Mandisa Sonti: A family’s tragedy
59-year-old Mandisa Sonti is in tears by the time she gets to the end of her story. Her partner has come out of the bedroom and is now sitting next to her, handing her a tissue.
Mandisa had always been close to her sister. Life had often dealt her sister a harsh hand and Mandisa was always the person she turned to in times of need.
*Nontombi had often been unwell. She struggled with high blood pressure and diabetes but for years was able to manage her condition. In 2014 however, Nontombi’s health took a turn for the worse. She was frequently ill and became more and more withdrawn. And then, her children Thozama and Siyanda started to fight constantly, making life at home even harder.
Siyanda, the eldest, was a talented young man who had a bright future ahead of him. ‘He was a fantastic artist, he could start drawing and I would come out exactly as I am,’ says Mandisa.
At some point, though, Siyanda got involved with the wrong crowd and drugs started to ruin his life. ‘He would take tik and be uncontrollable, even though his mother was sick. He was always kicking his sister out of the house and I would phone begging him to stop,’ Mandisa says.
When things got particularly bad, Mandisa would move to her sister’s house for a few days. Upon her arrival, the children would stop fighting and her sister rallied. ‘Whenever I was at the house, Nontombi would recover, she would be up and about. But just let me leave and the phone would ring and say I must come back.’ This trend continued: whenever Mandisa would leave her sister, she would come back to find her severely distressed. But each time she tried to find out what was wrong, her sister would say nothing.
One afternoon, Mandisa arrived at her sister’s house after hearing that her condition was getting worse. When she arrived at the house, Siyanda was passed out on the couch and her sister was in her bedroom, completely disorientated. ‘The sheets on her bed were very messy and something just didn’t feel right,’ recalls Mandisa.
She could not shake the feeling, and so she took her sister to the hospital, where she was told that Nontombi was suffering from depression. Mandisa tried to get her sister to open up to her, but all she would say was, ‘It’s these kids, they are bothering me,’ without elaborating on what she meant.
When Mandisa took her sister home, she was determined to find out exactly what has happening. She called a neighbour over and asked her to speak to Nontombi.
‘I started to suspect that maybe she just didn’t want to tell me what the problem was,’ says Mandisa. When the neighbour arrived, she stood out of sight and listened in. Finally her sister opened up: Her son, Siyanda was sexually abusing her. (Mandisa later found used condoms hidden in the pillowcase.)
Mandisa went straight to the police and Siyanda was arrested. He remained in prison for two months but was never asked to give a statement. His mother underwent tests, the results of which were never furnished. The police found explicit sexual drawings of Siyanda and his mother that he had drawn. These pictures never made it to his docket. ‘That investigating officer did nothing,’ says Mandisa.
Throughout the investigation, Siyanda’s docket remained empty. Eventually his case was dismissed and he was simply told to ‘leave the house and go somewhere else’.
Nomtombi died in hospital, and for an entire week her body was missing. For days Mandisa travelled between the Khayelitsha and Tygerberg hospitals trying to find her sister’s body. ‘After everything she had been through, they wouldn’t give me her body,’ she says through tears.
During this time, the TAC was the only place that Mandisa could turn. At her request, the TAC was able to garner media attention for her story. She never attended a court hearing without a group of volunteers that supported her, and during the mourning period, the TAC provided whatever support she needed. They also attended the funeral and helped where they could.‘The TAC solves all our problems. If it was left up to the government, we would be living like animals,’ says Mandisa.
The TAC has long transcended its scope of being a health organisation. It has taken up all the issues of the community, be it family disputes or legal issues, never turning its back on any one. Mandisa says she doesn’t know how she would’ve have got through the ordeal if it wasn’t for the TAC. ‘If I hear of anyone with a problem, I refer them to TAC because I know that they will get help, like I did.’