The international 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December. The Salesian Life Choices program works with young people in vulnerable circumstances and helps them to tell their stories. Spotlight.africa will feature some of their stories over the next 16 days. A chance encounter at a party when Fatima Hendricks (21) was a teenager set off a series of life-changing events over a on the duration of just one year. Now an adult, she can finally talk about it.
Born in Cape Town and raised in Valhalla Park, Fatima grew up in a stable household with her mother, two sisters and nephew. Fatima’s father was never a part of her life.
“My mom and dad never married. I know my dad but he was an absent father. He had a problem with alcohol and I would see him maybe once a month. We’re not in contact anymore.”
“My mom and older sister were working at the same factory in Epping. After school, I would look after my little sister and nephew. I would take care of them in the afternoon when my mom and elder sister were at work.”
“We are a close-knit family. If one of us has a problem, we won’t let that person face it alone. My mom is loving and very playful. She would come home from work and be dead tired but she would still play with us.”
Fatima was in Grade 10 when both her mother and older sister were retrenched.
It was a difficult period and Fatima recalls living hand to mouth. “Basically, we were begging and borrowing. Most nights we went to bed without food.”
It was during this time that Fatima recalls making “the biggest mistake” of her life. She joined her friend to attend a 21st birthday celebration.
“Life was so stressful that I decided to say yes to my friend, thinking that some fun might be good. I began drinking as soon as I arrived at the party. I just wanted reality to go away. Until today, I don’t remember anything about that night after the last moment of consciousness. The next morning, I woke up next to this guy and we were both naked. We talked for a while and he said it was a fun night. Even though I couldn’t remember anything, I agreed with him.”
Fatima went home that morning but for two weeks after the party she felt overwhelmed with anxiety about her actions, “I felt it wasn’t me, how could I have lost total control of myself? I felt ashamed and extremely nervous about the situation – I didn’t even know who that guy was.”
Three weeks after the party, Fatima was expecting her monthlies. It was late and Fatima’s mind went into overdrive about what that meant. She came clean to her mother about what had happened at the party.
“My mom and I are super close. We are more like sisters than mother and daughter. She was disappointed but she supported me. She said that whatever happened, had happened and that you can’t change the past. She told me, ‘it’s going to be fine and that we are going to get through whatever happens’.”
Fatima took a home pregnancy test and it confirmed her worst fears. She was pregnant.
“I felt like my life was over. Like, ‘why did I do this?’ My mom was right next to me when I took the test. She was also shocked but her presence made things slightly easier.”
After her pregnancy was confirmed, mother and daughter went in search of answers. They tracked down the stranger from the party and Fatima spoke to him over the phone.
“I was so overwhelmed, but I asked him to meet up somewhere because I needed to talk to him. He sounded very surprised. He sounded like he never expected to hear from me again.”
Fatima and the stranger met at a public garden and even though she had misgivings about how he might react to the news of her pregnancy, she enjoyed spending time with him and the two spent the afternoon together talking about life in general.
Despite their easy-going rapport, it was only when he dropped Fatima at home, that the reason for their meeting was discussed.
“We were sitting in front of my house and then he got all serious. He asked me if I was pregnant and I said yes. He handled it like a grown up. His exact words to me were ‘okay, fine. I’m going to take care of you.’
“I was confused. My thoughts were, ‘what is he saying? how is he going to take care of me?’ I got the courage to ask him, ‘be specific, are you going to book an appointment for an abortion?’
“I could see he became upset with my suggestion of an abortion. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to go inside the house and ask your mom if I can have your hand in marriage.’ He said it just like that. Like it was nothing. I didn’t say anything. I was stunned. “The only thing I said was, ‘What?’”
He met Fatima’s mother and proceeded to ask her for Fatima’s hand in marriage.
“My mom just looked at me and asked if this is what I wanted. We admired him for taking responsibility for his actions. At that moment, we all agreed. I felt like it would be better for my child to know both parents. He seemed a good person and it was the right thing to do according to our Muslim religion.”
The next time he came to Fatima’s house, he was accompanied by his father and arrangements for the wedding date were made. It was decided that the marriage ceremony would take place two weeks from then since Fatima was already pregnant.
“For some strange reason, I got excited during the preparations for the wedding. The wedding day came. It wasn’t a big thing, just family was there. He was 23 years old and I was 17 and still at school.”
The wedding took place in May. The party where she had met her husband had taken place in the first week of April. Fatima describes the feeling between both of them as one of the besotted newlyweds.
Fatima’s father-in-law bought them a modest home and the couple moved in to start the rest of their lives together.
“I guess it was a bit awkward in the beginning. We were two strangers without knowing what to say to each other. But, as we got to know each other, we got more comfortable. Eventually, we started being an actual couple – a loving couple.”
Fatima continued her schooling and her husband was employed.
Fatima was in the second trimester of her pregnancy when seemingly overnight, her new husband’s personality drastically changed, turning him into someone she barely recognised.
“He did a full 360 degrees. He changed from a loving, attentive and kind person. He used to treat me like I was the only person that mattered.
“First, the drinking started. He came home drunk almost every night. He couldn’t walk, drunk. For about two weeks he came home like that.”
Soon after the drinking started, the physical abuse began.
“When it happened the first time I was really shocked, like ‘I don’t know you like this, like ‘this isn’t you.’ But as time went on, I suspected he was using drugs. He would just, out of the blue, slap me and throw me around. I felt like I needed to get out of there but I couldn’t, I needed to stay for our child.”
The abuse continued for weeks.
“I was seven months pregnant and he came home from work. It was a Thursday evening and I could see that he had reached a tipping point. In the living room, there was this ornamental marble pillar. He took that thing and he just beat me with it. I was screaming for help. I was on the ground curled up in a ball. The only thing that went through my mind at that moment was, ‘I’m going to lose my baby.’ It felt like he was beating me forever. I just kept screaming.”
Fatima’s neighbours heard her and they stormed her house, pinning her husband to the floor.
“I was in a lot of pain. The only thing on my mind was whether my baby was okay. When I looked down at myself there was so much blood.”
Fatima was rushed to hospital.
But in the emergency room at the hospital, doctors confirmed Fatima’s greatest fear. Her baby was dead.
Fatima was induced, and she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, “I saw her and I held her. She looked just like her dad. My heart was broken in small pieces. I can’t describe the pain.”
Fatima’s husband was imprisoned and he is still behind bars.
Fatima decided to divorce her husband. In order for the divorce to be finalised, Fatima had to visit her husband in prison, so that he could sign the final divorce papers.
“It was a difficult day for me, emotions were still very raw, but I was determined to end this chapter in my life. I am not sure what I was expecting, but when I saw him in jail he had a smirk on his face. No remorse whatsoever. My heart was racing and I had a mix of strong emotions, racing from sadness to rage. I think if I could have, I would have hurt him back.”
The divorce papers were signed in November of the same year that Fatima had met her now ex-husband. Subsequent to losing her baby, Fatima underwent a medical examination that revealed she had a slim chance of falling pregnant again.
“I can’t fully explain how I felt about all that had happened, and the possible consequences for my future. I did not attend school for six weeks and different emotions lived inside of me each day. The love and acceptance of my family assisted me in that dark period and I still managed to pass grade 10 in that year.
“In Grade 11, I became a loner and I was just with my books. I was there, but I wasn’t really present. Even though the experience changed me as a person, I still managed to finish high school successfully. I don’t drink anymore at all, and parties are a no-no. I was this bubbly outgoing person before, but now I’m kind of reserved.
“My mom always told me it’s Allah’s will. It’s supposed to be this way. At that time, I couldn’t understand. Now I do.
“For me to move on, I had to stop being angry. Being angry mostly at myself. I needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror and forgive. I needed to accept what had happened, and trust that there is a reason for everything. Even if we can’t fully comprehend it.”
When Fatima was asked her final thoughts, she said, “you need to trust in something. Trust that there is a reason for the challenges that life brings your way. As cheesy as this sounds, what does not kill you will make you stronger. I now know this not as a concept, but as my personal life story.”Republish