As I write this now I’m thinking about all the good and wonderful times I had with the woman I will never forget and never see again. I’m Collen Mfazwe, a black lesbian photographer and proudly South African. This is not about me; it’s about the love that will never be replaced.
I want to give a little background so that you understand where I come from with this love. I was born in a family of six children, two brothers, three sisters and me. I was supposed to be the last-born but my mom decided to have twins. My older brother passed away in a car accident may his soul rest in peace. My mom was a very strong and brave woman who believed in herself and loved spending time with her children.
She also believed in God and praying for strength. We never had a father and that didn’t bother us because we didn’t see any difference, my mom played both roles in our lives. She raised six children alone, not having her own house, which was brave of her. She started working at a dry cleaner for about 3 to 4 years before I was born. Then, she worked as a domestic worker before working in schools and at the feeding scheme department.
She then got a stable job as a cashier at Pick n Pay in Boksburg and worked there for a long time. Now and then we moved from place to place because she didn’t have her own house. It was an exciting journey for me because I didn’t like staying in one place for a long time. It was only straining when I had to make new friends.
Around the years 1995 to 2000 we stayed in a place called Maphupheni in Daveyton, that’s where we settled for a long time. Life was not easy at all; we were seven people sharing one room. There was one thing that kept us growing strong and strong, that was our mother’s love.
She would go to work and come with nice stuff, the two things I will never forget is chees puffs the one that had a blue plastic with a big man wearing a cow boy hat and boots holding a sword and Danon (yoghurt) that had two sides one with nuts/muesli and the other side yoghurt. On the 25th was payday; everyone would be smiling at home. My mom used to love tea, reading novels, kip kip and Aero chocolate; give her one of the things mentioned above and she would feel better.
I was the most naughty one in the family, when mom said “come back at 6 O’clock” I would do the opposite and come after 6pm and defend my self by saying its not 6pm its after 6pm. I would come with her favourite stuff and bribe her. Keep in mind that I grew up like a boy so I would do all these things that boys do in the street, come back home with torn trousers, my bum would be exposed and would hide the trouser in a washing basket. Weekends when we do the washing they would find my torn pants, and then I’d be grounded. I would behave on the first day, then the following day I’d be back to square one.
She never had enough money for the many responsibilities she was faced with. She never failed or left us with someone else but always suffered with her children all the time. On our birthdays mom couldn’t afford to buy gifts for us. Instead she made sure she bought a cake and then wrote a long letter for you, telling you how much she loves you and how much she wishes the best for you. That to me was the most wonderful gift ever; the fact that she’s next to you, spending time with you on your birthday meant a lot me.
That is why even today I take people’s birthdays seriously. She loved doing things for herself, cleaning, washing, gardening; painting you can name them she was very domesticated.
In 2002 she bought a house, not big but comfortable in a place called Mayfield (Mina Nawe). We moved in our own home, even though we always had a home even if we were renting because a home is made out of love and dreams unlike a house made out of bricks. Mayfield is were we settled permanently. Mom always knew I was lesbian but at that time was not familiar with the word. It didn’t matter to me; I saw people like me but didn’t understand them and was always with boys playing soccer.
Mom never had a problem; instead she was worried about when I have to change in the field to wear my soccer kit. She decided to buy me boxer shorts, the shiny silky one, at that time cartoon printed bvd was the in thing. My mom started getting sick around 1999 but it was not a big deal, then she lost her job in 2001 and at that time she was taking care of us as her 6 kids and my 2 cousins, that was 8 kids alone.
We still survived, then the illness got worse and she couldn’t do anything anymore. She went in and out of hospital and we were not fit enough to take care of each other, we prayed now and then with her asking for help from God. Her mother and young sister took care of her while we were also helping. I remember one day we were all there, staring at her, she couldn’t move, speak or eat and we still had hope.
March 2005 things were hectic, on my birthday, 14 March 2005, she gave me a hug, she couldn’t buy a cake or write letters anymore, and that’s how weak she was. She told me she loved me that was the last hug and last powerful words, she said to me. I was still in school and I couldn’t cope, actually all of us battled. 29 March 2005 schools were closed, my older sister was attending matric classes and I was home with my aunt and grand mom. I went out to buy electricity for like 30 to 45 minutes when I come back my mom was gone
Things were bad. I didn’t have anything to live for because my everything was gone. Even at school I was no longer performing well. There was a time when I was staying in different places, not going to school because I had nothing to live for. The person I wanted to work for and do things for was no more. Time passed and I went back to school and had to repeat Grade 11. I passed and went to Grade 12 but didn’t do well. My focus was not school anymore but to make money so that I could help my siblings. My older sister is the best for us and is our strength. She wanted to give the twins the best education and things were hard, we didn’t do much but we did what we had to do to keep pushing.
She’s now working in retail, not earning much, but she’s pushing. I was also lucky to get a chance to study photography and I make something out of it even though it is not much but I’m still pushing. I have lots of good ideas for projects but resources are always a crisis. The twins are coming ok, one has ancestral spirits (amadlozi) and the other one has a part time job but has passion for media. Now its even worse because of me, she always says, “can you start your company so that I work for you? I think I can be your PA or make movies with you what do you think?”
We are taking care of each other just like how mom taught us.
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