The hidden ‘family’ truths – part two

*Trigger warning: Rape, sexual assault, child abuse

By Lindiwe Dhlamini

This is the longest article in the ‘Still I Rise’ It took me the longest time writing it than the other articles this is because I am conflicted with how much of this story I wanted to share, and if I wanted to go through all the gory details of the rapes as I remember them. I realised that if I go too deep I risk triggering other survivors and it may also be harmful to me and my healing. Most importantly, I realised that I do not need to go through the details as if I am looking for some kind of validation about whether I am telling the truth or not. I realise that I do not owe anyone the details at the same time I am happy to share them because I am no longer ashamed to say I AM A SURVIVOR OF MULTIPLE RAPES and I am strong enough to speak about it with friends and family without needing validation from any of them.


‘Still I Rise’ has had its ups and downs. I must say the unplanned journey came with unplanned traumas and joys. However, it appears that I am on the right path to finding the peace I so long for. As much as I had to cut my trips short because of academic commitments and my pride and joy Injabulo Anti-Bullying Project (IABP) learners[1] I am elated that the most important parts of the journey were achieved.

In part one of the The hidden ‘family’ truths I narrated briefly about the major reasons for this journey. The fact that now I speak to my mother occasionally and to confidently declare publicly that I am a rape survivor are the most liberating parts of this journey. When I left the Cape Colony (Cape Town) to embark on the ‘Still I Rise’ journey I did so with no idea of what the outcome would be. I knew what I wanted or rather what I had to do but I had no idea of how to do it.

To give a bit of context, I left my studies in the middle of the semester to go and fix things with my mother and to start the healing journey of forgiving which I had known for many years that I had to do for myself and not my transgressors. My paternal family had been begging me for years to fix things with my mother in order for me to heal from the past traumas, but every time I tried that, my mother would say all the things that I did not want to, but had to hear. The relationship strain had gotten so intense that I would hung up on her when she called to pretending she never existed.

Coming to Johannesburg to see my mother so we can mend our relationship was the best thing I could do for myself and her. Most importantly, having the opportunity to get rid of the burden I had carried for over two decades  of my ‘cousins/uncles’ ruined my life by stealing my innocence, when they raped me from the age of 6-8 and 17/18. Frankly, the best part was looking at their faces and saying “I am here to tell you that I remember what you did to me as child and for the fact that I have blamed myself for all these years, I am ready to say this to your faces, YOU ARE A RAPIST! And the shame is on you not me!’ I said all of this while looking at each and every one of their disgusting faces and pointing at them.

I felt so empowered, light and comforted.

I left Cape Town (CT) on the 18th of April 2016 to Johannesburg (JHB) as my first destination, I was planning to travel to at least two more places before coming back to CT but the universe had other plans for my journey. I respect the universe as it guides my path and when it changed my plans, I embraced the change because I knew it was leading me to a place where I would find something I needed not wanted. My plan was to speak to my mother and tell her that, I do not blame her for the rapes I suffered as a child and that I am ready to start building a relationship with her and to confront my rapists.

When this was done I was planning to go to Mpumalanga to cry, scream, write and to do whatever that was necessary to heal myself, then journey on to Swaziland then back to CT. I was not sure what would happen and how things would turn out. I got on a late flight that Monday 18th of April 2016 and I only called my mother when I landed in JHB to tell her, ‘the time has arrived for us to talk’. I could hear the fear and worry in her voice – she tried to say more than what I wanted to hear over the phone and I stopped her and told her I would call her again as soon as I had gathered my thoughts. I was shaking with anxiety and extremely emotional all I knew was that the time had arrived for ‘family’ secrets to come out and to begin the healing journey for myself so I can be strong enough to help people through my passion as an activist.

Two days prior to the trip I told my best friend and mentor Virginia Magwaza about the anxiety attacks I was having due to all the triggers I was exposed to on campus and on social media especially around the issue of Rape Culture. I tried to stay strong and told myself the fact that I was raped does not matter anymore as it happened a long time ago and ‘I was over it’. I lied to myself whilst causing myself more harm than good.

I remember last year October during #FeesMustFall a fellow comrade was raped at Azania hall and a day after her assault I took her in to stay with me for a while as a way of supporting a fellow Black womxn and comrade. I took the her in because because I understood how she felt as I had also been raped in my sleep more than once. All that time I looked at her and I admired her bravery for speaking out about her rape publicly. I wished I had her power to speak out and release myself from the feelings of shame I had carried with me for many years. I was afraid then as a 6-8 year old and again as a 17/18 years old to tell anyone. And when I thought I was brave enough to open up about my rapes through a letter to my paternal family, approximately a week after that my father committed suicide and I told myself never again, I will take this secret to the grave.

On top of blaming myself for the rapes I was now blaming myself for my father’s suicide. Now in 2016 here I was on a journey to speak out and ready to write about it even, clearly the universe had other plans for my silence. As a Fallist I challenge oppressions daily including rape but, I was not brave enough to talk about my own experiences of being stripped away of my consent and violated by men I am supposed to trust and respect as family.

I went to the lengths of starting an NPO about bullying in schools and insisted on adding the ‘Incest Survivor Project’ because I was a victim and I had seen how it had affected my life and being silent about it for 26 years had created a deeper wound that I thought I could just put a band aid on and find ways to soothe it by helping others. I blamed myself and my mother, who is just another Black womxn who had her fair share of pain throughout her life. All these years I felt that I deserved it for being a child born out of wedlock, dark skinned one in the maternal family {Lindi omnyama, shangane[2]} and for having parents who did not work and could not take care of me and my siblings so we had to stay in family homes with extended relatives, there was no home to call my own, until my first lady welcomed me to her home with warmth, love and safety.

The best part about this journey is that, on the 24th of April (the day before my late father’s birthday) I had made an appointment with my maternal family to see all the elders and I asked that my rapists be present in that meeting. I did not say why, all they knew was that I was coming to talk about my upcoming graduation and possible marriage plans. LOL! I’m not even dating yet I faked a lobola[3] negotiation to ensure that they were all present.

I asked my paternal family to come with me for support and as sign that we are not there to fight. This was despite the fact that the radical Fallist in me was tempted to fuck shit up but, I kept my cool and just wanted to talk so I can find closure. When we arrived only one of them was present, the other three dololo[4] – one was out to play soccer (must be nice for him to go on about living his life as if he didn’t ruin his niece’s life) the other one is now a born again Christian (LMFAO) and the last one the family had not seen or heard from him in years and suspected he might dead (best news ever).

Anyway, their absence did not stop me from speaking out and telling the one that was there that I remember everything he had done to me and that I will never forget but, its time he took the shame of being the rapist and not me. Surely, I did not rape myself, I certainly did not ask for it as I was fucking six years old when it started. The rapes had nothing to do with what I was wearing, where I was, what time and all that nyols[5] as victim blamers would argue. I was getting ready to go to school, I was doing Sub A (Grade 1) so shut it with your judgements!

After the meeting I felt so light, empowered and ready to set up a second meeting with the rest of the family that “could not make it” that Sunday. I was determined to not leave JHB before I had the chance to look at all their faces and tell them you are a rapist!

What I had not thought of was the victim blaming that came with the second meeting from elder members of the maternal family especially the younger cousin who had attempted to molest me but never succeeded and whose mother blamed me for it. A holiday (27 April 2016)[6] was coming in that week and I chose that day to be day the meeting took place so none of them will have any excuses not to be present. My paternal family and best friend Virginia arrived at my maternal family’s house around 10:00. When we arrived, my grandfather (Mom’s uncle) who was at the first meeting who expressed his disgust at the actions of my rapists who happens to be the father of one of them. He was now singing a different tune, he had in his hands an old photograph which they (the whole maternal ‘family’) was going to use to discredit me by saying the attempted molester was a year younger and would never do that.

I was allowed an opportunity to say why I had called the meeting, I was happy because that gave me the chance to get everything off my chest that I had bottled for over two decades, whilst being aware of the victim blaming and violence that was coming my way. I used the chance to talk to say it all and left nothing behind, so that when they start screaming and blaming me I knew I was done, it was all out and how their reaction to the news was on them and no longer my burden to carry.

All I can say is that, after I said all I wanted to say there was a screaming match as the maternal ‘family’ wanted to say all kinds of violent BULLSHIT to blame me. I sat there quiet with so much grace as they all howled at each other trying to cover the shame of their sons. Some of them were blaming my mother, some were saying I was creating rumours because I wanted to be famous (LMAO, wow) and the blaming went all the way to my mom’s sister (mother of the attempted molester) to state that, I deserved it because I am a lesbian.

By this time I had heard enough of their bullshit and I wanted to respond, but my paternal aunts kept saying, do not do it, you are better than this. I knew I was better, I knew I did not deserve any of that violence. I remembered that, this was not for me to come out as ‘the better screamer but to find peace in my soul by speaking out. And now that job was done and I had no other business being there and subjecting myself to further harm than that was done to me as a child. As we left with my paternal family and my mother (who was also screamed at and told how much of a bad mother she) was I felt a huge sigh of relief coming and I uttered the words, “Mom, we will be fine. What I saw here today has shown me that I need to work harder to get you out of that shack and build you a home and make them watch us as we flourish as mother and daughter”. Virginia was driving that time but, I saw a tear roll down her face when I said these words to my mother at that very moment I knew that my healing was beginning and it was deeper than I expected and I was ready to embrace it.

[1] IABP – The catalytic project that gave birth to Injabulo Projects an NPO that I founded to help alleviate bullying in schools.

[2] See article: What’s in the name? #PamMustFall for context

[3] Lobola – Traditional bride price paid for a girl child when someone asks for their hand in marriage.

[4] Dololo- a phrase to imply there was nothing, in this case they were not there.

[5] All that bullshit

[6] 27 April – ‘Freedom Day’ still asking myself whose freedom, but that’s a story or another day…

This is just part of a series on a journey Lindiwe is embarking.

Lindiwe Dhlamini is a Fallist, social justice activist and a student at the University of Cape Town currently studying towards a postgraduate degree in Gender and Transformation at the African Gender Institute (AGI). Lindiwe is the Founder and Director of Injabulo Projects an NPO that conducts an Anti-Bullying project in high schools, an Incest survivor project and LGBTIAQ+ support project.

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