CRAMMED WITH HEAVEN: Painful, beautiful path to teaching destiny

A monthly column in which Jenni Pretorius Hill shares stories of hope which bring Heaven’s perspective to Earth

“I was grateful for the mask. The other teachers couldn’t see my dislocated teeth and swollen face. They knew something was wrong, but they never asked.”

Nomfundiso

I’m sitting on the double bed that Nomfundiso shares with her six-year-old son. It was the only piece of furniture she had until recently when she was able to purchase a desk and wardrobe. The woman opposite me shows no visible sign of the violence she’s suffered. Her teeth are perfect, and her smile is wide. I have asked her to tell me again about the journey that has brought her to East London, and this time I’m taking notes. 

Nomfundiso grew up in the dilapidated suburb of Balaze Valley outside King William’s Town. The memories of her childhood are coloured by the emotional bullying of peers and family, and the premature death of her beloved father when she was only 11. 

“I was looking forward to my birthday so much that year because my dad was planning a combined celebration for us both, but he passed away earlier in the year. It was terrible. My dad was my hero.” She tells me about the name-calling throughout her school years. “I grew up believing I was so ugly. For a while I wouldn’t look at myself in the mirror.” She laughs, “I wish my dad could see the beautiful woman I’ve grown up to be!” 

She tells me about her siblings; her murdered brother who had excelled in everything he did as the all-round star in the family, and her adored sister who was bullied as she was. “People would ask us: ‘Why is your brother so pretty and you girls are so ugly?’”

Dissuaded from pursuing a career in teaching, she opted to study something after school that would “make me more money.” The decision took her to the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, where she enrolled for – but failed to complete – a degree in chemistry. During her time at the university, she had felt pressurised to marry a pastor from her hometown, and had suffered a miscarriage. Transition into married life, the loss of her baby and the long hours working in a laboratory to help cover her fees, culminated in a near-collapse and she dropped out in her last year during the sitting of her final exams. 

“There were so many signs that I was supposed to marry him; and he kept on telling me that he needed a wife if he was going to be a “proper” pastor and eventually I just gave in. My chemistry professor had told me that the laboratory would be my husband; he was right, I just couldn’t have both. My husband resented all the time I spent studying, even though he had promised to let me finish.”

During a prac teaching stint in the time of Covid Nomfundiso was grateful that her mask hid evidence of the physical abuse she suffered at home (Note: The woman in this stock photograph is not Nomfundiso)

With the miscarriage, came a doctor’s diagnosis that conception again would be a near-miracle. She was told that because of an inverted womb, it would take her 10 to 20 years to fall pregnant. There were other medical complications for which the public healthcare system could offer no solution. 

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In December 2014, Nofundiso was praying with her sister, when the Lord spoke to her. He told her that in December the following year, she would have a child. “My child would be called Evidence – for he would be the Lord’s word fulfilled.” From that moment on, she began testifying of her miracle, telling anyone who would listen that she was “Evidence’s mother”. “People looked at me like I was crazy,” she tells me. One day, during a church gathering, she felt the Lord telling her to tell the people she was pregnant.

“I really wrestled with it because I knew for a fact that I was not pregnant.” But she believed so strongly that it was a directive from God, and she needed to obey. 

“I got up in front of that whole church and told them I was pregnant.”

In April, shortly afterwards, she conceived. It was a very difficult pregnancy. One of her scans revealed that her baby’s head appeared to be filling with fluid and swelling abnormally. She was advised to consider aborting, which she refused. She also developed diabetes. “I was told I needed to ‘own it’. The nurses even got angry with me because I wouldn’t accept any of it. I just said ‘no, I’m not owning a disease.” Neither did she accept that her child would be a hydrocephalus baby. On December 15, Evidence was born without any of the symptoms that had reflected on the scans, and she had no further indication of diabetes. 

Despite the joy of Evidence’s safe and healthy delivery, Nomfundiso struggled with postpartum depression exacerbated by the accelerating decline of her marriage. Her husband became increasingly absent, and when he was around, more demanding and aggressive. “He didn’t care that I was struggling with excruciating pain; I was his wife, and my job was to submit to him.” I ask her whether “abusive” is a term I could use to describe his behaviour. “Absolutely. He raped me.” She shakes her head: “We black women in the church are told that our husbands sit somewhere up there,” she points above her head “and we’re down here, and we have to do whatever we’re told.” I don’t mention that it’s a belief system not exclusive to “Black” churches. 

Breaking point came after a year of serving her mother-in-law in her marriage responsibility as makoti. “I was so grateful to have a child, but I started to think ‘this can’t be my life, this can’t be all there is.’” 

It was at the end of 2018 when her mother had finished paying off her university debt for her failed degree, that she decided she needed to go back, this time to do the thing she had longed for as a child – to become a teacher. Her husband agreed to let her go to Fort Hare in East London. At this point in her story, I look at her startled, “But how would you do it financially? And what about Evidence?”

She laughs at me, “I said to the Lord, if you can give me a child, you can do this.”

Refusing to leave Evidence with his grandmother — I’m his mother – she set out to find accommodation for herself and son close to Fort Hare University. I still don’t understand what her plan is, she has no money, and has left with the clothes on her back. 

“There’s only one way I can do it,” she tells me, “I have to get distinctions in my first year so I can qualify for a full bursary the next.” Her mother gave her R1 000 a month, and she received a tiny grant for Evidence. “It all went to feeding him and paying for nursery fees (he was three at the time). You should have seen me, that year I got so thin. I lived on R1 biscuits from the cafeteria and water.”

At night she would go to sleep with her son at 8pm, only to wake at midnight and start studying. In the morning, she would drop her son off at nursery school so that she could get to the computer lab at 8am. “Otherwise I wouldn’t get a computer, and I needed one because I didn’t have a laptop.”

2019, she tells me, shaking her head, was a hard year. But at the end of it, she achieved distinctions and qualified for a full bursary. 

But in 2020 her studies were interrupted again, this time by Covid, and she was forced to return with Evidence to her husband’s home, but he was less amenable to the idea of her continuing to study. He wanted her and Evidence at home to fulfil what he considered her responsibilities as his wife. After hard lockdown she started “prac” teaching at a school in East London. It was at this time that she was beaten so badly she was grateful to hide her face behind a mask.

“He tried to stab me too and he would have killed me if I hadn’t managed to grab hold of his wrist.”  

She filed for divorce. Her community and church turned against her when she told them what had been happening at home. “I was completely sidelined. No one showed any compassion.” Rejected by her community and contending with the emotional weight of divorce, motherhood, studies and teaching, Nomfundiso went on to not only finish her degree in 2022 but to graduate with distinctions. 

Last month she took Evidence with her to the graduation ceremony. “They told me no children under 12 were allowed to attend but I wasn’t going to graduate without my son. We’re a team.” 

“It was really clear that God told me to wear a green dress for the occasion.” She didn’t understand until she looked up the prophetic meaning behind the colour green. “New beginnings, a fresh start, restoration” she tells me. “And it was short, so I could show off these legs that everyone used to tell me were so ugly.” 

I look at my watch. It’s almost time to fetch my son from school. He has a Xhosa oral to prepare for tomorrow and I’m at a loss. Nomfundiso says she can help. Later that afternoon she sends me a voice note. She’s taking him step by step through the pronunciation. I laugh as I tell her she’s a natural teacher and she responds with: “You do know that my name means ‘teaching?”. It was prophetic. God really did know her before she was born; the journey to where she is now has been circuitous and painful, miraculous and beautiful.

She’s going to be a brilliant teacher. 

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One Comment

  1. Luyanda Klaas

    This is heartbreaking and a powerful testimony at the same time. I know this woman personally, she suffered a lot, she endure pain and misery in the name of marrying a pastor, only to find out later he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s a great friend with a pure heart, she’s very kind. At church we were misled into thinking she was a bad person who loves power and who was a dominant partner in the marriage, only to find out those were all lies.
    I was one of members of the church under her, that women is truly a woman of God, an embodiment of the goodness of the Most High God. She’s a strong woman I have ever met in life. She was born to be a teacher, I sense that when we ran a Children’s Ministry together and after she was gone, it failed.
    Her ex husband is my cousin, oh that man has a sweet tongue and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself intangled in many things. Am so proud of Nomfundiso and of the woman she has become. We may not be best friends but am so proud to be one of the people in her circles.
    May the good Lord continue to bless her and her son beyond measure, she’s a remarkable woman, she deserves the best….❤️❤️❤️.