When he saw me, he picked me

      Year of Birth : 1996

      Mqanduli, Eastern Cape

      “I was 13 when I was thwalad, my husband was 17.

      My cousin and I were sent on an errand to a house in a neighbouring village. When we got there my cousin was sent back home and I was told I was remaining behind to be married. I was very scared and confused. I couldn’t understand or believe that this was happening to me at my age. I was so shocked I didn’t even cry. I just sat there, afraid, not saying a word. That evening I saw for the first time who my husband was when he came back from visiting friends in the village. He didn’t say anything to me. We all slept in that hut – him, his mother, his father and his four siblings.

      The morning following the thwala the man’s family normally sends word to the girl’s family not to look for her, to inform them where she is, and to ask for lobola discussions to start. This process of informing her family happens regardless of them consenting to the thwala beforehand or not.

      It was a week before my three uncles, my father’s younger brothers, came. They asked to see me in a separate room, where they told me that my father – who is a migrant worker in Johannesburg – had arranged for me to be married. It was only then that I started crying, when I realised that I was not going to go home. All along I thought that my family would fetch me and take me home.

      I could tell that my uncles felt sorry me, but they said that there was nothing they could do. If my father said I had to get married, then I had to get married. That is when it really sunk in that I was there to stay. Even though he was in Johannesburg, I was terrified of what he would do to me if I disobeyed his instructions for me to be married. I knew I didn’t have any other option but to stay.

      There was always somebody with me, even when I needed to use the toilet. Not that I seriously thought about escaping. The evening after my uncles came my father in-law called my mother-in-law, my husband and me to a separate hut. He told me that I was now married into this family and what was expected of me as a wife. His parents left me and my husband in the room.

      My husband, who had not said a word to me up until this point, got up to close the door and sat down again. He asked me a few questions, to which I gave short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. He then told me to take off my clothes and get into bed. I was petrified, but I did what I was told. What happened next was painful. I cried.

      I hadn’t even started thinking about boys at the time of my thwala. I was in Grade 2 at the time and had not had any sex education at school or at home. The only thing I’d heard about sexual intercourse was from my friends, who didn’t know much either.

      I got my first menstrual period a year into my marriage. I gave birth to baby boy another year later, when I was 15 years old.

      Though my family was assured that I would be allowed to continue with school after I was married, my husband made it clear that I would not be returning. He told me I was never going back to school because it is not the wife’s place to go to school after she is married. I don’t think his family ever had any intention of allowing me to continue, I think they only promised my family so that they would agree to the marriage. I was very clever at school. I wanted to study further after finishing high school. But I had to accept that my education was over.

      Other young brides agree that ukuthwala is not a nice way to get married, and they are shocked to hear how young I was when I was thwalad. The ones I know were 18 or 19 and most of them were thwalad by boys they were dating. But there is a young girl that was thwalad recently at 14 years old.

      My husband said his parents told him it was time to find a wife, so when he saw me, he picked me. The reason my father gave me for marrying me off so young was that he didn’t want me to fall pregnant as an unmarried teenager.”

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