Author: Andile Gaelesiwe
Publishers: Tafelberg (2021)
Review By. Rolland Simpi Motaung
The month of August is one where we commemorate the epic efforts of the women who’ve challenged (and continue to challenge) the hellish political status quo of the country. It is also one where my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary.
Seated comfortably inside the restaurant on Sandton’s fading morning, we begin to hold a conversation about childhood trauma and whether it shapes one’s life trajectory or not. In my case it was only in my early teenage years when I became exposed to traumatic experiences whereas my wife had dire experiences from a far younger age.
Through grueling self therapy, and professional therapy as well, she gradually found healing in a quest to not be defined by her childhood trauma. Similarly in her recent book Remembering Andile Gaelisiwe shares about her tenacious journey towards healing and acceptance after having experienced horrific sexual abuse for most of her childhood and again as an adult. In reference to the title of the book, she writes: “The word ‘remembering’ has also been a mantra to assist me and to give me courage, because remembering my childhood experiences have been an extremely tough exercise for me, given that many were more than just experiences; they were traumas.”
Weaving in with IsiZulu kasi slang (with translation provided) along with touches of poetry and mantras, Remembering is an inspirational memoir that tackles issues of rape, patriarchy, friendship, witchcraft and learning to live life to the fullest.
Childhood trauma Like someone stealing unripe fruit from a neighbour’s tree, as a young girl Gaelesiwe’s innocence was stolen.
“One of my first memories of growing up in Meadowlands is a man who lived in a room next door to us,” she writes. “I can’t remember the exact details but I know that was my first experience of rape. The sexual abuse did not start with my biological father, but with this man” she further states.
In seeking refuge from her mother’s judgment the author indicates that she ended up staying with her estranged biological father who had started another family. Little did she know that ubaba would “cut my innocent girlhood, breaking my virginity.”
These events also affirm that sadly the perpetrator is usually known to the victim and that close family members, who are supposed to be a supporting structure, sometimes cover themselves with a blanket of ignorance.
Gaelesiwe also recalls beginning to hate her body and being depressed, angry and mistrusting of people to the extent that she attempted suicide at the age of 16.
Patriarchy and industry sabotage
As a young adult, Gaelesiwe sought to pursue her singing ambitions however she was faced with many obstacles from a capitalist and patriarchal entertainment industry. It can be argued that such challenges are seen in most male-dominated industries where there is a deliberate suppression of a woman’s voice and career growth potential.
As the author’s music career blossomed she states that male colleagues and decision-makers often exhibited a sense of entitlement, to get sexually rewarded, if they offered her a platform. In my view such entitlement is what makes a lot of men use their positions of power to belittle and sabotage women if they don’t get their way.
This Abuti Yo Ontshwara Hamonate hit-maker argues that these men have low esteem issues: “Because they feel inadequate they go around overcompensating usually to someone else’s detriment” and that “ more often than not that someone is a woman”.
Gaelesiwe also argues that many women may not speak out due to fears of stigmatisation or shortcircuiting their careers because “the minute you start speaking truth to patriarchy you are cast as crazy.”
Still, with all the sabotage and backlash received from the entertainment industry, she’s stood her ground. A particular incident she highlights is when she took on her previous management at the Johannesburg-based radio station, YFM, after being sexually harassed. Her efforts eventually led to transformative measures around gender issues within the organisation. More recently, she also stood her ground in calling out some close male friends, such as DJ Fresh, who’ve been entangled in multiple sexual assault and rape allegations. Truth is, men in positions of power – and I dare say, men in general – are intimidated by outspoken women thus they may seek to diminish a woman’s light, even at times to the undesirable lengths of using spiritual warfare.
Beyond other dark chapters relaying her deadly brush with witchcraft, the author speaks openly of an ex-boyfriend of hers called “Stanley” whom she describes as a “predator and narcissist” and a spiritual rapist who carefully plotted to exploit her, including to suck her financially dry. A spiritual healer or “high priestess” herself, Gaelesiwe spotted this spiritual attack early on in their relationship and found ways to remove herself from that situation and from many other negative environments particularly within the media and entertainment industry.
Healing and reclaiming power Gaelesiwe emphasizes that broken people break people all the time hence in her adult years she’s slowly reclaimed her power. She was able to find strength particularly from listening to others share their stories of being raped by their fathers. Over the years she has overcome all the childhood traumas that she’s suppressed.
With the slogan “Talking is Therapy and Therapy is Healing”, Gaelisiwe founded Open Disclosure Foundation (ODF), an organisation that helps young sexually abused women to find healing. She advises that letting go of toxic environments, forgiveness and self-care is necessary to healing and transformation.
Some forms of cleansing oneself she writes about include finding new value-adding friendships or “tribemates,” going on a vacation alone or even taking a long bath infused with healing salts. The author writes that she’s also found healing and validation through her work on nation-building TV shows like Khumbul’ekhaya on SABC 1 and Uthando Noxolo on Moja Love.
Similar to my wife, Gaelesiwe’s dreadful past has made her spiritually stronger and mature. Both women have drawn strength and intelligence from the crevices of their hearts and experiences.
The author concludes that “the fact that I never run from pain, I go to it; I sit in it and deal with it. All my scars are justified.” In essence unearthing the pain and finding ways to heal is the ultimate mission towards creating a liberated life.
What is wrong with us men?
Like the anniversary brunch my wife and I had at the restaurant, this book is deliciously easy to read and digest, mainly due to its effortless writing. What I did find tummy- turning was the repulsive patriarchy exposed in the book. I was personally disappointed in most men the author wrote about, particularly the biological father.
This was a man who already had another family and even a newborn. It left me quite frustrated and mortified at his actions! What made this man so cold-hearted to resort to raping his own flesh and blood? Was it greed, selfishness or uncontrollable sexual urges? Is the elusive pursuit of “penis power” circumcising our brains to think logically as men? Where are the good men like the author’s stepfather, Papa Gaelesiwe (who was in essence a “kasi starring” in the author’s life)?
Growing up, this man listened closely to her to eventually understand her personality: “My father was always the gentle one. I think the nurturing father in him could see something broken in me, and that’s how we slowly gelled,” says the author. A redefinition of what it means to be a man and normalising healthy masculinity is what the author challenges men to do.
She unashamedly states “you are out of touch with your innermost feelings, and aren’t inherently free to freely cry when you need to.” I fully agree with that sentiment: men need to learn to listen more and to be free to express their vulnerabilities.
This is something which I am personally struggling with due to fears of judgment and of being perceived as weak. Truth be told, if we men don’t dig deep into ourselves, we run the risk perpetuating this vicious cycle of Gender-Based Violence for many generations to come.
In her book, You have Struck a Rock: Women fighting for their power in South Africa, Gugulethu Mhlungu frankly states “Men must ultimately end patriarchy and its violence, since it is done in their name and because an end to patriarchal domination would free them too. But the powerful must be willing to let go of power to be free and I am not convinced we are there yet”.
Conclusion and recommendations
Despite the chapters not put in chronological order to reflect the stages of her life, this memoir was a gloomy yet delightful read. This gentle yet candid sexual-violence activist has given us a glimpse into her private thoughts to remind us all that we are not defined by our past.
Although it may be triggering to some women, Remembering is overall a necessary read. I also highly recommend this read to all men, so that we can learn to listen more attentively to how our actions may have long-term negative impacts on women’s lives so as to drive us to alter our nature and behaviour.
Now in her mid-40s, Andile Gaelesiwe is filled with gratitude and acceptance and is comfortable with her journey.
As we walked off into the Sandton sunset, I took a glance at my wife and I was amazed at her strength and how she too has grown comfortable in her own skin, beautifully-so. I am equally amazed at the strength of all the women battling the past to heal from the traumas while also being fully content in themselves despite it all. Lightheartedly, Gaelesiwe concludes “I am enough, more than enough, just as I am.”