The Story of Nonjongo

Hello. My name is Nonjongo. I am 18 years old. I was born in the Eastern Cape on Christmas Day. Christmas was always the best time of the year for me. However, Christmas when I turned 13 was different. My father’s recent death had left a huge void in the house.

A few days after Christmas I observed strange behaviour from my mother. Coming from visiting relatives, I found her in the house with three men. She was very fidgety, but I did not pay much attention and went about collecting items of clothing and everything else I needed for spending the night at my aunt’s.

We were already in bed at my aunt’s when my mother came looking for me saying that I should leave. It was late at night, but my mother insisted I go. As I stepped out of my aunt’s hut, my mother pointed to three men, indicating that they would escort me. I could not understand who the three men were but I had been taught to obey adults, especially my parents.

When we got to the house, I was left with one man, who informed me of his intentions to make me his wife. The man was more than twenty years my senior. Although he was from the same village, he had been working and living in Johannesburg. I felt a cold chill run down my back as the man explained that my mother had agreed to the marriage. My heart sank. I cried. I was hardly a woman. Was the ‘lobola’ money she received more important than her own daughter?

I cried that whole night. I eventually felt asleep and was awoken the next morning by family members of my soon-to-be husband. They took me to his mother’s home where they performed traditional wedding rituals and dressed me up as a new bride. They gave me a new name, ‘Nosikholise’. I stayed at my sister-in-law’s house with my husband. My heart was hurting all the time. I thought about all my friends and school mates. They had gone on to the next grade at school, but I understood that I could no longer attend school. I was a wife now and had wifely duties to attend to. All the adults, except my aunt, told me to work hard on the marriage and make it work.

My husband had paid lobola to my mother and he expected me to perform nuptial duties at night. This was the hardest duty for a thirteen year old child. I eventually fell pregnant. My husband went back to Johannesburg. Within three months he fell ill and had to come back home, to the village, to be taken care of by family. He had TB and had drastically lost weight. He could not hold down food and could not do anything for himself. His mother and his sisters were scared of him. I had to take care of him.

All this while, it never occurred to me that my husband was HIV positive. I knew nothing about AIDS or HIV, until the day his sister helped me take him to a doctor in East London. The doctor ordered all of us to go for an HIV test and CD4 count immediately. At the clinic we all went for counselling and testing individually. I told the nurse about my circumstances. She did the test and it came out positive. I just sat there and cried. I did not know what the future held for my unborn baby.

A cousin of my husband advised us to come to Cape Town and stay with him, so that my husband could have better access to medical care and ARVs. We arrived in Cape Town in May 2007 and on 7th September I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We named her Kholwa, short for Sinalo ukholo (we have faith).

In October 2007, whilst attending an HIV/AIDS support group meeting at the clinic in Lower Crossroads, I was advised by the counsellors to visit the Etafeni Centre and ask to join the Income Generation project. The Etafeni mothers and managers received me with warm hands and hearts. I was offered further counselling and career advice by Teresa Lumani, the programme coordinator. They helped me to recover my health and wellbeing. I brought my one-month old baby girl with me to Etafeni and my relationship with the other Etafeni mothers and staff members grew.

Months went by and my husband was responding well to treatment. He started gaining weight and became stronger. The more time I spent at Etafeni, involving myself in its programmes, the more I gained insight into life and started regaining my self-confidence. I learnt to do beadwork and earned a little money for myself, enabling me to buy food and basic necessities for my family.

By now my husband had been completely cured of TB and he got a job through his cousin’s contacts. We built a shack in the yard of one of his aunts. However, although my husband’s income was much higher than mine, he refused to buy groceries or give me money for his child. The income I gained through the Etafeni project supported me and my daughter.

My husband started drinking and sleeping out, and when he was home he would abuse me. By 2009 I tired of the treatment I was receiving from my husband and I packed my bags and left with my child. One of the Etafeni mothers offered me temporary shelter.

I am HIV positive but I am living my life with a positive attitude. I am currently doing Grade 9 at night school in Lower Crossroads. Although I managed to pass Grade 8 last year, my plan is to register at a FET College which has a good success rate and learners there get career guidance and have more options open to them.

I believe I will pass my Matric and enter Medical school and eventually qualify as a doctor. I know this will happen because I believe in myself and I work hard to achieve this goal. Of all the things I want in life, I want to be around to see my daughter proud of me.

I am grateful to Etafeni for the support and love they have given me and my daughter throughout this ordeal. May it grow from strength to strength and forever open its doors to destitute and desperate mothers like myself.