How one young man is growing his wings and ready to fly with support of his ‘God given’ family.
One of Mnu’s most traumatic memories of growing up in extreme poverty in the Eastern Cape in the 90s was the four days it took to get to a hospital after a serious horse-riding accident. “My friend and I were riding someone else’s horses, when I fell off and broke my arm and leg,” says Mnu. At the time he had no idea that it would take days to get to help. “It was raining, and the rivers were flooding, there was no car nearby, and we had no money, and my mother carried me on her back.” He remembers his mom saying, “My son, you have to be strong.” The experience was so physically painful, and his leg took so long to heal due to the slow process of getting treatment, that he had to miss the entire year of schooling.
Growing up in Centane, Eastern Cape, Mnu and his family experienced all that goes with grinding poverty. No shoes, and often going to bed hungry, was part of life. Due to family dynamics and a history that his mother endured growing up in a family that was not her own, the little unit was moved around like pieces on a chessboard – trying to make home in different villages, but it never lasted. Her love and commitment to her children, and many others in the community, were the one constant over the years. “She raised many children that were not her own,” says Mnu.
Mnu’s mother was the second wife to his much-older father, married off at the age of 15 to a man who had lost his wife in childbirth. “At that time there were no choices for women,” he says, “And my mother did not know love in her lifetime.” As a child, she had to tend the animals on her own and if any were missing at the end of a long day, she would have to sleep outside. She suffered from childhood to adulthood, and some of that ran over into Mnu’s life growing up feeling unwanted by much of the extended family. “It was painful,” he says, describing how their lives were even under threat by a family member who wanted to “get rid of them.”
The trauma of not being fully accepted anywhere, and not having a ‘home’, sleeping alone in homes that were not his own, going to bed hungry night after night, is etched on Mnu’s face as he tells his story. The one constant for Mnu was and is his mother’s love, who faced all odds to try to protect him from the instability of her childhood. His longing for his father’s support, love and guidance was unmet year after year. “I tried to be strong and find someone to raise me and show me the way.”
In an attempt to help his mom, he left school thinking it would be better if he tried to work. “My mother struggled every day, we were so poor, I couldn’t bear it. My heart was so heavy to carry these things, so I left school looking for work so she can live a better life.”
But that ‘better life’ was elusive. His life began to spiral. Mnu joined forces with two other young teens who formed an indomitable trio who raided gatherings for alcohol, and beat up other boys, or anyone else who they wanted to. “I was so angry inside; it was anger coz of the bullying,” he describes, “I had no power when people were bullying me when I was little. I could not fight for myself. Then I found power, even though I used my power with the people who had not bullied me.” One night, an alcohol-induced fight left two young men in hospital, and Mnu had to flee the village and come to Cape Town.
Once in the city, Mnu found work in construction, and started sending money home to his mom. She began to find hope, and it was a satisfying time for him. Until a night of drinking with strangers lead to a mysterious death, and two of his ‘friends’ putting it on him, with the police arresting him. “I took it as my responsibility even though I did not take anyone’s life.” Nine years in prison broke Mnu’s mother’s heart; it also built in him a desire so strong to get out and make his life matter and take care of his mom. “In 2015 I met City Mission at Drakenstein prison and joined one of the programmes – I got to pour my heart out for the first time. I had so much revenge in my heart and mind, but the City Mission team helped me find peace.”
“I obeyed all the rules in prison, and took every opportunity I could,” he says, and he never looked back, with an early parole in 2020. A family member in Stellenbosch invited him to live with them for a season, and provided him with a place he could call home while he tried to re-order his life. Despite this support, Mnu realised he needed help to get on his feet in all ways. “I called Sibu and asked for help.” He joined City Mission’s life skills course programme, and computer course as a start, and things started changing for him.
Sibu, one of City Mission fieldworkers, has been a rock to Mnu as he has worked out his anger and frustration at his past, as well as continued injustice in his family. “There were times when I called Sibu, he came and encouraged me, like family,” he says. “I learned to slow down, think and respond differently.
Being a resident at City Mission has given Mnu the space he needs to gain health, healing and wellbeing, as well as focus on studying to become economically self-sufficient. He is studying to be a Barista and his eyes sparkle as he speaks of his newfound hope for his future. “God has given me all these things, and I have it in my heart to help other women who face the same struggles as my mother did, and that I did, as a child.”
Reading, learning, resting, listening, in close partnership with the other young men there, has been healing and life transformative for Mnu. “We are not friends, we are brothers,” he says, “And the people of City Mission have walked with me, like brothers and sisters, they are my family, real family. If it were not for City Mission, I would not be here today.”
The City Mission team has helped Mnu with inner transformation and discipleship as he nurtures his relationship with God and others, as well as transport money and food, a place to stay while he studies, and constant encouragement on his journey. “Now I will rise,” he says, “You can cut an eagle’s wings, but they grow again and will fly.”