She stands as a testament of love gone wrong. How a love affair of childhood sweethearts can come to an unfavourable end.
For Lerato Ngubane, the parts of her that she lost in an abusive engagement were scarring: three miscarriages, loss of hearing and being deliberately infected with HIV by her fiancé. There was a time she didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel, but she has bounced back and penned her story to heal herself and others who have gone through the same.
This is her story.
“My story is about my past, the pressures of community and the wrong choices I made under pressure. I grew up in a community that perpetuated a narrative that the greatest achievement for a girl was to find a partner, settle down and get married – then the community will respect you. In an attempt to earn the approval of others, I made the mistake of getting involved with my ex.
I met him in 1997, I was in Grade 10 and he was a grade lower. We became friends but soon after I had to move to a different part of town, which required me to change schools. I relocated back to my neighbourhood in 2001 and just like that he was back in my life. He pursued me relentlessly, he would tell me how much he loved me and how things would be if I was his woman. After some time I gave in and we started dating.
He was my biggest mistake. He was a serial liar, serial cheater and physically and emotionally abusive. Then he became a serial drunkard. Everyday he'd go to work then to the tavern. He'd do and say anything when drunk and then blame it on the alcohol when you confront him about it when he’s sober. Our relationship became violent as the years went by. I found out that he had multiple children with different women, but he would always deny this. It got worse after he paid lobola for me as he would justify his ill treatment by saying he bought me. I had three miscarriages throughout the 10 years we were together. With the last pregnancy, I found out I was also HIV-positive.
I told him I would be doing an HIV test at the hospital that day. So when he came back from work and saw me, he panicked. I told him I was HIV-positive, and then he told me he was very sorry – it was all his fault, he said. He said by the time he found out that his baby mama was on ARVs he was already sleeping with her without protection, so he decided he would infect me so I wouldn't dump him. He went on to say I was the most honest person he'd ever met and for that reason he knew that if I left him, I would be forced by loneliness to go back to him. He told me how every guy I'd date would run after I told them about my status.
Despite his shocking confession, I stayed with him. I was shattered, I couldn't believe I stayed for almost 10 years in a relationship with a monster. He cried, begged for forgiveness and I felt sorry for him, plus I couldn't stand the society gossip that would follow if I broke off the engagement and left him. But after a few weeks, he went back to his abusive nature. I would cry and pray, begging God for the strength to walk away and never return. Every time I tried to leave him he'd beat me till I was black and blue. The community we lived in believed a man who hits you loved you, so they didn’t bother much coming to rescue me from his fists.
Although I had hoped things would get better between us, they didn’t. I miscarried again. Due to some complications I endured. I was told by the hospital that I had to have an operation to remove my uterus. I woke up from surgery and I couldn’t hear anything. It took me some time to come to terms with not hearing and I was sedated for most of my hospital stay. My miscarriage was caused by elevated stress levels, the doctor said. Months went by and I was back at home with him.
He went back to his drinking ways and coming back in the early hours of the morning. One day he came back very late and sat outside the house for quite some time before his aunt let him in. He was angry, he said I didn’t respect him as the head of the house and made him sit outside his own house. He swore at me and called me all sorts of names before he beat me once again. It was my birthday and this is what I got. That was the final nail in the coffin. On 30 September I finally gathered the courage I had left in me and left him. I’m not concerned by what anyone says, but I did it for myself.”
Lerato started off writing to keep sane and used it as a form of therapy. She went to study at Wits University, but couldn’t finish due to financial reasons. She went back to her hometown in KwaZulu-Natal where she started volunteering at a centre for the blind and deaf. That is where she shared her story with a colleague who encouraged her to turn it into a book and share it. Her book, By the Grace of God: Sleeping in Abuse, was born. She self-published and obtained 25 copies which she has been self-distributing. “I have appealed to the department of arts and culture for funding so I can print more copies,” she says.
Her book is also available as an e-book.