Talking to Ithemba today, it is hard to imagine that this confident, eloquent 17 year old, with an easy smile and sparkling eyes, is the same traumatised and battered child that was placed with the Jones family in 2009 at the age of 13.
Bernie describes her state at the time as “the worst we have ever seen” – a chilling description from someone who is routinely faced with the horrors of child abuse.
Raised by her great-grandmother in the Eastern Cape (where she was raped and molested by her uncle from the age of 5), Ithemba moved to Cape Town to live with her mother when she was 11, where the violence towards her only intensified.
Already familiar with her mothers’ brutality (she was beaten when she told her mother about the rape and molestation), Ithemba’s life now truly became the stuff of nightmares: Regular beatings with planks, hosepipes, electrical cables, belts, fists and feet, and methylated spirits applied to the open wounds. On-going sexual abuse by her step-father and emotional abuse by her mother.
This went on for two years, until an aunt could no longer turn a blind eye and reported her mother to the police. Ithemba was removed from her home and placed at the Jones Safe House.
She says, “For the first time in my life I felt safe, and part of a family that loved me. I could be a child again, and I started believing in myself. I could trust people again, I began to enjoy school and make good friends. I love drawing and painting and would like to study further, but I am also considering studying psychology to help other children who have been through the same things that I have.”
With a maturity way beyond her years, Ithemba also says she has started to forgive her mother. “I don’t want to carry bitterness all my life. I have a future now and won’t let her actions ruin it for me.”
Donovan describes her as a flower. “She was like a closed flower when she came to us. It took time, hard work and lots of sunshine, but now that flower is open – see how beautiful she is? We are so proud of her.”