When I write, I can put any word that fits my sentence. I can feel any kind of emotion I want to go through. And I find that I am able to heal myself with my own words.
— Ntombizanele, age 18
Ntombizanele hates her voice. It sounds like she’s getting over a sore throat, low and gravelly as an unpaved road. She’s self-conscious about it, as most any 18-year-old would be, and didn’t use it much when I first met her. When she did speak, I had to lean forward and concentrate to hear what she had to say. Her name means “no more girls” in Xhosa. She’s the second daughter.
Ntombi, as she’s called, lost her mother to AIDS several years ago. (To respect privacy, I’ve chosen to use first names only in this story.) Now she and her three siblings live with two aunts and many cousins in a small house in Gugulethu, a black township outside Cape Town. In December 2009, Ntombi completed Grade 12 but failed two of her matriculation final exams, math and science. So she could not receive her “matric,” South Africa’s high school diploma. …