By Iminza Keboge and BBC World Service
Published December 2, 2016
A grand daughter of Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa, talks about how being sexually abused as a child led her to indulge in drugs, alcohol and irresponsible sexual behaviour.
Zoleka Mandela (ZM), the grand child of Nelson and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who is now battling breast cancer, speaks on the BBC’s 100 Women 2016 broadcast series about her addiction, the death of her daughter and her regrets about disappointing Madiba, her iconic grand father.
Youâ€™ve talked about your experience of being abused as a child; tell us more about that.
ZM: I had a lot of self-blame and anger, more of it towards myself. My thing was it’s not just one person thatâ€™s doing this to me; itâ€™s so many people. It wasnâ€™t just men that were doing these things to me; it was women, too. And for so long. I had a lot of self-blame. I needed to find ways to feel better about myself. So it was easy for me to seek validation in things that I felt were making me feel better about myself. So very early on in my life–at the age of 9–I had my first drink and by the age of 13 . . . I was really abusing drugs and alcohol as a means to escape because I didnâ€™t want to have to deal with it; I had remained so silent for so long. I only started talking to my family about it and sharing those experiences at the age of 21.
Now here we are in 2016 where you find yourself dealing with the effects of breast cancer and its treatment. What was your reaction when you were diagnosed and you lost your breasts at the age 32?
ZM: I was diagnosed with luminal B cancer; in simpler terms, this is a form of breast cancer that is slightly more aggressive than the previous one. I have been receiving chemotherapy for the past couple of weeks.They can no longer put the chemo into my body because of how toxic it is. I am now awaiting the days in which I will be receiving radiation to kill off all the remaining cancer cells in my body now that Iâ€™ve had the surgery to remove the tumour in my chest where the cancer originated. Iâ€™m still on my journey now that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer for the second time; I feel like this time around itâ€™s much easier to deal with it because I feel like Iâ€™ve already won the battle. Iâ€™ve already won the fight. One of the things my specialist once said to me, and it was an eye opener to me, is: â€˜what you need to do is focus on beating cancer in your head, and once you do that we can take care of the restâ€™. That has a lot to do with why Iâ€™m doing so much better now than I ever did, especially in comparison to being diagnosed the first time around.
How Was it going through that early situation despite being a Mandela?
ZM: I am not proud of the things that I put my family through, and one of the things that hurt me the most when my grandfather passed away was the fact that I didnâ€™t make him proud when I could when he was alive. I spent so much time abusing the drugs and alcohol and choosing that over my family and my loved ones. I just hope that where he is with my daughter they are both looking down and saying, â€˜sheâ€™s gotten it right finallyâ€™. And the reason I share so much about my experiences whether itâ€™s cancer or with regards to drug addiction is to remind people that they can make better choices for themselves. You donâ€™t have to go through everything Iâ€™ve gone through and then be the one that regrets it. You can make better choices in your life. Iâ€™ve made those mistakes. You guys have read about them. You can make better choices for yourselves.
The full interview–that is broadcast on BBC World News on December 2, 2016 at 15.30 GMT and 20.30 GMT–is also available on BBC iPlayer for UK audiences.