MS Zandile Sibanda desperately held onto her 14-year-old daughter Sikhulile Sibanda, a victim of an early child marriage, as she took her last breath after enduring eight months of a severe illness caused by giving birth at an early age.
Ms Sibanda who wept uncontrollably as she narrated her daughter’s ordeal, said she tried to revive Sikhulile without luck. Her daughter’s last words were “mama, mama umntwanami” (mother, mother my child) apparently referring to her eight-month-old baby.
Sikhulile from Lumene area in Gwanda District was impregnated last year in April by 27-year-old Munashe Ncube and she was 13 years old.
Ncube eloped with Sikhulile early last year when the girl was supposed to start Form One.
Her family reported her disappearance only to learn that Sikhulile and Ncube had been found in Inyathi area after she had given birth.
Sikhulile’s maternal grandfather, Mr Stanley Ngwenya who was staying with the teenager said she disappeared from home in January last year.
After giving birth Sikhulile developed a heart problem and suffered damage to her internal organs as a result of prolonged labour.
She was hospitalised on several occasions up until she died in the early hours of September 9 in South Africa where she was living under the care of her mother.
She was buried last weekend at her mother’s homestead in Lumene Village.
“We discovered that Sikhulile was seeing this man when she was 12 years old and we reprimanded her.
“We even took her for a medical examination at Stanmore Clinic to check whether she was pregnant and the results came out negative,” said Mr Ngwenya.
“A few weeks later we discovered that she was missing, and had taken with her some of her clothes. We went to the homestead where this man used to work as a herdsman near our homestead and we learnt that he had also disappeared.”
Mr Ngwenya said they reported the matter to the police.
“Our neighbours who had employed Ncube didn’t have his particulars hence we didn’t even know where to start looking for him,” he said.
Mr Ngwenya said they received a phone call from some community members in Inyathi and the police from the area informing them that his granddaughter was critically ill.
He said his wife and other family members rushed there only to learn that Sikhulile had fallen pregnant and given birth without her family’s knowledge.
Mr Ngwenya said while in Inyathi, Sikhulile and Ncube were staying with Ncube’s aunt.
“My granddaughter was in good health and she had a promising future. She was actually doing well in school until this man messed up her life. The actions of this man have cost my granddaughter her life,” he said.
“To make it worse, after she gave birth Ncube’s relatives didn’t even bother to tell us and we had to hear from the neighbours about her illness, which they also kept as a secret.”
Ncube was arrested on April 20 in Inyathi. He appeared at the Gwanda Regional Court and was convicted of rape in July and sentenced to 14 years in jail of which four years were conditionally suspended for five years.
Ncube is serving his jail term at Khami Prison.
Sikhulile’s maternal grandmother, Ms Patricia Tshuma said when she arrived in Inyathi in April her granddaughter’s stomach and feet were swollen.
Ms Zandile Sibanda shows the grave of her late daughter, Sikhulile Sibanda
She said Sikhulile could hardly stand or walk. Ms Tshuma said she discovered that Ncube had influenced Sikhulile to lie about her age to health officials in Inyathi and pretended to be 18.
She said Sikhulile’s medical condition deteriorated after she gave birth and this caught the attention of neighbours who then alerted the police.
“Sikhulile was ferried to Mpilo Central Hospital where she received treatment. She was in a bad state and couldn’t even breastfeed her baby hence I had to take the baby with me. They told us that she had a heart problem, and also suffered some internal injuries due to prolonged labour,” said Ms Tshuma.
“She was admitted to the hospital for some weeks and her condition improved and she was discharged. Her condition again deteriorated and she was admitted to the Gwanda Provincial Hospital and later referred to Mpilo Central Hospital.”
Sikhulile was later discharged and returned home. Her mother who is based in South Africa took her to the neighbouring country for further treatment and monitoring.
Ms Sibanda said Sikhulile arrived in South Africa on August 3 and two days later she took her to Thembisa Hospital in Johannesburg where she was admitted for about three weeks.
“I was convinced that the worst was over as she also kept telling me that she was now feeling better. On 8 September she seemed fined and even prepared supper before we went to bed. The following morning at around 4AM her condition just changed for the worse,” she said.
“She started coughing and vomiting blood and struggled to breathe. Sikhulile asked me to take her outside and I did so. While we were outside, I placed her head on my lap and she was gasping. Her last words were “mama, mama umntwanami” before she went quiet.’
According to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), nearly 34 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married countrywide. The commission said it was concerned about the surge in child marriages and the exploitation of young women. Zimbabwe is one of the countries committed to eliminating child marriage.
This commitment has been demonstrated by the launch of the National Action Plan on Ending Child Marriage and rulings by the Constitutional Court outlawing the practice.
The passing by Parliament of the Marriage Bill recently is one step closer to enactment of the Bill, which would bring a fundamental shift in addressing child marriages.
In clause 3 (1), the Marriage Bill provides that “No person under the age of eighteen years may contract a marriage or enter into an unregistered customary law marriage or a civil partnership”.
And for the avoidance of doubt, clause 3 (2) declares that “child marriages are prohibited and under no circumstances shall any person contract, solemnise, promote, permit, allow or coerce or aid or abet the contracting, solemnising, promotion, permitting, allowing or coercion of the marriage, unregistered customary law marriage, civil partnership, pledging, promise in marriage or betrothal of a child.”