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Martha's Children

a South African story.


Life in the shanty town wasn’t much to speak of. It was a slow, seemingly unending cycle of waking up to absolute destitution, and going to bed with water and stale bread as supper, if any. The pain of living such a lifestyle could easily be seen on faces of the older and less naive, but was almost undetectable on the children – besides the protruding cheekbones which came as a result of the empty cupboards they’ve grown so used to. Walking around, the smell of urine almost hurt the nose with its' intensity, and uncollected garbage lined dusty roadways. Unemployed parents sat daily thinking of what they could offer their children for sustenance, and how to get more. One of those parents was Martha Magagula, known to the locals as Gogo Martha – one of the longest-running settlers in that forgotten section of Kliptown. Her only dependent was her fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Nandi. Nandi was a very bright and hardworking young girl, balancing school at Progress Secondary, and being the cook and cleaner in her tiny dwelling. Gogo claimed she had been rendered useless by her arthritis; Nandi thought she was just lazy. The pain in Gogo's joints was nothing compared to that of posing Nandi's mother. Her body was found massacred in a field that residents had made into a garbage dump. Investigators said she’d been raped prior to her death. “Now that your mother is gone, you are my only hope to see a life outside of this shack before I die,” she often said to Nandi, morbidly.


School and Gogo were the only things that gave Nandi purpose, until she was approached by a boy midway through her fourteenth year. “Hey, nginguThulani,” said the handsome young boy upon his introduction. “What’s your name?” The spark of romantic fascination in combination with the surge of hormones ushered in by her new adolescence had Nandi feeling attraction, a strange – albeit pleasant – feeling. The grade 9 boy began his courting and had Nandi spell-bound for the fortnight during which he continued to woo her. Sexual innuendo began to invade their conversations, and grew from mere flirting, to actions from which they both received pleasure. When around each other, it was all they could think about, and soon it became apparent that consummation at its' fullest extent was imminent. The day came, and it was bliss for both of them. The feeling of skin-on-skin distracted them both from the realities of living in Kliptown. They engaged frequently, until two months after their union Nandi said, “Thulani, ndikhulelwe,” cutting through the pleasantness of the conversation they were having prior. Neither of them could afford a doctor or the abortion pills, the deliberation over what to do about the pregnancy made the air between them cold and they were now more distant than ever. “I'm not ready to be a father, Nandi. I'm sorry.” That sentence would mark the end of their teenage romance. Gogo was an experienced woman; Nandi's recent morning sickness, constant complaining of sore breasts and visible fatigue prompted Gogo to ask sternly one afternoon after the break-up : “Who is the father?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nandi replied. “I'm not foolish, Nandi. Answer me.” Nandi's anger towards Thulani and the recent burden of carrying a child built up within her and in that moment, she said something that she knew was terrible, but her emotions rendered her mind useless. “He raped me. Thulani raped me.“ Tears began to build in Gogo's eyes. “Some vermin raoed and left your mother to die. He was never caught. I won’t let that wretched boy get away.”


Gogo sold fatcakes in the morning to supplement her government grant, and Thulanj was a regular. He ordered his usual two fatcakes and slice of colony, and handed Gogo the money. “I couldn’t find the one who took my daughter, so the one who took my granddaughter’s dignity will suffer today, and she mixed in the rat poison she kept to thwart rodent into his breakfast. “Be well at school, my child,” she said to him, as she did every morning. She relished the sight of watching him eat much more than be could ever enjoy the homemade treats. By the time the school day was over, news had spread that Thulani was no more. Nandi was caught between grief and guilt. All of her anguish intensified when, a few weeks after Thulani's death, her pregnancy began to show. She cried almost daily, for reasons which Gogo could not surmise. Arrangements had been made for Nandi to abort the child at the local clinic in a few days, and the boy who assaulted her was dead, so why would Nandi cry? The answer to that question revealed itself on Nandi's suicide note. She told the naked truth, and said that she loved the boy that she'd previously claimed had raped her. Martha sat stunned on that day, unable to even form tears, while blood continued to spill from Nandi's wrists, dirtying the floor and wetting the sheets of the bed they used to share, in the process. She would continue living for about five years after that day, with pain in her frail heart, and blood on the hands that fed the residents of Extension 3 every single morning.

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