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Survivor story – Sixolile Mbalo

  • August 2016
  • Posted By GunFreeSA

Sixolile MbaloDear Bullet

In October 2001, 13-year old Sixolile Mbalo was raped, shot in the head and left for dead in an overflowing pit toilet by a man she had met once before.

The harrowing account of the ‘incident’ and how it has affected her life is shared in her memoir, Dear Bullet Or A letter to my shooter, in immense detail.  She shares her life experience with the bullet – that is lodged in her neck – through the memoir. Even more powerful than the courage it took to write the book more than a decade later, is the strength that Sixolile harbours inside her body, a space that has been invaded but is still kept sacred and respected.

Years after being viciously attacked, Sixolile had done the unthinkable but completely admirable action of not only facing her attacker but also working within the Western Cape’s prisons ‘sitting amongst groups of prisoners discussing themes such as forgiveness, respect and responsibility, and the effects of their crimes on their families, communities and society at large. This, before standing up before the men to tell her searing testimony’, as documented in an interview she gave to The Big Issue publication.

The following are extracts from her memoir, Dear Bullet Or A letter to my shooter.

“The horror in their voices made me burst into tears. It confirmed that I was alive. It confirmed that something terrible had happened to me.

Someone wanted to wash me… but my uncle stopped them. ‘Evidence,’ was what he said. Dirty as I was, they put me on a mattress, with a pillow under my head.

At times I heard myself crying: ‘I am dying, I am dying,’ Over and over I said it. Now I felt the pain from the bullet. I tried to locate the wound.

“Don’t touch somebody said, there’s still powder in the wound.” My head felt as if it was driven with needles. I didn’t know that the bullet was still lodged in me, nor that it and the pain would never leave me.

It was a big commotion. My aunt’s children and the neighbours woke up. The look on their faces and the way they turned away quickly, crying, told me I was dying. One of the women heard me saying so, and put her face close to mine: ‘No, you are not dying! You have already defeated death!’ She said it as if it was a fact. She wiped the blood from my eyes and I had hope for the first time.”

Everybody was too afraid to go and call Grandmother. They fetched Tat’ uMafanya, a pastor who had a car, and he took me to hospital in Mthatha, 45 minutes away. My uncle and his wife went with me.  They asked me who did it. I couldn’t talk, but I wrote it down: Phindile. My uncle was furious.

At the hospital I received help. They took samples, they cleaned me, they injected me against Aids and said I needed an operation…..

The hospital said they needed permission from my mother in Cape Town for the operation. My mother never came. After a week, my grandmother signed. I went into theartre but soon returned. The bullet could not be removed. It stayed in my throat.”

As Sixolile writes in her book, two years after the incident, she continued to live with the pain physically and emotionally that had been afflicted upon her but that she continued with hope and belief that she had survived for a reason.

“After the incident, I felt I had too many challenges in my life, and my soul was sad. I was always sad. I was never happy. I was just a mess. The smallest things would aggravate me. After my mother’s death, I felt worse. Before I had to face what had happened to me, but I dreamt all the time that my mother would make me myself again. Being with her would cancel the rape, but things didn’t go away.

Still I had hoped and stayed strong. I told myself that the only way I could survive was to pull myself up. Which I did. The school sent me to Rape Crisis. It was the first time that I could fully talk about the whole incident. I always talk straight, but this was something different; it was not saying a thought, but talking about the heaviness on my chest and the constant sadness in my throat. I learnt this kind of telling and slowly began to understand what had happened to me after the rape. I began to know words like ‘trauma’ and the body’s response to it.

Rape Crisis made me feel like a human being again. I learnt that I could still be the person I was, could still lead my life the way I want, could still become what I want. I understood rape for the first time. The rape wasn’t my fault; I didn’t look for it and I didn’t deserve it. The women there made me realise what the word ‘support’ means.

I thought that I would finally arrive at a place of restfulness in my spirit, but I didn’t. I want the story to be itself. It must stand by itself so that I can stop telling it. If it stands by itself, I can begin to live – because it has been told.

I know that this bullet will never leave me. It has become part of my body. It affects my voice. I speak like somebody with a pierced throat. It is as if my voice carries a heavy load. I can no longer call somebody on the other side of the street, or sing as I used to. I can also not easily turn my head, because then it becomes scrunched-up and sore. The bullet has become part of me. I saw it on the X-rays.

I do not often lift my hand to try and feel where it is, but it stays with me. If I want to move forward with my life, it stops me. So, in order to move forward, I have to begin to take it with me. To move forward with me. In my head.

But I hope that one day it will leave me. I hope that it will leave and leave my body intact. Perhaps that I can begin to be what I have been before it was there. Or, if I die, I hope they will cut it out of me, so that I can be free from it. Until then,

Molo wena bullet, bullet ebekekileyo.

Your mother,


With thanks to Jonathan Ball Publishers for allowing us to share extracts from Sixolile’s powerful memoir Dear Bullet or A letter to my shooter.

And to the powerful Sixolile we are humbled by your strength and courage, may love and light shine bright upon your path.