Cebisa Mtsi is one of many women in South Africa who has been a victim of physical or sexual abuse, but she has chosen to use her history to shape her future. By Buhle Mweli
After years of living with the shame stemming from her early childhood experiences, she decided to use her past to inspire other people by penning her autobiography, This is My Story. Cebisa is now a self-employed motivational speaker who finds healing in helping other people.
This is My Story gives readers a vivid account of the 40-year-old mother’s life so far. Although it is a short read, it’s still heartbreaking and comforting at the same time. It gives you hope.
At the age of four, when most kids would have been carefree and playing with friends, Cebisa was just finding out that the people who had taken care of her since she was born were not her biological parents. She had been adopted by a woman who had struggled to conceive for years. After her biological mother in the Eastern Cape was threatened with disownment for getting pregnant at the age of 19, she felt she had no other choice.
When her biological family surfaced, Cebisa was five. Her adoptive family asked for a cow in exchange for their daughter, and when they eventually received it, Cebisa was reunited with her family. And, unbeknownst to them, she’d been molested by her adoptive brother several times.
‘When I met my mother for the first time, I assumed my life would be easy after that,’ she explains. But she was soon shipped off to join her brother and grandmother in Johannesburg, leaving her mother to stay behind in the Eastern Cape.
Cebisa explains how her teenage years in the house were marred by a cousin who raped her repeatedly for three months until he moved out of their home. Cebisa’s life started to unravel from that moment on and she suffered another incident, this time a gang-rape at a boyfriend’s home.
‘I didn’t feel safe in the outside world any more, so I began to retreat inside myself,’ recalls the businesswoman and motivational speaker.
‘There were moments when I could feel a deep sob building up inside me, but I had to push it back down.’
Cebisa moved back in with her mother, but their relationship was strained. She found it hard to fit in and often got into altercations at school. In no time, the silent sobs began to resurface and they took over her mental stability.
Something as simple as a noise would set Cebisa off and then anxiety attacks would follow.
‘The conventional doctors could not diagnose me or offer me any help,’ she explains. ‘My family tried many things to get me some help, but it wasn’t until I went to a church organisation that I started seeing an amazing difference in my life.’
‘I met a guy on a visit to Cape Town and soon after my return home, I found out I was pregnant,’ Cebisa continues. ‘I was 19 years old and still in school, just like my mother was all those years back.’ The first-time author describes how her mother took her to a doctor so she could get an abortion.
At 23, Cebisa was studying business management in Cape Town when she met the women who helped her finally confront her past demons and in part helped shape the woman she is today. After several attempts to take her own life, she found solace in music and a relationship not only with her friends, but with her faith.
Cebisa is quick to point out that she would not have been able to overcome the psychological impact her childhood had on her without her faith.
Now the mother to 12-year-old son, Ntando, Cebisa says that she wrote the book and continues to speak around the country because she knows that people need to hear her story. People have suffered all kinds of rejection and abuse, despair and darkness.
‘I have forgiven everyone and I hold no grudges. For the sake of my healing and health, I’ve had to let go. I love my life more than I love my pain. I now have a good relationship with my family.’
‘I am now in the process of starting an NGO called This is My Story Healing Centre,’ she says. According to Cebisa, the centre will focus on abuse victims and provide them with the platform to share their trials and tribulations in a safe environment free of judgement or pressure. According to South African abuse statistics, many abuse victims don’t speak about their experiences. The reasons for this include the fear of retaliation from their perpetrators and the always-present spectre of personal humiliation.
‘This is my way of trying to make a difference and not allowing my past to determine my future,’ she affirms. ‘I’m also considering actually studying counselling, because I have already been providing so much counselling to people informally.’
This is My Story costs R150 and can be bought via vazudigital.wix.com/cebisa.