thabo) to a house which belonged to her in Newlands just outside of Durban. She said that she cannot stay with us anymore, because there’s too many of us and that we are grown ups.
It was tough for the 3 of us in Newlands because there were times when we had no food. It was was just the 3 of us with no adult person.
When I reached out to the boy who impregnated me and was still living at the Children’s Home in KwaNyuswa, I told him that they wanted to take the child away, he said I must give the Child to the Home, she will will be looked after very well. I decided not to because I heard rumors that my child may have been planned to be put up for adoption.
I wanted to complete school, then I decided to send my child to the boy’s mother. She was very abusive towards me since I had to stay there briefly. I received a call that Bunolo had committed suicide. After the funeral, the boy’s mother and I had a fight, she said mean things to me; calling me names and also accusing me for seducing her son; she blamed me for the pregnancy.
I packed my things and left the baby there, but then when I visited I found my baby not well looked after; there was alcohol abuse in the house, I felt defeated.
I took the hardest and most painful decision which was to take my child to another Children’s Home.
My baby was first taken to the very Children’s in KwaNyuswa, and later moved to another Home in Marianhill.
I tried to go back to school but it was very difficult. Then I started doing things such as alcohol abuse, I dated anyone who could give me a shelter for that night. I threw myself at anyone because I needed to feel loved.
Things take a turn for worse.
When Bunolo died that’s when things changed for me, I started smoking and drinking in order to forget everything, I wanted something to make me happy. I contemplated suicide many times.
I remember drinking at Havana, I met a friend who took me in to her house.
Oh I did horrible thing! I stayed for a long time at this friend’s place. decided to go to Joburg to another friend’s place. I came back again to take my child out of the Home.
My choices were so horrible!
I have dreams to become a journalist, but since I have a child, teaching is another option.
I regret my choices, but I guess this is my portion in life. My desire is to be better for my child. Life has been a traumatic experience for me, it has not given me break. I was club hopping, waiting for any man to take me home with him, so I can get some money.
Having a child and not being able to have shelter or support is very painful. I had lost contact with Sane, who has been my only friend and sister. When I had reconnected with her it was unbelievable! She called me back to come stay with her.
I trusted strangers (crying) for no reason. I don’t know what kept me safe in the hands of strangers. If I hadn’t met my friend Sane again, I would still be without shelter.
The taught patriarchy.
The government child support grant has been our lifeline. Even though her father is working but he has not been there for her.
When I tried to reconnect with him, he kept dictating on what I should and shouldn’t do, always pointing at my faults. At some stage he called me a prostitute! He has no right to call me names.
Getting pregnant at 17 while without a father and a mother has been the most painful thing for me (pauses), I made a mistake for getting pregnant at the Children’s Home and not finishing school, but the way I was treated after that was not fair. For what they did I would never forgive them. Up to the point of my pregnancy I was always in good behavior.
I felt lost, cursed, confused and sometimes insane. You end up asking so many questions without answers. Trying to figure a way out, not knowing what to and what not to do. Confused between the right and the wrong.
I feel that the Children’s Home should have been there for me, they should have given me an opportunity to have a say into the decisions taken about me. Instead they made me feel like a disgraceful dirt which brought shame to their name.
Were they that dissapointed at me?
As professional people they could have handled my situation better. Why was I the only one chased away from the Home when there were two of us in the act. Why did I suffer while the guy remained undisturbed?
They could have supported me through the pregnancy, because the guy was supported even after it was discovered that he impregnated me. I was one of their children, I grew up before them, for this one mistake then they decided to throw me out like a garbage bag.
They didn’t raise me enough.
The Children’s Home response……..
We reached out to the Children’s Home and this is what they had to say:
Tami and I took over the running of iKhethelo at the end of 2016. Unfortunately the situation that you are referring to took place well before we were actually here so we are unable to comment on exactly what happened, and exactly what decisions were made during this time and why those decisions were made.
Currently, since we have been running the village we are not supporting Mei, but I am not certain whether something was set up with DSD or Child Services to help support her and the child. Once a child leaves the village we no longer receive funds for them from DSD. I do however know that the father of the child is working and helping to provide for the child.
On the question about what plans are in place to ensure this does not happen again?
We at iKhethelo have a very strict curfew policy where all children have to be back in their cottages before dark – no later than 6pm. The care givers have also been trained to look out for possible relationships blossoming and are aware of where their children are at all times.
Children of the opposite sex are not encouraged to spend extended times together alone and are not allowed to wonder out demarcated areas of the village or into cottages together. Cottages are locked at night with caregivers inside plus security guards patrol through and around the village throughout the night.
We do our best to try and avoid anything like this happening in the village but saying that, accidents do happen! If teenagers are going to have sex, they will find a way. It could happen at school or anywhere.
If something like this was to ever happen again we would need to investigate how and why it happened, we would conduct a full investigation into the incident and follow the process in line with directions from the Department of Social Development, but also noting that these are our children and we would do our best to try and support them, and find the best possible solution to help both the mother, father and child.
CEO at Ikhethelo Children’s Village