Tale of confusion and hardship for girls trapped by twisted tradition
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
DIFFICULT FUTURE: These child brides have to juggle schoolwork with being wives and mothers