Zoleka Mandela is the grand daughter of South Africa’s first Black President, Late Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela. Born in 1980, Zoleka who is one of the 2016, BBC 100 women, spoke about her life as an abused child and a cancer survivor in this brief interview on BBC..Excerpt:
On drug and alcohol abuse
BBC: You’ve talked about your experience of being abused as a child, all those traumatic experiences of abuse that you went through as a child are probably what led you to be addicted to drugs, tell us about that…
ZM: I had a lot of self-blame and anger, more of it towards myself. My thing was its not just one person that’s doing this to me, it’s so many people. It’s wasn’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 and for me 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 barely in eighth grade, I was really abusing drugs and alcohol as a means to escape because I didn’t want to have to deal with it all and 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.
On breast cancer
BBC: Now here we are in 2016 where you find yourself dealing with the effects of breast cancer and the treatment. What was your reaction first when you found out you were diagnosed and you lost your breasts at the age 32, and how are you coping with it?
ZM: I was diagnosed with luminal B cancer, in simpler terms – a form of breast cancer, however this one is slightly more aggressive than the previous one. I have been receiving chemotherapy for the past couple of weeks, up until about 5 weeks ago, because they can no longer now put the chemo into my body because of how toxic it is, so 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 I’ve had the surgery to remove the tumour in my chest where the cancer originated. So I’m still on my journey now with begin diagnosed with cancer for the second time, and I feel like this time around it’s much easier to deal because I feel like I’ve already won the battle. I’ve already won the fight. One of the things my specialist once said to me, and it was an eye opener to me, she said ‘what you need to do is focus on beating cancer in your head, and once you do that we can take care of the rest’. That has a lot to do with why I’m doing so much better now than I ever was, especially in comparison to being diagnosed the first time.
On her troubled past
BBC: Was it hard being a Mandela and being through that early situation?
ZM: It was, I’m 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 that fact that I didn’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 ‘she’s gotten it right finally’. And the reason why I share so much about my experiences whether it’s cancer or with regards to drug addiction it’s to remind people that they can make better choices for themselves. You don’t have to go through everything I’ve gone through and then be the one that regrets it. You can make better choices in your life, I’ve made those mistakes, you guys have read them, you can make better choices for yourselves.