HOME – MY PRIVATE PRISON
A young woman has written about a childhood filled with abuse, poverty and pain. Vasantha Angamuthu spoke to Zazah Khuzwayo.
This is the face behind the statistics on domestic violence and abuse, the name behind the court roll calls of panic and pain behind private walls, the eyes behind all those details of alcoholism and teenage pregnancy. Ultimately, though, this is the face of Zazah Khuzwayo, survivor.
The 24-year-old Durban woman’s story of surviving childhood abuse, poverty, a battle for education and growing up in a time of political and social upheaval is contained in a slim, self-published volume, which was launched in the city on Wednesday.
Zazah’s book, Never Been At Home, is a simply told, badly edited, painfully raw story of survival against the kind of odds which are all too familiar in the townships that straddle this city. She tells, through recounting her childhood and teen years, a story that is all the more tragic because it is so familiar.
Through her book, she said, she hopes that women and children who were living with abuse could find strength. Her descriptions of the abuse suffered by her mother, her older sister, her brothers and Zazah herself are graphic, sometimes littered with expletives to show the young Zazah’s growing anger at her violent policeman father. “…That is when he jumped at me like a police dog jumping to catch a criminal. I tried to run, but he caught me just outside the door that had a burglar guard next to the kitchen. Everybody ran outside. My mother, my sister and my two brothers were all screaming for help, but they wouldn’t come nearer as they were all afraid of what he might do to them. As he grabbed and kicked and punched me, his aim was to drag me inside the house so that he could lock me in and hit me without interference. But I was holding onto the burglar guards. I knew that if he succeeded in dragging me inside I would be dead meat.
“God gave me power. Maybe because I was so frightened he kept on hitting, punching and kicking me. It was like he was fighting with another man. I was screaming and begging for help,” she writes.
She records each remembered incidence of abuse and through them, her intense dislike of her father, her growing belief that there could be no God and her ambivalent feelings towards her mother, whom she loved totally even though she despised her because she remained in her cruel marriage.
Her father, she says, was a dog, a “satan”, and a man whose cruelty was fed by a diet of violent books and movies and his job as a policeman. The physical violence aside, the father showed no love towards the family. “What was really disgusting,” she writes in the book, “was that he had his special groceries like eggs, aromat, sponge cake, peanut butter, jam, sausages, polony and cheese. All that was only for him. We could only look at it when we prepared food for him. He locked all of it in his bedroom.
Through her experiences, Zazah raises the use of traditions and culture to make excuses for violence.
“The culture and traditions of all nations are harder on women. To me it seemed that being a woman was a curse. I wish I was a man. We give and nurture life. We are the weaker sex and we are abused by society…for women the shadow is darker and closer. Even in our so-called civilised world, it lurks behind them, always threatening, like a dark, evil bird; a stranger; a friend, a madman, a father. Even a husband can hurt and humiliate them as a matter of right.
“In our family we were being abused inside the walls very secretly. The church, the society and the neighbourhood didn’t know about the treatment or cruelty we were facing inside our house. My home was not a home.”
Today, Zazah Khuzwayo is a beautiful, though still not self-assured, young woman, determined to complete the engineering course she started at tech a few years back. She is raising a four-year-old son from a teen relationship and will try to make peace with her father, who she says she might forgive but will never regard as a father. She is also mourning the loss of her sister and her mother.
She has worked as a domestic worker and a waitress. She has battled alcoholism and survived a three-month spell in jail after being found guilty of assault.
Her stint in Westville Prison at the end of last year helped her, ironically, because it made her take stock of her life and gave her the space and time to write the manuscript which has now become Never Been At Home.
“I got into a fight,” is all she would say about why she ended up in jail, “but I learned so many things about myself when I was in jail. I cried all the way through writing this book and when I reread it, I cried some more from remembering.”
Zazah says the book has helped her heal. Her brothers have seen it and have shown nothing but love and support for her endeavour, she said.
“My father has not seen it yet. I don’t mind if he does read it. I believe this book will help other people.”
She makes this clear in her dedication: “This book is dedicated to two late women that were both victims of abuse; mentally, physically and sexually: My mother Nosipho Octavia Khuzwayo and my sister Nomusa Gloria Khuzwayo.
I only survived because their love was so powerful, but not enough to save them.
“To the women being abused out there: Don’t waste your time. Stand up for yourselves.
“And to the men: Maybe in the future you’ll need the tree that you piss and shit under…
“To the children being abused: Don’t allow them to destroy your dreams and your future.
“To the parents that abuse their children: Not only do you destroy your children’s lives, but also the future of new generations.”
Her fiancé helped pay for the publication and now, she says, she hopes to complete her studies and maybe do something more creative, writing or theatre, so that she can destroy all the demons which her book has released and helped her exorcise. Kwela Publications has expressed an interest in publishing the book.
- Never Been At Home was launched in Durban this week at the same time as the release of books by two other Durban authors. Johan van Wyk’s much pre-publicised Man Bitch (self-published and available at Ike’s Bookstore in Morningside) is an autobiographical story of the University of Durban-Westville professor’s search for love in the environs of Durban’s Point Road, where most of his relationships are forged with sex workers. It is a graphic account of his relationship that reads like a journal.
- Rick Andrew’s Buried in the Sky (Penguin) is an account of South African soldiers trying to make sense of a war in Angola which they could not see. Andrew, a conscript at the time, allows his comrades to tell their stories of loss, life, death and a political situation they couldn’t quite comprehend.