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Cape Town -
As a young girl Nosicelo Matiwana, now 35, dreamt of leaving her home in a white wedding gown, with fancy shoes and stylish hair. She would be whisked away by her Prince Charming to a glittering wedding reception.
But Matiwana’s wedding when she was 18 was a nightmare.
She was forced to leave school, had a blanket thrown over her, was given a head scarf to wear and informed that she was now a wife. And that’s how she met her husband – at 39, a man 21 years older than her. Her dreams of furthering her education were shattered.
Now, 17 years later, Matiwana, a mother of three, is free after finding the courage to leave the man she never loved.
“I was doing Standard 10 (Grade 12) at a boarding school in Cofimvaba when a group of men from my home village in Tsomo came and told me my father had died. They said they had been sent to come and get me,” she said.
Matiwana was taken to a house where her school uniform was removed and she was ordered to don bridal wear. A woman whom she later learnt was her mother-in-law told her she was now a wife.
As a new bride she had to fetch water from the river, cook, clean and bear children for her husband.
“I didn’t want to get married, but because things were not good at home I told myself that maybe this way things would be better.”
Hers is a classic Cinderella story, but without a happy ending.
Matiwana’s mother died when she was a little girl, her father worked on the mines in Joburg, and she was left in the care of her stepmother, who was behind the marriage arrangement. Her stepmother did not consult anyone in the family nor did she get consent from the teen herself.
“My father only found out about it six months later when he came to visit. My stepmother had already accepted the lobola on his behalf – two cows and R2 000 is what it had cost.
“I didn’t love the man I was forced to marry. He was older than me and whenever I wanted to leave elderly women from the village advised me to hang in there, things would get better.”
When Matiwana’s second child Yolokazi, now 13, was born, things went from bad to worse.
The child suffers from epileptic seizures, is disabled and cannot look after herself. Relations with Matiwana’s family deteriorated.
“My husband’s family cursed me and told me that they had never had a disabled child in their family. They said she wasn’t my husband’s child and accused me of infidelity. My husband rejected me and my child.”
In 2004, she and her daughter fled to Cape Town, hoping doctors at Red Cross Children’s Hospital would be able to help her. She left her other children, now aged 15 and 11, behind.
In 2008 her husband died.
The two other children rejoined her, but she says she still resents her late husband and his family for what they did.
“I wish I had not married this guy in the first place,” she said.