Zoleka Mandela: I felt like I was in a horror film …

2013-11-10 10:00

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The year 2010 was Zoleka Mandela’s annus horribilis.

In these extracts taken from her new book, When Hope Whispers, she talks with refreshing honesty about the day her daughter died in a car accident, her battle with cancer and her relationships with men.

In the early hours of June?11 2010, I woke up to my father, my aunt Zenani and my brother Zondwa walking into my hospital room.

They told me they had come to take me home.

There had been a car accident.

My only daughter, Zenani, had been killed.

I don’t remember anything else after my aunt and brother told me that.

The last time I ever saw her was during that dreadful night when she had come to say goodbye after I had tried to burn myself alive.

The biggest part of me died with her that June morning.

How I left the hospital room and found myself back in the room Zenani had shared with Zwelami, I do not know.

But I remember lying on her bed, where the base had already been removed as per tradition, in a room filled with friends and family who had come to extend their condolences.

My grandfather’s medics had administered a tranquilliser to me.

Everything else is a blur. I kept thinking: God should have taken me instead.

I chose my daughter’s coffin at Kupane Funerals in Soweto.

On that day, I couldn’t believe that I was upstairs picking a coffin while my daughter lay alone and cold in one of the rooms below me.

How does a mother who loves her child walk away from that?

At the funeral home, I was given the belongings that she’d had with her in the car.

She had with her so many clothes that evening, all of which were now covered in blood.

In the plastic bag from Kupane Funerals was a gold-and-black Baby Phat jacket of mine that I’d never worn, but which I knew Zenani had loved.

I remember the smell of my daughter’s blood following me

as I carried the plastic bag with me, removed it from the car

and placed it next to me in the downstairs bedroom at my grandmother’s home, where I would mourn her passing.

Ifelt like I was in a horrorfilm, and I was finding it impossible to even comprehend. I’d had Zenani and Zenawe taken from me, and now there was the sudden reality that I may never again breast-feed or carry another pregnancy.

I had lost two babies and now I was losing even the possibility of finding that love again. I explained to Dr Benn that I had breast-fed Zenani and Zwelami (her surviving son) for a solid two years each – so how could I be denied that right in the future?

Why is all this happening? I asked myself.

“There is nothing you did to cause this – it’s in your genes,” Dr Benn said as I sat across from her, weeping.

But I battled to understand that no matter what I’d done, or how I’d done it, I would always have ended up getting cancer.

It had always had a hold on me, and it felt like an old boyfriend seeking revenge. I started bargaining: if I can never breast-feed again, please God, let me be able to carry my babies in my own womb.

Ihave always been scared to be alone. In my relationships with men, especially, I have been desperate to feel wanted, safe, protected and, most importantly, loved.

Indicative of my low self-esteem and profound fear of rejection are the physically and emotionally abusive relationships I encountered as a teenager and as a young woman, which at times led to suicidal tendencies and which had me rushing

from one disturbed relationship to the next.

My relationships were always so intense and dangerously passionate, and I suppose I thrived on that: the short tempers and the violent jealous streaks.

Ironically, the so-called “bad boys” I was so insanely attracted to from the age of 13 were also the men I felt most safe with because I felt they could protect me. Actually, I needed protection from myself.

For a very long time, I placed my value as a woman in all the wrong places, but perhaps that wasn’t the problem: it was my own lack of self-worth. How I felt about myself depended on what the men I dated thought about me or made me feel.

If there was infidelity on a boyfriend’s part, then I felt it was because I wasn’t good enough, that I was unwanted.

When I look at why my relationships each took a turn for the worse or completely dissolved right before my eyes, I’m forced to face the uncomfortable question of how I contributed to my own problems.

And I suppose I felt it was too much of a responsibility to give myself the time and space to heal from each relationship – it was much easier to venture into a new relationship after a failed one.

And there is something else I have come to understand, too – baggage I have carried into every one of my relationships.

When I was a child, my dad could do no wrong in my eyes, but I have come to realise that it was his passivity that was so destructive to me.

It had me believing that if I could find someone like him, but someone willing to play a more active role in loving and protecting me, I could change myself to make him stay.

There has always been a template for the type of man I have wanted for myself, based completely on the one man whose recognition I have always sought: my father.

But that man left a very long time ago.

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