Beyond Forgiveness

When the abuser passed away, it brought catharsis instead of grief, writes Bhekisisa Mncube about his healing from sexual abuse, endured over four decades ago.

Embracing Understanding and Healing in the Face of Familial Abuse

Beyond Forgiveness: Embracing Understanding and Healing in the Face of Familial Abuse

The death of my brother in 2022 did not evoke grief in me; instead, I felt a sense of ambivalence. Yet, learning of his brutal demise brought a certain catharsis. In my mind, he had been punished for crimes he had not committed, but the pain he inflicted upon me remained unaddressed. At the age of nine, he had subjected me to molestation. Eight years ago, I confided in my wife about the abuse I had endured. While recounting my experiences in my memoir, The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, I vowed never to forgive my brother.

In fact, my mind had compartmentalised this traumatic event for over three decades. Only in the last fifteen years did I begin to grapple with the aftermath of his actions. When these memories resurfaced, they manifested in a rather bizarre manner. During a hospital stay at St. Augustine Hospital in Durban for pneumonia, the attending physician deemed that I required psychotherapy support. An hour later, a psychotherapist arrived, but his presence triggered an unexpected reaction. I declared that no man could touch my body, leaving the doctors and nurses perplexed. It was only years later, during therapy, that I realised this response stemmed from a subconscious trigger.

Yes, I have found healing. Death has a way of bringing closure to many lingering questions. I accept that I will never know if my brother felt remorse for his actions. However, he has left behind five (four girls) children and as the victim of his abuse, I feel a responsibility to ensure their well-being and prevent them from perpetuating or becoming victims of abuse. In the wake of such deep-seated trauma, the journey to healing and rebuilding a fractured family structure is fraught with complexities and emotional hurdles. My story perhaps mirrors the silent battles many face in their quests to find peace after enduring the unthinkable.

The death of my abuser – my own brother – did not bring the traditional grief expected in such situations. Instead, it marked the beginning of a different kind of journey towards understanding, acceptance, and, eventually, healing. It highlighted the unspoken and often misunderstood aspects of trauma, especially within the family context.

Trauma, primarily from within the family, can fracture the foundation of trust and love that is supposed to hold a family together. In my case, the abuse inflicted by my brother cast a long shadow over my life, affecting my interactions and my mental health. The complexity of these emotions became evident during my hospital stay as I have explained. A simple act of being approached by a male psychotherapist triggered a response that was deeply rooted in the trauma of my past.

The road to healing was neither straight nor easy. It required confronting painful memories and working through them in therapy. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of professional help in addressing deep-rooted psychological scars. This process also underscored the importance of recognising and validating the trauma rather than dismissing or burying it.

It remains a poignant memory that after confiding in my mother before her untimely passing due to COVID-19, she never fully acknowledged my pain. Despite my openness, she seemed to dismiss the gravity of what I had endured, acting as though nothing had happened. She repeatedly implored that I reconcile with my brother, stressing the importance of familial bonds with her words: “How will you two carry my coffin when you can’t even talk to each other?”

Strangely, my mother had always been my pillar of strength throughout my tumultuous life. She stood firmly by my side in numerous instances, offering unwavering support. Consequently, I harbour no grudge against her, yet her response to my revelation has been an instructive experience. It serves as a poignant lesson for parents everywhere, reminding them of their crucial role: to believe those who have been abused, to offer a listening ear, and to refrain from judgment. 

Furthermore, although my story was aired on TV and, of course, featured in my book, not a single member of my extended family uttered a word about it.

As a society, we must rid ourselves of the notion that remaining silent means the abuse did not happen and survivors are not suffering. The faith community should prioritise justice ahead of forgiveness.

This approach fosters trust and provides the essential emotional support needed for healing and reconciliation.

Yet, the narrative does not end with individual healing. The cycle of abuse and its repercussions extend beyond the immediate victims. In my situation, caring for my brother’s children fell upon my shoulders. This added a complex layer to my healing journey, as I had to navigate the dual role of survivor and guardian to the next generation. The challenge was not just to heal me but also to ensure that the cycle of abuse did not perpetuate.

This responsibility brought about a shift in my perspective. It was no longer just about coping with my trauma; it became about breaking the cycle and ensuring a safer, healthier environment for these children. The focus was on providing them with the love, support, and guidance needed to grow up in a nurturing environment, far removed from the shadows of abuse.

Regrettably, we haven’t engaged in open communication with the children about the past nor coupled this with assurances of a more positive future. My Achilles’ heel is cultivating a new narrative where respect, consent, and emotional well-being are paramount.

Healing a fractured family structure often means rewriting the script of intergenerational trauma. It’s about building new foundations on the understanding and resilience gained from personal experiences. It involves creating a family dynamic rooted in mutual respect and emotional support rather than fear and abuse.

I am deeply grateful to the Faith Action to End Gender Based Violence (GBV) Collective for providing a space for sharing my story and journey towards healing. Their support has been crucial in my recovery and growth.

Recently, I participated in the Interfaith Sector GBV Mobilisation Campaign, breaking down religious barriers and uniting us in a common cause. It’s heartening to see diverse faith leaders and communities making a public commitment to multi-stakeholder efforts to eradicate gender-based violence, aligning with the National Strategic Plan to End GBV and Femicide. This campaign is a tapestry of unity, bringing together the Baha’i faith, Brahma Kumaris, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Traditional Healers. Collectively addressing this crisis, we contribute our unique perspectives and strengths, filled with hope and determination as we forge a path to a safer, more compassionate world.

In conclusion, the path to healing a fractured family structure involves the survivors and those around them, marked by introspection, understanding, and a commitment to change. My singular journey now is to focus on providing a safe and loving environment for my offspring and my brother’s children.

Bheki Ncube has written a book titled ‘The Love Diary of Zulu A Boy’. Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU

Bhekisisa Mncube is an author of three acclaimed books, a regular columnist for Witness, a guest columnist at News24, and a content creator.