“Your wound is growing into a person
you can touch your pain
and tell it to let you go.”
-Busisiwe Mahlangu (Surviving loss)
Dear Internal Runes
I am a third generation Zulu young lady. I was raised in a community that is deeply rooted in tradition which has grown to be culture. I was planted by my parent’s love, watered by my grandparent’s spirits to bloom into the flower they envisioned. Being a part of this community means I abide by their rules. As a leaf of this tree, I must sway to its rhythm. I do not know what I am without this soil. Who am I without these roots? My identity is embedded in my culture. My culture is one of the most beautiful things I have been privileged to be taught.
Yet it has unintentionally stolen my voice that I cannot even whisper my truth. There must be liberty in speaking my truth and yet somehow it fails to liberate me. Being a black child is a phenomenon that I am yet to comprehend. The secrets and lies that are born behind closed doors live within me. It is not because of the small fences that surround me. It is the abuse that never left the dining room table, pain that never got a counsellor and mental disorders that never got diagnosed.
The shadows of the past have a way of ultimately finding the light. In becoming a young woman I find myself being grounded by these shadows. Being a woman to me means that I need to be strong in places where strength is not a necessity. I am so blinded by my own pain that I can barely see my neighbour’s. In this place, I call home women are treated like glass that can never dare to shatter. When I look in the mirror all I see are these fractures. I cover myself with powders to conceal these cracks. Waterproof eye linear to bind these internal wounds.
I have inherited the growing pains of my forefathers. I am heir to this kingdom of broken dreams, unspoken trauma, long-suffering and despair. I am a princess with an uncrowned queen. Where I am from all queens have ruled nations without a crown in the presence of absent kings. It is unfeasible to relinquish my rights to the throne to do so would be to dishonour my forefathers. There is no place in my community for a child without honour. To renounce the crown is to forsake not only my culture but the essence of self.
I lived in a close knitted township. The fences were built closely together that if I laughed hard enough my neighbours could hear me. In an old house that my father and his younger brother inherited from their mother. The first lesson I learned in my father’s house is that I could never speak my truth. As a child, I need to know my place which is to respect my parents and never question them.
There is nothing peculiar about the days that change my perception about life. It was an ordinary day. I played with my friends and had dinner. My older sister and I went to bed with the streetlight shining through our window. We woke up to ear piercing screams. We followed the sound of a woman screaming for her life. We stumbled into the kitchen and peered our tiny heads through the door. The woman screaming in pain was my mother and my father was punching her harder than a punching bag. My mom was kicking and screaming.
The grandmother next door placed her young son on her back and helped him jump the fence. The next thing I remember was me and my older sister standing behind the window watching my mom flee with her life and my little sister. At that moment even though we were left behind I felt my sister’s arm around me and as scared as I was I felt safe.
In this community, there is no science any behaviour that we don’t understand must be witchcraft. Here we speak nothing of mental disorders. Although I believe there must be a clinical explanation for my father’s behaviour. I need a medical reason as to why and how he could physically abuse my mother. Yet I cannot voice these questions out loud. As in my culture, it is forbidden to question my elders. Hence these are questions that I have accepted that I will never get the answers to.
The excruciating pain of broken bones and brown bruised skin pale in comparison to shattered souls. In this community, we have cultivated a culture of not talking about our pain. No one is ready to take ownership of their suffering, not even me. It is like if I don’t own the “I” it didn’t happen to me. Just because there are no physical scars on me does not mean I am not wounded. I bleed from the internal fractures of unspoken afflictions that will eventually kill me. Nevertheless many have died to save face, so what is another life?
The most painful thing for me as a black child is the fear of losing my parents because of the desire to speak my truth. It breaks my heart to know with absolute certainty that I will not receive an apology or even acknowledgement for the pain that I feel my parents have inflicted. These scars my parents will never recognise are engraved all over my mind.
I have paid for rights I am entitled to just to be part of this community. I have paid too much to conceal my pain. There are certain truths that must be acknowledged, particular realities that need to be faced, even if I am by myself. Heroes are not made by costumes and capes. They are made by moments of choices; to recognise that they are not defined by their internal wounds. That although it is painful I must voice my truth because that is where I find the freedom to live and be myself.
P.S My pain you can let me go.
I exist in stories in my skin, shade and shape.
My name is Zandile Julian Zwane from South Africa. I am a conscious writer and aspiring spoken word poet. I write letters about the experiences of inheriting the growing pains of my parents and community. My desire is to capture the essence of the beauty and challenges of growing up brown skinned. The internal unsoundness of not fitting into the roles laid out by society and the crippling part religion play at times. I am a wanderer that walks barefoot and converses with the night sky. In 2019 I started a blog called Modern Runes where I whisper modern secrets. My friends and family refer to me as the girl who once swallowed grief and spits it out as letters and poems. I believe that I just find beauty in the tears of things.