“A wise man once said that the shortest distance between the human heart and the truth is a story.” So begins the story of Nakedi Mngadi’s life, told with searing honesty and beautiful insight into the mysteries of the heart.
From her earliest memories, Nakedi’s life was motivated by a misguided resentment of her mother. Against the backdrop of South Africa, her upbringing as a Jehova’s Witness, and her wry observations on life as a black woman in that time and place, she takes us on her journey from toxic bitterness to understanding—of her mother and her own mission in life—and how she ultimately found freedom in the unlikeliest of places.
Nakedi’s story will open your eyes, break your heart, and set you free. It just might change your life forever.
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A Journey Begins
I was born into a truly dynamic and very successful family of highly intelligent individuals. My mother, only seventeen years of age at the time of my birth, lived at home with her mother and three sisters, in Soweto, the biggest black township in South Africa. Her two older brothers were already at university at that point, and the youngest brother emigrated with her father, my grandfather, when he and my grandmother divorced. The reason my grandfather emigrated to Canada was not the divorce, but because black men in South Africa at that time were forced out of the country into exile where they could fight the apartheid system from afar.
All of my relatives who remained in Soweto were devout Jehovah's Witnesses, a religion that came with its own set of impracticable demands on one's life. Their disciplined belief system, combined with the exacting standards by which they all lived, placed tremendous pressure on me from a young age to conform, as every step I took not only reflected upon my mother's social standing but that of my extended family of very well-behaved overachievers as well.
By default, I was expected to happily comply, conforming to standards that I did not subscribe to or, in some cases, which I was opposed to. Even with all the cerebral explanations and biblical interpretations my family impressed upon me, I did not understand why I had to inherit beliefs and the resulting behavior of adults in my family without consultation and/or my express agreement. I could not comprehend why I was forced to believe in those values or be forced to practice them.
Why couldn't I sing at school assemblies, or partake in celebrating a friend's birthday and enjoy cake like all normal children did? Why did I have to be choked in formal attire for church three times a week when I needed to wear shorts and skinny jeans like most children my age?
Such restrictions made me feel like I was being deprived of human rights as basic as breathing. The right to just be me. I knew at a very young age that I did not belong among all that pretense. I was determined to live an unbounded life, unrestricted by anybody's instruction or image of perfection, at any cost. My wish for freedom and autonomy was immediately crushed by my very strict mother, whom I must describe in detail to enable you to follow my story and understand all the detours my life endured as a result of my upbringing. It was her, raising us as a single mother, along with my younger sister, and the religion that I feel caused irreparable damage to my entire family, that shaped my childhood and events that followed.
Work with me for a minute here and imagine a very young black woman from very humble beginnings, who conquered the South African apartheid system and went on to achieve ten tertiary qualifications including an MBA and a PhD. She accomplished this whilst raising her two daughters single-handedly. She is on top of her global career in three major disciplines of industry. She is an entrepreneur; an active community developer who has a foundation for children in need of care that also designs education for social work professionals; has visited eighty-two countries on six continents; speaks fourteen languages; races cars; has a private pilot's license and flies airplanes to relax; has lost sixty kilograms of body fat and kept it off for twenty years through a natural diet and dedicated exercise; is an avid golf player; and loves her jazz piano.
Tell me, what is your first thought? Exactly! All your thoughts combined however, do not begin to describe my mother's versatility, discipline, resilience and focus. Growing up, I truly believed she was a machine. She worked tirelessly and behaved like one.
Her strikingly beautiful features and impeccable image have never matched the presented personality, especially because her obsession with health and physical appearance saw her looking at least ten years younger than her age at any point in time. Considering that she is only seventeen years older than me, this meant wherever we were, people assumed that we were sisters.
My mother seemed to have three incongruent layers of personality with unceasing common threads flowing through each of them. Her sense of humor was a characteristic that was ever-present, and which she adjusted to suit any of her personas effortlessly. Her most frightening layer was the professional façade; then the extreme opposite was her happy, inner child; and lastly, her undefended core, which seemed to be her engine.
She interchanged these personas when she needed to navigate a particular situation. The multiple personalities were initially very confusing to me as a child and presented her as three different people; later, though, they turned into an asset that I cherished. She is a brave woman who takes on any establishment, person, or thing that stands between her and her goals.
In what I identify as the façade, or her survival mode, mother wore a masculine mask as an intimidating outer layer that dominated the mornings of her life. She used it to communicate with the world at all levels and, I suspected, to also scare her children into to obedience. She is a planner deluxe, starting her days at four thirty in the morning with meditation and yoga, then working with a personal trainer for her strength conditioning. Following breakfast, she is engaged with all her business activities until around six at night, when she changes gears and immerses herself in her home activities, which last until nine, when she goes to bed. At that point, it is lights off for everybody. Every activity in my mother's life, including free time, is planned and scheduled.
Her whole life has been planned in this way, right down to the last second, and consistently executed with precision. Dare you mess with any of her planning, you would experience the most unrelenting indignation. This unspoken warning was permanently plastered on her beautiful face and understood by all and sundry. She has always kept a minimum of four employees at all times: a personal trainer, a chef, a chauffeur, and a butler who manages her home. As if this was not enough structure in one's life, my mother had to attend three Bible meetings weekly, as well as weekend field service, which is when Jehovah's Witnesses make home visits to teach the Bible.
I never understood why this woman had to live the life of ten people alone. It was too much, and because there was very little time to spend as a family, she took my sister and me to most of her activities. Thus, my sister's and my lives were also planned to the last second, including how many breaths we could take at what time. We had to do some sort of social service for about five hours on Saturdays, where we either visited one of her orphanages with her or else an old-age village where we were helping frail grannies with baths, cleaning their condos, and cooking for their week. We played golf and piano with her, we attended all Bible meetings with her, we travelled the world with her, and if she had a business lunch or dinner when we were not at school, she would take us with to the restaurant and we would eat at our own table whilst she conducted her meeting.
We went to all her grooming appointments with her, where we would all get treated to facials; then we'd have our hair and nails tended to. Even though she has long, beautiful hair, no one except her hairdresser has ever seen her hair loose. I guess it would be too casual for her image; her hair is always tied up into a formal bun. When we were growing up she did not own even one casual outfit except her golf and gym clothes.
She is very polite and friendly to everybody but has only about three friends that I have known practically all my life. My mother keeps to herself and refuses to socialize loosely. At forty-five years old, she had never even seen an inside of a club or been to a party. She maintains that there is little benefit for her in external associations; she cannot deal with people's ignorance and prefers an inward journey in silence. I suspect her façade also pressured her to present a certain image, making her always conscious of her health, looks, skin, and figure for many years.
It was very difficult to breathe in this heavily structured environment which was contrary to anything I had ever seen, heard, or read about. Even now, I suspect my mother is the most overbearing parent on earth. In keeping with her own self-discipline, she was adamant about what her children had to do with their lives and what we were not allowed to do. She designed a set of tools that we had to achieve by the time we were twenty-one years old and left her house. We had to get a minimum of eighty percent in our studies with at least one tertiary qualification, play a musical instrument, golf, chess, ride horses, learn at least one foreign language, travel the world, have impeccable etiquette, and read extensively. The day that each of us turned eighteen, we had our driver's license in our hands and were pursuing our private pilot's license.
These impositions were non-negotiable. The only choice my sister and I had in the matter was whether we achieved them all willingly, or crying after being beaten up and forced to perform. We were not allowed to attend normal schools where normal black folk went; we had to be in the best private schools where all these sticky, rich, white children went. My mother was very busy with big projects at all times, and I held out hope that she would forget some things and leave us alone, but no, she knew every word written in our books and would make us rewrite the whole homework assignment if she felt we did not apply ourselves properly. If the extra time it took to rewrite the homework disturbed the family's sleeping deadline, woe unto you.
I somehow knew that I did not need this toolkit, thus I never understood whose benefit this was all for. But you better believe that through my mother's persistence, I acquired every tool in that box against my will. I actually viewed this harsh behavior as abuse and resented my mother for it. I felt this was the first competition between my mother and I, where she was determined to prove that she was the parent (or the bully, in my mind) and demanded respect for that title, where I was determined to exercise my human right to choose what was good for me.
How I was born into this family was a mystery, as I was the total opposite of her. I was determined to prove that, and to live a less restricted life. There was peace at home as long as my sister and I toed the line and did not disturb her strict schedule. I, however, was always in trouble, as I deliberately went against all these rules. Anything mother forbade, I ensured that I excelled in. Because my mother was so thorough, she would often catch me at my tricks and beat me up as punishment. She would be so mad that I would actually be scared and vow internally never to cross her again. Oh, how I resented my mother for this.
Imagine my first day at university: I was the joke of the day as the other students, in their torn jeans and canvas sneakers, thought I was a young lecturer in my stockings, court shoes, and a formal dress. Had I worn their attire like I wanted to, my mother would have had labor pains all over again. At times I forgave this "impeccable image," as my grandmother and all her sisters were just as elegant. I assumed it was a family sickness. Still, I did not see the need, nor did I ever want to associate with this "perfection." It was too much work for me.
I did not understand how my mother flourished through every task before her without a sign of fatigue. I felt inadequate all my life next to her. I felt I had to achieve the impossible, like walking on water, to be in her ilk. I never felt good enough.
This state of perfection characterized her to everybody who associated with her, including family. It perpetuated throughout the first twenty seven years of my life, which is effectively my whole life. At odds with her strict external façade was the most spontaneous and playful adult you could come across, the opposite extreme of her outward facing "masculine" persona. She would be so fully engaged in play that we would forget she was a parent. If we said to her, "Let's go to the pantry and steal some sweets," she would agree, and we would have sweets to our hearts' delight without getting into trouble. We really got our way during this time. She could abandon her façade and turn into a marshmallow at the flick of a finger.
Remember, this is a woman who does strength training and yoga every morning. She runs marathons, is a refined boxer, and cycles, too. She is agile, flexible, and very strong. She could climb the highest tree faster than any ten year old boy, do somersaults, dance, and play any games we were playing without a strain. Her wit would be on our level at this time, and she fully understood young people's humor and language, which she acknowledged with her infectious laugh.
For me as a child, this mindset of hers was the best mode to interact with, and I learned very early in life how to pull it out of her anytime I needed a happy mother or needed to get my way. When she was in this frame of mind, we could do no wrong; we were all children. In fact, she was very naughty with us. When our friends visited, she only exhibited this side of her personality, hence our friends believed my mother could do no wrong.
This time would normally be before her silent time in the evenings and most weekends. Every friend I have ever had named her "the coolest mom on the planet" and would always defend my mother even when I complained about genuine concerns.
This persona, however, shifted and evolved with time, always meeting us at the age we were at that point in time. When we were in high school, my friends would prefer to speak to my mother about any problem they had, instead of consulting their own mothers. She would agree, cleverly bringing their mothers into the mix, and my friends' lives would be sorted. She was not the same patient mother with us, though; she just sort of expected us to fall into place by coercion. Oh, I resented this, and was actually jealous that my friends could get such loving support from my mother when I was just expected to be a performing robot like her. This also made my friends disbelieve all my complaints about my mother.
My mother's third persona was her core, or what I call her undefended being. She had a strict seven o'clock rule when I was growing up, which still applies. The outside world could not access her in any way before seven in the morning or after seven in the evening. This has ever been her private time during which she refuses to associate externally. In this state, my mother is still, and only interacts internally in complete silence. Her calmness and compassion at this time is unparalleled and not compatible to any of her personas, which were either very rigid and focused or excited and carefree. This is like her private replenishing well that fed her other two public personas.
This side of my mother was never exposed to anybody, and for the longest time she refused to let anybody including her children access to it, as if for fear of contamination. I later guessed that, because the closest and most important people in her life had hurt her so deeply, she protected this side of her with her life.
My actions also led to her children being barred from associating with her during this time. Even during the worst traumas I have witnessed her go through, she would coil inward and come back strong, continuing as if nothing had happened. It is her wisest and most intuitive state, and has been the engine of her life.
I am sure she kept this persona private all day, but in the evenings, even if there are activities around her, she would visibly slip into this mode where she could be in her own world and totally peaceful. She built an invisible wall to protect this persona, and you would sense from a distance that she is in silence. We could talk or play around her and nothing disturbed her. If I needed real advice or anything approved, I would approach her during this time.
Because this has been my mother's most unwavering state in all the time that I have known her, I guess this is who she is at her core, without the interfering pressures of life. I say this because nothing external can threaten her in this state. The only time she uses this state to address the world is when her person is attacked or when someone wrongs her deeply. The threat becomes water off a duck's back, and she proceeds without a grudge. In the last few years, I have noticed her gently settling into this state all round as she slowly melted her façade, relaxing her inner child and sort of confidently merging her personas into one undivided calm self.
I was four-and-a-half years old turning thirty-five when my sister Niña was born, which made me much older than my mother and all of her siblings. I saw and understood things nobody in the family could conceive. This made Niña nothing but a living doll for me. I loved her deeply, but was also very jealous of her for many reasons which I will explain later. She was a very useful tool for me to get to my mother as she was so well behaved, and was never in trouble.
On the other hand, precisely because of that good behavior, I think she mistook her position in the family for perfection on her part. I reminded her all the time that she is my little sister with "little" implying "lesser," thus implying that she is lesser than me. I was not joking; I had to constantly pull her down from her high horse as she really believed she was a princess.
Excerpted from "Resentment"
Copyright © 2017 Emangadini Foundation Represented by Dr. Zanelle Mngadi N.O..
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by the Author, xi,
Chapter 1 A Journey Begins, 1,
Chapter 2 The Promise of Love, 29,
Chapter 3 My Obsession to Destroy, 50,
Chapter 4 Deconstructing Albert, 67,
Chapter 5 My Next Challenge, 77,
Chapter 6 "I am NOT keeping this baby", 91,
Chapter 7 Choking on My Own Poison, 104,
MY TURNING POINT,
Chapter 8 The Paradox of Attaining Ultimate Freedom in Prison, 129,
Chapter 9 The Best Version of Myself, As I Awaken, 211,
Chapter 10 Two Sides of a Coin, 225,
About the Author, 245,
Chapter 11 Phenomenal Conversations, Our Last!, 252,