Tale of con­fu­sion and hard­ship for girls trapped by twisted tra­di­tion

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Front Page - Hen­drick Mphande mphan­[email protected]­soblack­star.co.za @ com­ment on this what­sapp 067-055-7103

They leave home dressed in the tra­di­tional makoti (young mar­ried women) wear but when they ar­rive at school they don their school uni­forms in an out­build­ing.

For young girls mar­ried through the bas­tardised ver­sion of ukuth­wala – where young women are mar­ried as mi­nors or against their will – the dis­con­nect be­tween their two lives is dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate.

At home, they play many roles – mother, wife, daugh­terin-law and pupil.

That is the re­al­ity for four young moth­ers who were in­ter­viewed by a del­e­ga­tion, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, at Gobi­namba Se­nior Se­condary School in Mthatha.

The del­e­ga­tion was try­ing to get to grips with how to help the girls sold though ukuth­wala.

What emerged was a tale of con­fu­sion and hard­ship.

The girls, who range in age from 19 to 24, walk to school ev­ery day, wak­ing early in the hope that their ed­u­ca­tion will one day lift them out of poverty and en­sure they get jobs.

That hope is over­shad­owed by wor­ries that their hus­bands will not let them study fur­ther.

Once they en­ter the school gates the girls slip into an out- build­ing and trans­form from wives to pupils.

The del­e­ga­tion was tour­ing the school in the Bhaziya Ad­min­is­tra­tive Area near Mthatha.

Prin­ci­pal Mon­wabisi Ma­ca­bela said he had no­ticed his young pupils’ strug­gles when they joined the school in 2015.

“I no­ticed that when they ar­rive, the girls are dressed like moth­ers of the vil­lage but they quickly slip into that build­ing and change.

“It’s not school pol­icy to dress as a makoti . Per­haps it’s their fam­ily who in­structs them to dress like that.

“We do not dis­crim­i­nate against any one of them,” Ma­ca­bela said.

Some of the girls were mar­ried as far back as 2012 when they were aged be­tween

15 and 17.

A 20-year-old woman, who was 16 when she got mar­ried, was the first to ad­mit that liv­ing a “dou­ble life” had its share of chal­lenges.

“While at school we do not nec­es­sar­ily feel com­fort­able.

“We are teased and the other pupils tend to be judg­men­tal be­cause we are mar­ried and yet we are class­mates,” the grade

12 pupil said.

Ma­ca­bela said two of the girls were in grade 12, do­ing sub­jects such as maths and physics while the other two, also in grade 12, were do­ing more com­merce-re­lated sub­jects.

“A fifth girl dropped out of school in June while in grade 11. When we tried to fol­low her up, she in­formed us that she was in Gaut­eng.

“Her hus­band in­structed her to no longer at­tend school [say­ing] she must fo­cus on her mar­riage,” Ma­ca­bela said.

At face value, the girls look much like any other pupil, dressed in checked blue skirts, school jer­seys, black shoes and white socks.

How­ever, their de­meanour is more re­served.

With sheep­ish looks the girls quickly changed the topic from ukuth­wala and how they got mar­ried.

They re­sist any at­tempt to delve into de­tails such as home life, whether or not lobola was paid and the ages of their spouses.

“He asked me [to marry him] and I agreed. We love each other. It’s not easy to bal­ance home life ver­sus the life of a pupil,” said a 20-year-old woman.

She was also only 16 when she got mar­ried.

She dreams of be­com­ing a traf­fic of­fi­cer one day while her hus­band works in the mines in Gaut­eng and only re­turns dur­ing hol­i­days, she said.

Dr Noku­zola Mn­dende, founder of the Ica­m­agu In­sti­tute, said there were dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of ukuth­wala in­clud­ing ukugcagca (elop­ing), when a girl se­cretly agrees to marry a man she hardly knows, while other cou­ples date de­spite the age of the girl and later de­cide to marry. The third cat­e­gory in­volves the man force­fully re­mov­ing a girl from her home to be­come a wife.

Mn­dende said the prac­tice put un­nec­es­sary ex­pec­ta­tions and bur­dens on the vic­tim.

Years ago, she said, the prac­tice had been ne­go­ti­ated be- tween fam­i­lies but nowa­days young men sim­ply made de­ci­sions with­out the con­sent of the girl’s par­ents.

“It cre­ates un­nec­es­sary pres­sure on the poor child.

“As a mother in-law, I will ex­pect her to fetch wa­ter, cook and wash the dishes.

“Her hus­band would also ex­pect her in bed. When is this poor child go­ing to do her home­work? Ukuth­wala is not the so­lu­tion,” Mn­dende said.

A 19-year-old, who has one child, said she had got mar­ried two years ago at the age of 17.

“My hus­band is of the view that school is not part of his top pri­or­ity.

“I have been in­structed to only com­plete grade 12 and there­after be at home full time.

“I won’t give de­tails of my hus­band and how old he is,” she said.

Her 24-year-old class­mate, a mother of four, said she was 17 when she en­tered into the ar­ranged mar­riage.

All of the girls would like to con­tinue study­ing after school, but they were con­cerned their hus­bands and in-laws would not al­low it.

Po­lice spokesper­son Cap­tain Dineo Koena said the po­lice were able to hear the girls out but were not nec­es­sar­ily in a po­si­tion to open a case.

“The girls are not pre­pared to open any case. There is noth­ing we can do. We can­not force them.”

The di­rec­tor of the Khula Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Project, Pet­ros Ma­jola, urged the girls to take own­er­ship of their lives and be in charge of their des­tiny.

“We want you to be in­de­pen­dent women. Hav­ing your own cars and house,” he told the girls.

When he first met them, Ma­jola said, the girls had felt un­com­fort­able.

“Per­haps they were think­ing of their in-laws or hus­bands that would be ar­rested and who would look after them should they be ar­rested.

“We don’t want you to be drop-outs,” he said.

The girls agreed that they would have no-one to look after them if their hus­bands were ar­rested.

Her 24-year class­mate, a mother of four, said she was 17 when she en­tered into the ar­ranged mar­riage

Pho­to­graph: HEN­DRIK MPHANDE

DIF­FI­CULT FU­TURE: These child brides have to jug­gle school­work with be­ing wives and moth­ers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.