Chapter 1: Growing up in the township
Angelbert Ncube was born in October 1976 to a small family of three children, two boys, Themba and Don, and a girl, Sihle. When Angel was born, Themba had just started school and was seven years old. Sihle was five years old and about to start school, while Don was three years old.
Angelbert's family was considered relatively small in the dusty Bulawayo townships in the seventies. Other families in Angelbert's neighbourhood had eight children with some big families having up to ten. One of Angelbert's neighbours had four wives and twenty-two children. In most cases, the bigger the family, the poorer they seemed to be and the less educated the parents were. This was not always true; as in the case of a family who lived three houses from where the Ncubes lived, they were a large family that was apparently well off by township standards even though the parents had never been to school. In Angelbert's neighbourhood, the houses were three-roomed and were composed of a kitchen, lounge and a bedroom. Most families built extra rooms outside the main house which were either used as extra bedrooms or were rented out to supplement the family's income. Angel's parents could not afford to build the extra outside rooms, so their kitchen doubled up as the boys' bedroom.
Simon, Angelbert's father, worked at a local garment factory in Bulawayo's industrial area. His mother, Siza, was a full-time house wife, who generated extra income by selling vegetables outside the beer hall every night. Simon's wages were just enough for the family to survive from hand to mouth. He cycled to and from work and when the bicycle was broken he walked for an hour and half to work. Hundreds of other workers either walked or cycled to work too. The majority of unskilled industrial workers were very low paid; their wages were more like wedges. Instead of being the amount of money paid per week for services by an employee, they were more like a piece of wood employees were given to wedge themselves and their families from falling into starvation. The wages were just enough for them to stay alive and come back to work.
In order to provide a decent life for their big families, it was very common to find families with second homes in the rural areas where they did subsistence farming. They kept a small farming plot, cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. These animals were the real wealth of the family. In this kind of set-up, the wife would live in the rural home and the father and school-going children lived in the township during the school days. The children would then join their mother during school holidays, with the father going to the rural home once a month, usually after pay day.
Simon and his family did not have this option. Simon was born in Malawi and came to the then Rhodesia when he was seven years old. Simon's parents came to Rhodesia during the 1950s when the British colonial rulers were encouraging the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The federation was being created to counter the introduction of apartheid in South Africa and as a small appeasement to black nationalists in Nyasaland (later called Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (later called Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (later called Rhodesia then Zimbabwe) who were calling for independence. Citizens from these three countries were free so travel throughout the region and seek employment.
Simon's parents put him through primary education but could not afford to send him for secondary education. Secondary school was considered highly educated for black people and Simon's father, who worked as a labourer for the then Rhodesia Railways, considered it unnecessary and regarded Simon as educated enough at primary school level, even though he had come out at the bottom of the class. His father adopted the Ncube surname when he registered Simon into school for the first time, rather than use his original Malawian surname of Lungu, to spare his son from the xenophobia of the local black Rhodesian. This did not completely stop the discrimination, but it happened less often. The three-roomed municipal rented house in which Simon was raising his family was inherited from his parents when they died as he was the only male child in the family even though he was the last born child. He had two sisters who arrived in Rhodesia ages ten and thirteen.
Angelbert was named so after his parents and family friends considered events immediately after his birth which was nothing short of a miracle.
At the time of his birth, doctors declared him stillborn. Immediately after he was born, he was washed and dressed in the clothes that his parents had brought to the hospital and was then given to his mother and aunts and grandmothers to hold. He was kept with the family for the rest of that morning for about three hours. When the family was preparing to go home around midday and the hospital was making arrangements to take him to the crematorium, everyone, including the doctors and nurses, was bewildered and pleasantly surprised when he started to cry. There was so much joy, confusion and shock in the hospital ward at the unfolding events. He was called a miracle baby and his parents later abandoned the original name, John, that they had prepared to give him, and decided to call him their angel and gave him the name Angelbert, meaning a bright Angel.
Living in the dusty townships of Bulawayo was a daily struggle. For the Ncube children, there was never enough to eat. Like most children in the township, they went to school having had a breakfast that consisted of one slice of bread with nothing on it and a cup of black, sugarless tea. On a good day, they would also have a bowl of porridge before leaving for school. The next meal would usually be after school and would generally consist of the same as in the morning. School ended after midday, before sports training which was usually from 2pm to 5pm. The biggest meal of the day was the late evening dinner, in which of the four to five days of the week would be isitshwala, sadza or pap, a thickened porridge made from white meal-mealie and sour milk or dried green vegetables known locally as mufushwa. If they were lucky they would have sadza with fresh vegetables from their small garden. Angel, as he was called by his family and friends, despised the dried vegetables because sometimes he found sand when eating it. This was because they were dried in a dusty open space and sometimes dust settled on the drying leaves. He considered it the perfect example of poverty, any lower than this, they would be eating sand.
The three boys in the Ncube household all ate together from one bowl of pap and another bowl of milk, Sihle ate with her mother. Whoever ate the quickest or scooped the largest size of pap usually would go fulfilled more than the slow eaters. It was survival of the quickest. Angel, being the youngest, got used to going to bed hungry. Everyone called him Angel except his mother who preferred to call him Angie. He never liked this nickname as other kids on the street said it sounded like a girl's name. This did not stop his mother from calling him Angie at least until he had his first child. Simon, as the bread winner, got to eat from his own special plates. He got the best of every meal, or sometimes had his meals cooked separately. If there was any meat, only Simon ate it. The closest the children got to eating meat was having pap with the meat soup.
The celebration of birthdays, including presents and children's parties, was never heard of in the Ncube household. It was a luxury Simon and many other parents could not afford. For a family of twelve they would have had to celebrate an average of one party a month. Children's birthdays came and went without even a mention of the word and some children never even knew their own birthdays, later on knowing only their siblings'. Angel, his brothers and sister and all their friends dreamt about getting out of the township as successful individuals and doing better than their parents, but it was all a game of chances. The odds were worse if one did not get good grades at school. There were some success stories though. Angel's neighborhood produced some very successful international musicians, footballers and businessmen. Of Angel's generation, an estimated one out of twenty children succeeded in creating a better life for themselves and became productive citizens. This included Angel himself, although for him it would turn out to be luck rather than design.
For some children in the township, luck was not on their side. One small petty criminal mistake completely changed their lives forever. One small wrong turn that would otherwise be considered silly mischief in other circumstances, in the township it would change your life forever.
Two of Don's school mates epitomised what could go wrong for teenagers in the township. During their second year at secondary school, they decided they did not like the way their mathematics teacher was treating them. He was one of the most dedicated teachers who wanted to see all his students do well. He conducted mathematics tests every Friday, and those who did not do well would be detained after class for extra lessons.
These two students were detained almost every Friday. Friday after school was the time all students looked forward to, particularly if there were sports competitions where their school would be competing against other schools either in athletics, soccer or netball. These were the only sports opportunities available to township schools. These two boys, although not gifted academically, were very good soccer players and the school team did very well when they were playing. They were also playing for the local premier club's junior team and had promising football careers ahead of them. As a result, they resented the Friday detentions, particularly if it meant they missed their soccer game. As part of the school policy, good grades came first and sports came second. If a teacher deemed students were not performing well in class, they had the right to pull them off the sports team even if they were the team's best player.
Unfortunately, this teacher was a heavy drinker and most students knew which beer hall him and other teachers frequented. They needed to have this information in order to know which places to avoid. So one Saturday night, the two students decided to wait for their mathematics teachers outside the beer hall and confront him about their Friday detentions. They were hoping that if they put pressure on him outside the school, he would ease up on their detentions. In his drunken state, the teacher was in no mood to entertain their demands. He just told them off and said they should be grateful that he was sacrificing his own unpaid time for their benefit. This did not go down well with the two boys and they decided to assault him. The fist fight ended tragically with the teacher, in his drunken state, losing his balance and falling, hitting his head on the concrete pavement edge. He was knocked unconscious and was later taken to hospital. Being in the township, the ambulance took several hours to arrive. By the time it turned up the teacher was soaking wet. This was because someone in the quickly gathered crowd had poured cold water on him thinking he had fainted or was too drunk and the cold water would help him to sober up quickly. He never regained consciousness and was in a coma for three weeks before doctors and his family decided he was so brain dead he would never regain consciousness, and turned off his life support machine.
Immediately after the incident, the two boys were expelled from school and arrested. They were charged with assault. Three weeks after their arrest and while in custody waiting for trial, their charges turned from common assault to murder. Without the benefit of their own lawyers, they were represented in their court cases by underpaid and overworked public defenders. Their public defenders did not even take a close look at the evidence or investigate the real cause of death. They assumed they were just another lot of township thugs who had no regard for the law and were most likely guilty.
Had all the evidence been examined, the courts would have found that the teacher's fall had nothing to do with the blows he received during the assault. The two boys' physical builds were so small compared to their teacher that it was next to impossible for them to hit him so hard that he would fall and hit his head on the pavement. It was not even mentioned during the court proceedings that the teacher was an alcoholic and was drunk on the night of the fight. Had he fallen because of his drunken state or tripped, he most likely would have suffered the same fate. The boys were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, they just precipitated an accident that was waiting to happen.
In a desire to see the case over quickly without any interest in justice, their public defenders did not bother to prepare for their defense, but just advised them to plead guilty so they would receive a lenient sentence. A stupid mistake, a bad justice system and the accident of being born in the township came together to condemn the two boys for a murder they did not commit.
After their conviction, their lives went from bad to worse. Tried as juveniles, they were sentenced to juvenile detention for five years each. Since they were both fifteen, this meant that two of their last years in detention would be spent at an adult detention facility.
Detention centres, whether juvenile or adult, where considered criminal universities. Almost all the township youths and adults who went to jail came back as hardened criminals with a much higher chance of going back to prison for other crimes than those who had never been in prison.
In the townships, opportunities to succeed in life were remote if one did not have a criminal record; for those with criminal records, it was virtually impossible to make an honest, successful living. So most convicts resorted to what they knew best, criminal activity. This was the case with these two boys and this was the life in the township. Fortunately, none of Simon’s children got involved in petty criminal activity during their school days. Their mother was a strict no-nonsense lady.
Angel started primary school after he turned six years old. Life was not only tough at home, but school was no better either. He was not one of the brightest kids in class. Sitting in class with a growling stomach on a daily basis distracted his concentration to what the teacher was saying, making his ability to learn worse.
The school teachers were not very sympathetic; they had very little tolerance for poor performers like him. They had thirty-four other pupils to look after. Failing to answer questions or class tests always resulted in a caning, usually with a very hard stick on his hands. None of his brothers or sisters were well enough at school to be able to help him when he got home. He got used to being a subject of ridicule in class as he never raised his hand to answer any questions or actively took part in class. If the teacher picked him to answer a question, there was always a ninety-nine percent chance he would get it wrong. The best times of the day for him were play time and going home time.
The year Angel started second grade seemed to be going very well. He was placed in a class with one of the best teachers. She had the best pass rate of any second grade township schools in Bulawayo. She was known to dedicate her own unpaid time, including weekends, to teach underperforming students. She even visited their parents to get them to work with her, if she thought that would help students perform better. She was the only teacher who did not believe in physically punishing failing students and was known to have never caned anyone for failing a test. Both students and parents respected and admired her. School was a bit more enjoyable for Angel; he felt confident enough to actively take part in class activities.
July of that year changed everything for the Ncube family.
On a Friday night, 16 July, their father, Simon, did not make it home at his usual time. Instead, around 8pm, two policemen came to their house to tell them that Simon had been involved in a road accident and had died at the scene. On his way home from work, he had been cycling along his usual route, which passed by the gates of a previously whites-only boys high school. Although black students were now allowed to register at the school, ninety-five percent of the students were whites. A car driven by one of the students had come from inside the school and failed to give way at the school gate, hitting Simon and two other cyclists. Simon had died at the scene and the other two cyclists were seriously injured.
It turned out that the students at the school were celebrating winning the national rugby championship they had won that day. This particular group of four white boarding school students got into a car belonging to one of the senior students who was himself not in the car when the accident happened. He had, however, given permission for the driver to take his car to go and buy more alcohol even though he knew that the student did not have a driver’s licence. The four students were all drunk. They decided to take the short drive to the nearest liquor outlet before it closed for the day. A long convoy of cyclists was coming from the nearby industrial area and was passing by the school gates. They did this every weekday, morning and evening, and on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Due to impaired judgment and lack of driving skills, the driver sped out of the school gates and ploughed through the three cyclists, including Simon, killing him instantly. What angered the other black cyclist was that all four students, visibly drunk and still carrying beer bottles, were more concerned about the damage to the car than the dead and injured black men.
The school authorities, all white males, were at the scene in a matter of minutes. They ordered all the students back into the school and locked the gates without bothering to call an ambulance or the police. They also took the car, which was still drivable but had a broken windscreen and other superficial damages, with them. Other cyclists went to the nearby shops and called the police and an ambulance. It was only two years after independence and life for black people had not changed much. Some white people’s attitudes towards blacks had not changed either.
Life seemed to take a turn for the worse for Angel and his siblings. They had now lost their main bread winner. It would be impossible to survive on their mother's small earnings from selling vegetables. At six years old, Angel could not fully comprehend what was going on. He asked Themba why his mother was crying so much and why all these people had gathered at their house. He wanted to know why they all seemed sad and were crying all the time. Themba told him that his father was dead and would never be coming home again. To him, it felt like his father had just gone somewhere for some time and would be coming back one day.
The mourning went on for seven days until Simon was buried exactly a week and a day after the accident. All the mourners then dispersed at the end of that weekend and the Ncubes were left alone to continue their life without Simon. Their mother decided to move Sihle from sleeping in the sitting-cum-dining room to sleep with her in the bedroom. She moved the boys to the sitting room. The sitting-cum-dining room was also going to be used for cooking meals. She then rented out the kitchen in order to supplement the family's income.
The Ncubes got three thousand dollars from Simon's employer. He had worked for the company for eighteen years. Their mother had never had so much money at once in her entire life, and it seemed like a lot of money at the time. For a while, the family was going to survive comfortably, but it looked like the future would be bleak once the money ran out.
Police charged the teenage driver who killed Simon with culpable homicide, driving without a licence and driving under the influence. So soon after independence, the killing of a black person by a white person was not considered a serious crime by a slowly reforming but still institutionally racist system. In this case, the police were white, the lawyer and state prosecutors were white and the judge was white. The only black people involved in this case were Simon and the two injured cyclists, none of whom were independently represented in any of the court proceedings.
The driver pleaded guilty to the culpable homicide charge and was fined for driving without a licence. The charge of driving under the influence could not be proven because the police did not test the driver for alcohol in his system, either by breath testing or blood testing, on the day of the accident. The judge sentenced him to a one year suspended sentence on condition that he compensated Simon's family and the two injured cyclists and not commit similar offences in the next five years. The compensation figures were to be negotiated between the defendant and the three parties. If no agreement could be reached, the judge would then make the final determination. Simon's family was given two thousand dollars as compensation, while the injured cyclists were given five hundred dollars each.
To the injured parties, this seemed like a lot of money considering their monthly wages were a hundred dollars a month. Since they had not been represented in court they had no knowledge that the compensation amounts were supposed to be negotiated. The defendant's lawyers handed them the cash compensations and got them to sign a statement with fine print that stated they had negotiated and agreed to the amounts. All three people who signed on behalf of the families could not read or write later or understand the legal language. This outcome was a good outcome compared to a similar case before. Other criminal cases that involved a white person killing a black person resulted in the victim being blamed and the perpetrator acquitted by the courts, if the case was lucky enough to ever make it to the courts.
It was tradition for most primary schools in the townships to hire entertainers at the end of each school term. These included clowns, acrobats and magicians among others. Children were asked to pay a small fee to see the entertainment. Part of the money was used to pay the performers and some of it went to other school programmes. This was one of the many ways township schools raised money and augmented inadequate government grants. It was now six years after independence from white minority rule and Angel was now in the fifth grade. Primary school education was free, but parents had to pay other individual school costs, like activity fees and building funds. The majority of primary school children in the townships, like Angel, came from very poor families who could hardly afford to feed their children, let alone pay any money to the school. So schools came up with various innovative ways to raise funds for whatever projects the school found necessary beyond basic government sponsored educational needs.
The end of school term entertainment was the highlight of Angel's school year. The magicians were his favourite performers. Luckily for him, the school always hired a magician, either because he was the most popular or because he was the cheapest.
Angel dreamt of becoming a great magician one day. While sitting in class he would often day dream about what he would do to his class teachers if he was a magician, particularly those nasty teachers well-known for caning. The day dreaming compensated for all the frustration he had to go through each day at school. The most frustrating part was sitting in class for six hours every day listening to the teachers explain things that he never seemed to understand. At each grade, teachers seemed to give up trying to make him understand anything. They looked forward to the end of the year when Angel would move on to the next grade and become the next teacher's problem.
Moving from one grade to the next did not depend on the child's performance. As long as he or she had spent the whole year in that particular grade with more than sixty percent attendance, they were considered good enough to go to the next. It was only when parents intervened and asked the school to get their child to re-do a grade they did not do well in did performance become a factor.
Unfortunately, for most children, they were lucky if their parents even knew what grade they were in. As Angel was considered a lost cause, both the school and his mother had no interest in his performance. His mother was too busy worrying about where their next family meal would come from, paying bills and keeping their heads above water to think about her children's school grades. And so Angel resigned himself to the end of the week canings.
Every Friday, the class had a test on the material they had learnt that week. The test was marked out of ten points. For every wrong answer each child got, they would get a lash on the hand. Angel could hardly remember a week when he got less than nine lashes.
Imagining becoming a magician was also a way for Angel to escape into the fantasy world of super heroes and get away from his dire realistic situation both at home and at school. He would imagine that if he was a magician he would turn dry leaves into money for his mother. At school he imagined being able to read the test answers on the teacher's desk without having to walk the 10 metres from his to the teacher's desk.
The more time he spent in his fantasy world, the better he felt and the less time he had to see and think about the extreme poverty he was growing up in. It was the reality of township life that school children who were getting good grades were considered to have a higher chance of escaping the township poverty and were always associated with being successful later in life. They were used at school and at home as benchmarks for other children to follow. There were plenty of examples of unsuccessful school dropouts in the township who were used as an example of what not be. Most had either been in prison and back, some more than once. Others did odd jobs or were employed as labourers in the local industrial area, earning a minimum wage and spending all their earnings at the local beer garden. Alcoholism, prostitution and drug use were very common in the township where Angel was growing up. Being unsuccessful at school was highly associated with these vices later in life.
From one grade to the next, the obsession with magic stayed with him. Seeing magicians at school three times a year at the end of each term further fuelled his obsession.
The best moment for Angel came when he was in the sixth grade. He was sitting in the front row, as usual, at one of the end of term school entertainment sessions. The magician asked for a volunteer for one of his many tricks. With no one raising their hand, out of fear and superstition, the magician pointed at Angel and asked him to come on stage. After shouting "abracadabra", which was the magician's word for performing this particular trick, he pulled a string of different coloured cloths tied together from Angel's ear. From that day Angel was known at school by the nickname "bra" a shortcut for "abracadabra", a nickname that he carried all the way to the end of primary school.
During his last year of secondary education, at the age of eighteen, Themba, Angel’s eldest brother, was already dreaming about leaving home and going to South Africa to work at the mines. He had heard stories told by older men in the township who had been to the South African gold mines during the Winala years. Although these people had nothing much to show for their many years in the mines, they always told rosy stories of lots of money and a great and fun life.
Winala was the popular name of the recruitment agency that was set up by the gold mining companies in South Africa to recruit migrant workers from all over southern Africa from the 1940s to the late 70s. Its real name was Witwatersrand Native Labour Association. Unfortunately, more than seven in ten of the men recruited by the agency from the townships of Bulawayo went to South Africa and never came back. This did not deter more people from joining the trek south. The migration from Matabeleland and the townships of Bulawayo in particular continued into the eighties and nineties but had shifted from just looking for work in the mines to all sectors of the economy where blacks were allowed to work.
During Themba's end of high school days, more and more young men and women were still leaving to find employment and a better life in South Africa. Some never returned or communicated with their families back home, although not as many as in the seventies. A lot more were now coming back to visit. Themba's dream was not to be one of those people who went and disappeared. He intended to come back one day with enough money to look after his mother, brothers and sister. He told his family that he would always communicate with them and let them know how he was doing.
One of Themba's school mates, George, had a brother and an uncle who migrated to South Africa during the Winala era. George had abandoned school just before the last year of secondary school's final exams and went to join his brother and uncle in Johannesburg. This was not a unique situation, as some young men, particularly those considered not having a chance of doing well in their final exams, did not wait to complete their secondary schooling but left at the earliest opportunity.
Just over a year after George left, he had come back to visit during the Christmas holidays. The December holidays were generally the time when most migrant workers came back home and they would go back in January. It was George's new possessions, like a car, money and never seen before electronic gadgets, that convinced Themba that he had no other choice but to make the journey down south if he was ever going to live a better life. Unknown to him, the car George was driving was a rental car, the electronic gadgets he had were stolen property and the money he was spending was savings earned from mundane temporary jobs. It had taken George the whole year to save for this month long visit.
Soon after completing secondary school, Themba loitered in the township doing odd jobs for more than a year, saving and waiting for an opportunity to leave. He hooked up with two of his friends and they paid a haulage truck driver to smuggle them into South Africa.
For nearly five years his family did not hear from him or get any information about his whereabouts. It was only after George came visiting at the end of the fifth year that Angel’s mother learnt that he had made it to Johannesburg. He had lived and worked as a gardener in Khayelitsha for a year before moving to the diamond mines in Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province about 500 kilometres from Johannesburg. This was the last information she would get about him for many years to come. She never heard from Themba himself.
Life was really tough for children growing up in the townships, but it was worse for a girl child, like Sihle. The preferred option for most parents was to send their sons to school rather than their daughters, no matter how intelligent the girls were compared to the boys. For parents who could not afford to send all their children to school, the girl would rather drop out of school and give the boy a chance. This was based on the premise that girls would eventually get married and go and join their husband's family, and would not be of any financial benefit to their parents in their old age. Yet the boys would be able to find a good job and earn a lot of money and be able to look after their parents. So investing in a girl's education was viewed as a loss.
Sihle was lucky in that respect as her parents managed to pay for her primary and secondary education. This was mainly due to coming from a relatively small family. She was not one of the brightest students in her class, just like her brothers, she was not even average. Out of a class of thirty-five students, during all her primary schooling, the best she had ever done was to come out thirtieth. Like most of the other failing students, the school let Sihle continue to the next grade as long as she completed a full year at the school and had a more than a sixty percent attendance record. On her last day of primary schooling the headmaster and all her teachers where glad to see the back of her and other students they considered lost causes.
Secondary school was no different, and she was no good at any sports activities either. There were not many sports activities to choose from, except athletics and netball for girls and soccer for boys. Secondary school teachers were overworked and under paid and as a result, did not have time for students who did not do well. The teacher to student ratio was even higher than at primary school level, with one teacher looking after forty-five students. Sihle did not have any incentive to go to school other than to fulfil her mother's wishes and spend time with her friends.
By the time she was doing her second year at high school she had become sexually active. The last year of secondary school was a struggle for her. The year seemed to take longer than usual and felt like a real waste of time. She preferred to be roaming night clubs in the city, getting paid to have sex with drunken men then spend the rest of the day dozing in class. She could hardly wait for the year to end. As soon as she finished writing her last school exam, she became a full time prostitute, joining a number of other township women who had been doing this for a long time.
Sihle's first child, a girl, was born a year after she left school. The man she claimed to be the father of the child refused to have anything to do with the pregnancy as he was already married and accused her of picking him as he was financially well-off compared to all the other men she had been with. The man demanded to have a paternity test after the child was born. Sihle, who was not even sure if he was really the father of the child, refused and preferred to look after the child as a single parent.
She joined the ranks of a string of other single parent women in the township who were in a similar situation. A couple of months after the child was born, Sihle was back at work, leaving her mother to look after the child. It was a tough time for the infant, who had to be looked after by the grandmother at night, and during the day her mother would be sleeping most of the time.
Two years after the child was born, Sihle had her second daughter. This time the man she claimed to be the father of the child accepted the responsibility. The man's relative came to see Sihle's mother to negotiate and make the relationship formal and go through all the traditional marriage rites. Sihle's life seemed to be taking a different direction. Her mother felt very happy that her daughter was taking a dignified direction in her life and would finally settle down.
Angel was sixteen years old and understood that his sister was better off married and in a good stable family relationship than being a lady of the night. He thought his mother and most other mothers in the township pushed their daughters to look for the wealthiest man to get married to. It did not seem to be important that the man loved their daughter or was not abusive. The main factor seemed to be good prospects of economic and social protection from men. Maybe this was a symptom of poverty. He could not understand why township women considered marriage as a lifetime achievement, something far more important than a good career or getting out of the township on the back of their own individual success.
One of the most shameful things a daughter could bring to her parents in the township was to leave her marriage. Leaving a marriage carried so much stigma that women would rather die at the hands of an abusive and violent husband than leave him.
Angel had seen women in the township who had stayed in their matrimonial homes even after the man had brought in and was living with another woman and was constantly abusing them and their children. This kind of desperate dependence on men was continuously being passed on from one generation to the next. It perpetuated a sexist and paternalistic culture that undermined the women’s ability to seek economic autonomy. It also created generations of men who believed in the perverted idea that women were subservient property for men to do with as they pleased.
Sihle and her second child went to live with her new husband. The marriage did not last very long. She accused the husband of not giving her enough money to support her lifestyle and her daughters.
After five months of living together, Sihle and her daughters were back home and she was back to her old profession. Angel sensed his mother’s embarrassment at the break-up of the marriage. But he felt a strange, somewhat guilty and unpleasant, sense of admiration for his sister for walking out of a marriage that did not suit her needs. He thought that because she was able to stand on her own two feet financially, even though she earned the money in an unorthodox and indecent way, this had made it easy for her to leave. It took a lot of courage for a woman in the township to do what she did.
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