The his­tory be­hind a ‘match made in heaven’ is re­vealed in a book that fo­cuses on ukuth­wala, which of­ten in­volves girls in their early teens

CityPress - - News - LUBABALO NGCUKANA lubabalo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za *Not their real names

What started as a pub­lisher mar­vel­ling at her neigh­bour’s “per­fect mar­riage” ended with a book about how the woman’s hus­band had raped her when she was just 15. Her par­ents, Sinothando* told her shocked neigh­bour, then forced her to marry her rapist, who is now a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer, as part of the cul­tural prac­tise of ukuth­wala, or forced mar­riage.

In the East­ern Cape, es­pe­cially around the Pon­doland towns of Flagstaff, Mbizana, Lusik­isiki, Port St Johns and Li­bode, re­ports abound about girls as young as 13 who are forced into mar­riage.

Par­ents of the “bride” are usu­ally co­erced to agree to this, to just ac­cept it be­cause it’s their cul­ture, or be­cause of the lobola they will re­ceive for their daugh­ter.

Lit­tle is known about this form of forced mar­riage, but facts are slowly com­ing to light.

A new se­ries of books writ­ten in isiXhosa, ti­tled Ndandin­genje Kodwa Nden­ziwa Nguwe (I was not like this, You made me), re­veals the story of Sinothando, a vic­tim of ukuth­wala.

Pub­lisher Phumela Jakuja (29) said she came across Sinothando’s story in Dur­ban when they were neigh­bours, and the woman opened up to her about how she and her hus­band of 18 years, Mpen­dulo*, ended up to­gether.

“I was just mar­vel­ling at this per­fect cou­ple who loved and cared for one an­other, but when Sinothando told me her story, I was re­duced to tears. I could not be­lieve what I was hear­ing as I had al­ways looked at them as this per­fect match made in heaven,” Jakuja said.

Sinothando was just 15 when she was al­legedly raped at gun­point by Mpen­dulo, a po­lice con­sta­ble who was liv­ing in her vil­lage, Mount Ayliff.

When she told her mother what had hap­pened, she re­fused to be­lieve Sinothando, ar­gu­ing that Mpen­dulo was a good boy. Her mother said a po­lice­man who came from a re­spectable fam­ily would not break the law. Her el­der sis­ter also did not be­lieve her.

“Later, it tran­spired that she was preg­nant.

Her fam­ily could no longer deny the truth and it is at this stage that she was forced to marry – un­der the guise of ukuth­wala – the man who had raped her be­cause Sinothando’s par­ents and Mpen­dulo’s par­ents agreed that the two should get mar­ried,” Jakuja said.

“All Mpen­dulo’s fam­ily was in­ter­ested in was to pro­tect their son from go­ing to jail and that their good stature in the com­mu­nity would not be tar­nished. Sinothando’s fam­ily wanted lobola. She was then ab­ducted and forced to marry Mpen­dulo.”

Sinothando and Mpen­dulo got mar­ried the next year when she was only 16 and had given birth to their twin boys. Later on, Sinothando had to try to study at school and raise her small chil­dren at the same time.

She is now a teacher and her hus­band is a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer.

The cou­ple now have four chil­dren, and even ex­changed wed­ding vows dur­ing their white wed­ding five years ago.

“She is hap­pily in love now. She is a firm be­liever in God and has ac­cepted that ev­ery­thing hap­pened for a rea­son. She be­lieves that this is her jour­ney,” Jakuja said.

“Even when she read the first draft of the book, she called me and laughed about it. I mean, you would ex­pect her to cry af­ter hav­ing to re­live all that hor­ror.

“They are a happy cou­ple and do ev­ery­thing to­gether. That is what fas­ci­nated me while writ­ing this book in the first place. I just could not be­lieve that she could take things so easy af­ter ev­ery­thing she went through,” Jakuja said.

Mce­bisi Ndama, owner of the Me­mezela Press Pub­lish­ing Or­gan­i­sa­tion, said he was over­whelmed by the “au­then­tic­ity” of the story and wanted to high­light the plight of young girls who are forced into mar­riage through ukuth­wala.

“There are so many sto­ries be­ing told about the hor­ri­ble cus­tom of ukuth­wala, where young women are pushed into mar­riage – of­ten with the con­sent of their par­ents. And af­ter she is mar­ried, we do not hear a lot about what is go­ing on in the mar­riage,” he said.

Ndama said the book was 1 400 pages long and was be­ing pub­lish­ing in four vol­umes, the first of which was launched last month in Ndama’s home town, Queen­stown. He said the sec­ond vol­ume would be launched next month.

“Hope­fully, we will strike a deal with film mak­ers to start a se­ries on TV. It’s a ter­ri­ble story, but it needed to be told and we are do­ing all we can to make sure that we do ex­actly that. We hope that this is the be­gin­ning and that more peo­ple like Sinothando will come for­ward and speak about their own or­deals about the cus­tom of ukuth­wala,” he said.


TIES THAT BIND French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron (cen­tre) is in­vited on to the stage by Femi Kuti (left), son of late Afro-beat leg­end Fela Aniku­lapo Kuti, dur­ing an event to cel­e­brate African cul­ture at the New Afrika Shrine in La­gos, Nige­ria, on Tues­day. Macron was also in Abuja for a meet­ing with his Nige­rian coun­ter­part, Muham­madu Buhari, in his lat­est at­tempt to forge closer ties with English­s­peak­ing Africa

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