Sixolile Mbalo

EXTRACT: Dear Bullet by Sixolile Mbalo

An extract from Sixolile Mbalo's harrowing memoir

My grandmother seldom spoke directly to me about her feelings. It was only when she prayed that I could hear how she felt. So, in hospital that first day, and for many months afterwards, I heard how she felt. She would begin by thanking God that I survived, because I could so easily have died. This she said over and over again. Sometimes she would ask God straight out what he thought she should have done if I had died. How could she ever look after another child if this happened to the one she was looking after with an involved heart? All of this I heard in her prayers.

I also heard the doctors expressing their surprise: why did the bullet not go through my head and blow open the other side?

Two days later, the police came to take a statement. I was still in great pain and my face was swollen. They showed me a photo: was it him? Yes, it was. They had already arrested him. As Pindile was a fugitive, the photo had gone up all over Mthatha. A taxi driver saw him getting into a cream bakkie, took the registration number and phoned the police. The police followed the bakkie to the rank for Cape Town buses and arrested Pindile as he was paying for a ticket to visit his family in Gugulethu. Apparently he acted surprised.

‘Do you know Sixolile?’

‘No, I don’t know her.’

‘So you don’t know the one you raped and shot?’ ‘Who told you that?’

‘She, she is in hospital.’

He was shocked. ‘Is she alive?’

I stayed in hospital for almost three months. When I was discharged, I couldn’t walk properly. I was not fine.

Initially I went back to Grandmother’s house, but I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t walk or eat. She had to cook soup for me. The neighbours would come in the mornings and volunteer soup and potatoes, because I could not eat any hard food. As they came and went they offered prayers, and in the prayers I heard them saying: God was amazing for sparing my life. I heard that there was a purpose to it that I didn’t die, and that was to give my heart to Jesus. The pastor who took me to the hospital said I shouldn’t cry; it was the way of growing up. If it didn’t happen to me, who else might also have been destroyed? Because I didn’t die, this guy could be caught, and so I saved many, many other girls. There was one old woman who would come into the house and just stand staring at me: ‘Auw mntanam!’ Then she would shake her head for a long time and sigh: ‘We prayedprayedprayed when you were in hospital.’

It was true. Many people prayed for me. I was an Umanyano in the Anglican church – our amachurch. The people from the church came to the hospital to pray, and also later with my grandmother at her house. The community was very shocked and had trouble dealing with what had happened to me. The first rape, that of Fuagase, had happened about five years before, but it was not so violent and had taken place within a family context.

My grandmother slept badly after the incident. She would wake up about four o’clock and start praying and praying. I could hear her grief. At times she would be angry. Other times she just sighed and began to cry, like someone without hope.

The community described Pindile as cruel, as a monster, without ubuntu, to do something like that to a young girl. I heard even the other boys were upset and disgusted with his behaviour.

Growing up as an orphan, I have to say I didn’t have a lot of experience of what they call ubuntu. I was alone, and alone had to fight for everything I had. I became cheeky and learned to look out for myself. I could not blame anybody in Mqekezweni for my suffering, because the one who was supposed to have the responsibility of looking after me – my mother – was somewhere else, enjoying herself.

Although Grandmother was the only one to whom I felt connected, she would sometimes shout and get frustrated with all the burdens and misbehavings around her. When she was like this, it frightened me a lot, because I had to face up to the possibility that one day she might tire of looking after the children of her irresponsible children and abandon us.

Now there was this me, who was not myself, to add to that. I was weak. I was terrified most of the time. I felt unsafe. I had constant pains. I had nightmares. I hardly got up before I wanted to lie down, so I took up more space than anybody else. Nobody in the household could continue as before, as I reminded them of things that they didn’t want to be reminded of. It even felt as if the neighbours avoided me when I came out of the house to sit in the sun.

Dear Bullet by Sixolile Mbalo

Extracted from Dear Bullet, published by Jonathan Ball and available from Kalahari.com.

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