Using poetry to help the broken
Mashazi beats abuse to become nation-builder
‘IF I were to be called by a different name, I would be called ‘Survivor.’ I have survived sexual, physical, emotional, verbal and financial abuse as well as emotional isolation, molestation, name-calling, discrimination and xenophobia.”
These are the poignant words of Thuli Mashazi, a survivor of abuse, worst of it rape. She is motivational speaker well on her journey to restoration and allowing other people to feed of her wounds and find their healing.
“I could also be called ‘Favoured’ because I have seen strangers open up their hearts and homes to accommodate me and provide for my needs. I may also be called‘Believer’ because I have never stopped believing there is a better day out there waiting for all of us to step into it and find peace at last.”
In an emotional but exclusive interview with CAJ News Africa in Johannesburg, Mashazi (38) recounted how she grew up verbally and physically abused by her mother and siblings, molested by a best friend’s uncle and later in life abused by her husband.
None of these brutalities though come close to when her mother sent her to a so-called prophet or ‘man of God’ in order to “do whatever he says.”
“The prophet claimed it was a cleansing ritual but I had to be treated for an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) after that. My whole world crumbled,” she said. “My already fragile personality changed completely after that. I never reported, I was dealing with the roller coaster of what my mom intended and what actually happened.”
Reporting never came to mind as earlier, she had told her sister (now deceased) about a blind neighbour who had indecently assaulted her. “She turned it into a joke. It was embarrassing,” Mashazi said.
After such ordeals, born fifth in a family of six (three are now deceased), she does not think of her childhood with nostalgia.
Mashazi is not keen to talk about her father whom she said showed little commitment to the family. Reconnecting with him has thus far yielded nothing. She is grateful to her brother, Douglas for being a fatherly figure. “I will thank him in a special way one day.”
Forced by her mother out of the house in the high density suburb of Luveve in Zimbabwe’s second largest capital Bulawayo, Mashazi came to neighbouring South Africa a wounded soul.
“A lot had happened between me and my mother,” Mashazi said.
“I was angry with her. She had destroyed my life but I just acted in anger and never told her what I had experienced. She was frustrated at me because despite her best efforts to give me a good life I was stagnant.”
She was about to turn 30, still had no boyfriend, child, job or income.
“I had gone through repeated circles of brokenness and, eventually, she (mom) told me to leave because I was becoming a burden. I had left home twice before this. This time
I was determined to never return,” Mashazi said.
A stressful marriage exacerbated Mashazi’s predicament.
“I was married to an abusive man. After six years of counselling sessions, I decided to apply for a protection order. We are currently in the divorce proceedings,” the mother of a boy and girl aged six and two years respectively, disclosed.
Mashazi’s journey of healing started when she, unknowably back then, decided to take back her life and not become a victim.
It started with a fascination for words and the English language.
“Poetry came into my life to save me,” Mashazi, a teacher and Bachelor of Business Administration (University of South Africa) and a Diploma in Administration (City & Guilds, London), told CAJ News Africa.
Each time in isolation, she found herself playing around with words to express her feelings. To her surprise, she had written poetry.
“Effectively, I started writing in 2000 but I recall two or three very bitter poems I wrote in 1996 but I destroyed them because reading them made my heart sore,”said Mashazi.
“I have told myself I want to write empowering poetry, not poetry that makes people sympathise with me. I love poetry and I don’t mind sitting at my table way into the night, it reinvigorates me.
“Through poetry I’m learning to build up my confidence and find the little girl that life broke and help her find her identity.”
She has written and published an inspirational book, “Let This Poet Testify”, in which she combined prose and poetry to inspire readers into a more intimate spiritual journey.
A DVD recording is among other upcoming projects. She will be recording with artist Justice Sundiza from her homeland in March 2018.
“This will be the first time I work with someone from home (Zimbabwe). It feels good.”
Mashazi has ministered in poetry in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Be it ministering in poetry in a funeral, a 70th birthday celebration in Lesotho, high tea events, church conferences, women’s meetings, charity and school events, she makes sure she leaves an impression on her audience.
In 2015, she was contributing to a weekly youth talk show for South Africa’s national Christian station, Radio Pulpit, an opportunity she treasures as having presented her an opportunity to play her part as a nation builder.
Curtain-raising for famous gospel artist Jay Mbiza, of Spirit of Praise fame, was also pivotal.
She mentions among other inspirations prominent Bishop Benjamin Dube, whose High Praise Centre she attends, Associate Pastor Bonisani Dube, with whom she shared a passion for poetry, and Pastor Goodwill Shana, who once taught to offload emotionally so to can take care of people who matter.
“Pastor Shana believed in me. He has been my greatest cheerleader since the beginning. He encouraged me to package this gift and use it to minister to the world. I believed him and I have been established. Poetry set me on a whole new path.” She remembers the day Dube walked up to her after a church service and told her she had booked the studio for her to accommodate two poems. “I was floored!”
“I’ve also enjoyed meeting new friends, people who love my work and create opportunities for me without me asking,” she said.
Mashazi mentioned Itumeleng Motseo, Themba Lukhele, Gabisile Khoza, Mosatsa Yako, Pastor Stanley Maphosa, Barbara Kalima-Phiri, Pastor Bethuel Ngwenya and Pastor Thulani Mkhosana.“The list is endless. It’s been awesome.”
She is revelling in her new role as a nation builder for both South Africa and neighbouring Zimbabwe.
“I have found joy in people walking up to me after a performance and sharing how they have been abused and they are encouraged to see me come out of it in this way.”
Amazingly, Mashazi, has met parents whose children were abused, some offering an apology on behalf of her mother or asking her to talk to their children who were abused.
“That for me is the whole purpose of my performance. I am a wounded healer.”
She also mentioned inboxes from broken women who had been in similar situations sharing how liberating it was to hear her story, upon her interview on one community television channels for Gauteng province.
After an exhausting day at Glenbrack High School in Alberton, Johannesburg, she settles down to write new poems.
“I have 100 good ones to date,” Mashazi said.
“It’s hectic but I have learned the art of juggling between teaching, poetry and taking care of my kids. I leave time to play with my kids and put them to sleep at the right time and take them out now and again. I take the girl for a walk every now and then. The boy loves his cartoons.”
She tries to give them the happy and free childhood she never experienced.
We sometimes play around and get silly together. They love playing tickle and they love taking a steaming hot bath with mom, the proud mother said.
“I get lots of kisses from little soft lips every morning I leave for work and when I return. Sometimes I have to beg to be left alone so I can have a chance to breathe.”
She and her mother are on a mending path.
Mashazi recalls the first call she received from her mother in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in years.
“She called me‘Sweety’.”I was so surprised, and asked who she wanted to talk to. She just laughed and demanded to know if she must ask for permission to love her daughter. I laughed back and we have shared many such moments since then.”
After all, she admires her mother as a hard worker who carried the burden of providing for the family with the father helpless.
“Sometimes the pressure to provide pushed her to be very difficult and emotionally detached.”
Mashazi believes throughout, God has been at work and would bring everything to a glorious ending.
“Being a teacher, I hope learners suffering abuse will find hope to live, dream again and reach where angels fear to tread. That’s the best revenge to give an abuser.”
Her dream is longevity “like my mentor Pastor Sani who has been preaching the gospel for the last 50 years non-stop” as well as Maya Angelou, who died aged 82 but still having bookings to attend to.
“I would be happy to know that my poetry is read and heard all over the world one day. I’ve just opened my heart in a way I have never done before,” she concluded.
FREE: Thuli Mashazi, a survivor of abuse.