Let me tell you a story, only that it is not a story. It is a life lived.
That life is that of Nothobile, and it is called LOVE.
In her language names are everyday use words. So if one says Nothobile, they are saying mother of humility.
She got this name because she got married, all women are given new first names when they get married in her culture. Change of first name is equivalent to a marriage certificate. Burning of women clothes to symbolize entering a new stage is one of the customs in her culture.
Her life was blessed because she lives to be 72 years next August, born in August 1944. A traditional woman all her life. Her husband was chosen for her. Her name changed. Her clothes burned down.
Two nights after she was kidnapped into marriage, her husband was revealed. Not a bad looking man, but still not her type if she had a say on the matter.
They made love that night, which felt more like a rape, but who is she to complain. She is mother of humility, remember?
So she never had many children, just one. A boy, Luthando (it is love). Name given by her mother inlaw. Everytime she called at him she wondered what love had to do with anything, not realizing her life is a love personified. Yet she grew to accept her life. At some point she loved it and forgot all the hard parts.
After the first night as husband and wife, the husband left to Johannesburg for work. He was to leave for two years working in gold mines. The expectation was that she would have been pregnant on the night she met the husband so she could have something to keep herself busy with until the next visit of the husband to make another baby.
This was the life for everyone then, so yes she was, but that was her only child ever.
Living with her in-laws, she helped raise the children of the extended family whose parents perished due to political persecution or just died. At least eight of those children became hers.
One such was Nomnikelo (Offering), a biological daughter of the sister in law who vanished to the city to look for work but never came back.
When Nomnikelo grew to be a drunk and prostitute Nothobile could not understand how it happened since she raised her with love, and when Nomnikelo died in prison she was devastated but found solace in the life she left behind. This life was Ntando (Will), a beautiful girl that she took in and raised with love as if it was her own grandmother.
Her husband said she was over compensating for Nomnikelo’s failures, but Nothobile love Ntando even more.
Nothobile beamed with pride when Ntando finished high school. She became what Nomnikelo could not become. Ntando was her proof that unconditional love can change a person’s destiny.
She poured this love by taking all her retirement money that she received after years of scrubbing school floors and making tea for teachers to further Ntando education.
Ntando studied computer sciences, but she never came back with the certificate. Instead she did what her mother did before her, she poured herself into alcoholism and prostitution. In one year she had two children both with two different man that she never named.
When her last child was born, Ntando gave birth in the family bathroom, Nothobile found her suffocating the newborn baby on a floor full of blood. She grabbed the newborn and called an ambulance. On the way to hospital Ntando died. She died of complications relating to AIDS because even if she did not say it, everyone knew she was dying and no matter how she tried hiding the pregnancy or the AIDS it was just there.
With her bare hands, Nothobile helped with after birth and securing the newborn. Today that newborn is nine year old and the most beautiful boy called Simnikiwe (He has been given to us).
Nothobile is a grown woman now, she no longer has the physical strength she had when Nomnikelo or Ntando were born. Simnikiwe is her great grandchild but she has to take care of him the same way she took care of his mom and grandmom. Her husband is sick, old age and working in the mines all those years. He is bed ridden. Nothobille is the one taking care of him.
She has buried all the children she raised, and the last burial was of Luthando her biological child, he became a teacher and Union activist you know. I met him through my work as a social activist.
In that funeral, Simnikiwe sat next to her. They looked at each other as if to ask whose next? Simnikiwe had many siblings but he is the only survivor. They died of AIDS.
Nothobile rose to talk, which is something that is frowned upon in her culture to talk on her child’s funeral, but she rose. She cared less about culture and protocols, because what have they ever done for her.
She is seventy two years old and she has a nine year old calling her mama, because no matter how many time she said he must call her grandma, Simnikiwe never changes. He just called her mama. She looked at the full hall and said ‘ well it looks like Job was telling the truth, I came naked and I will leave this earth naked. What Job did not know is that I do not mind. I lived and I loved and what is there to be ashamed of in nakedness in death. Yes I will leave naked, and fulfilled because I lived like any other woman of my time.
I am not the only one, no exception to the rule. Every woman I know raised their inlaws unwanted children, some of them grew up to be successful people but most like me were not so lucky. Nature was stronger than nurture in ours. We cannot claim we did not know what we got ourselves into. We knew because even raising your own child is not a guaranteed for success.
So after burying everyone else, people say I bury my own flesh today. What they don’t know is that Nomnikelo and all the others were my flesh too. Bones of my bones because love made them that way. I bury Luthando not because of AIDS, but because of ignorance.
If anyone thinks, because I contracted HIV/AIDS through nursing my children I am going to die soon, they might as well bury me now because that is ignorance. I am not ignorant. Ignorance is not going to take me down. I tell you all silence kills a nation. That is not going to kill me because I have a doctor to raise’
She looked at Simnnikiwe and she said ‘yes he is going to be doctor, astronaut, pilot or a soldier whatever he wishes to be because he is mine, love made him mine, mine he is and never again will I bury my children through ignorance. The buck stops here. It almost did not stop, but it did. No more.
Written By: Namhla Mbunge