I am Thembisa Cordelia Mhlawuli known as Lovey. I was born in Cape Town in Somerset Hospital. My parents are Nomthandazo Patricia known as ‘Pat’ and Welile Christopher Mhlawuli. I am the last-born, my sister’s name is Carol and brother’s is Ezmond. I stayed with my family in Langa for the first, good 5 years. My father became very abusive to my mother, then she left, and that was the end of a happy family for me.
I’ve stayed with my paternal grandmother in Nyanga for 2 years. Then with umakazi wam (aunt, my mother’s sister), she and her husband took me in. I stayed with them for the next 8 years of my life. They raised me with good standards, solid family values, which I still carry with me to this day. At my aunt’s I stayed with a lot of siblings and cousins. During my early teens my closest cousin was already dating, while I was a slow bloomer.
I showed no interest in boys and I was teased because of this, but it did not bother me much. My life was normal and carefree just like any other teen. My first experience with a girl was when I was 11 years old in Primary School. I remember my friend and I were in the soccer and cricket teams. Unlike other girls, we would chase girls and kiss them and run during intervals.
Well I guess I knew I was different from my cousin, but never paid attention to it. In High School things were different, I met a varying group of friends who were nothing like my Primary School friends. We clicked immediately because we were all free spirited and not afraid to express it.
I was 16 years old when I had my first sexual encounter with a girl, it was mind-blowing and scary at the same time. This girl was in my class; she was beautiful with long hair and big eyes. When she changed schools I dated someone else. Funny enough, my friends never asked about my sexuality, I don’t think they cared. I matriculated in 2004; I was employed right after I finished writing my exams. I worked as a waiter at V&A Water Front at the end of 2004.
With the money I saved while waitressing, and registered at North Link College in 2005.
I enrolled to study Fashion Designing, which was to grow my true passion. I kept working as a waitress because I needed money to maintain my education. I met a girl and I fell in love with, the first time I saw her. She was working in the same place as my sister. Her friends started noticing how there was no talk about and boys and how I had tomboys as friends and how there was this one particular girl I hanged around with all the time.
My sister took me out for some time for us to bond. We talked honestly to each other until she told me about the rumors about me and L. I was hesitant to answer, obviously afraid of how she would disapprove. She sensed my hesitation and said, “ You can tell me anything Lovey, I’m your sister and I love you, I promise I won’t be mad.” I told her, “Yes its true, she is not my first girlfriend, I just don’t have feelings for boys.” Suddenly she changed and told me what a disgrace I am to the family, how I was sinning and how I’m practicing Satanism by dating other girls. She stormed out of the restaurant, while I was left with my mouth hanging, all teary and ashamed.
When I got home that day my grandmother and aunts were home with my sister. My grandmother was disgusted my aunts appalled, telling how they thought my tomboy phase would fade away eventually.
I was told that the family would disown me if I did not stop my evil ways. I freaked out obviously, thought and felt that there was really something wrong with me. I later camouflaged with a boyfriend, when my sister saw this boyfriend she started speaking to me again. I wasn’t happy; the boy kept pushing for sex. Not wanting things to go sour with my family, I ended up giving in and fell pregnant during my first and last time.
I then dropped out of school and while I was caring for my daughter I decided that my child would know me and not someone I pretended to be to keep my family happy. I came out to them. This time I told them that falling pregnant was not my intention, neither was dating a boy, “for the sake my child, I will not pretend to be someone am not,” I added. I explained that if they don’t love me for who I am, then I am more than happy to be disowned by them. At that time nothing else mattered but my child.
I was in and out of jobs, while my family had “sort of” accepted me. They were not degrading me for who I am, my sister and were not on speaking terms, even though she was there for my daughter and me.
My daughter became the center of my world, it revolved around her, and it still does actually. When she was three I started dating again, this time openly, this time it was liberating I must admit. Until I was attacked, on the way from a friend’s house, I was with my girlfriend. It was dawn on New Years Day.
My neighbor’s son was at his house, his T-shirt was torn and he was drunk. It didn’t look like anyone was home so I decided to take him to my house for his safety. After I tucked him on the couch, I realised my girlfriend was not inside yet.
So I went to look for her outside. The boy’s friend was chatting up my girlfriend and he looked drunk. I called my girlfriend because I wanted to close the gate, as she was walking towards me, he grabbed her arm then exchanged a few words. I turned, ready to close the gate, then I heard a smashing glass, before I could turn; I felt a sharp thing on my face.
As I turned, the boy was in front of me attacking me with a bottle kop cursing me. As he was stabbing I evaded his swings, he called me Isitabane and how he hates people like me. He asked why he couldn’t get the girl he fancied because of me, when I didn’t even have “the real thing” (penis).
The woman who raised me, my late aunt Mandisa Magadlela Zini who passed away on the 19th of June 2015 once said to me, “Mntana nam obubomi ubukhethileyo abukho lula and bunobungozi zocela ulumke ugcine imfundiso okhuliswe ngazo” (My child, this life you have chosen is not easy, and it is dangerous, please keep all the principles you were raised with).
She was a pillar and a mother to me and many others that were blessed enough to have crossed her path, May her beautiful soul rest in peace.
I survived that night with a nasty cut on my arm and face. I then started reading and attending funerals of homosexuals who have experienced hate crime and are brutally murdered. I began to attend Gay prides and marches around the community and joined organizations such as LGBTI and Freegender. I truly admired our activists like Funeka “Ta Fura” Soldaat, Zanele Muholi (baba) and many others who have truly made a difference and who are still fighting and telling our stories.
I am proud to be working for a company called Flash Vending Mobile my family and I have a better relationship. Currently, I am engaged to a wonderful soul, soon to be married.
My daughter is healthy, happy and knows who I am.
Previous life stories