Social worker Nontsikelelo ‘Ntsiki’ Sigege (54) always wanted to help people. At first, she just wanted to teach people in her childhood home of Gugulethu in Cape Town to read. Now, as a social worker and author, she helps others to heal.
She developed a passion for reading at a very young age. Her mother used to work as a domestic worker and would often take her along.
“As a young child, I was mixed with the children of my mother’s boss, and from then on, I took an interest in magazines and comics. So my mother would create a corner for me to read, and the passion to read and work with people began right there,” she says.
Sigege, the last born of five, never felt her life was extravagant, but her family’s life at home was comfortable.
She wanted to study social sciences at the University of Cape Town, but she couldn’t get in because of her grades. Her father insisted that she apply to other institutions to see if she could find a space.
And it worked, because she ended up at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where she studied social work.
Fulfilling her calling
Sigege graduated from UWC in 1989. In the early 1990s she began her journey as a social worker at the Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town. Later she worked as a consultant for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Alps Resilience, Ilitha Labantu, 1000 Women and Sonke Gender Justice. She also worked for TB HIV CARE as a psychosocial coordinator and trainer.
Today she is the proud owner of her own practice and offers her services to struggling couples, children at risk, people with mental health issues, substance abuse, gender-based and intimate partner violence, and crisis management.
“People usually have no idea what to do when they are going through trauma or life adversities, such as those who suffer from substance abuse, people experiencing divorce – they do not know what to do next,” she says.
Learning tough lessons
Not long after she married her husband, she noticed their love beginning to fade, she shares. “We had our problems – misunderstandings, poor communication, and a variety of sad moments ensued,” she says. “It had gotten to the point where I didn’t believe there was any love in the marriage anymore. Unfortunately, children are present when these things occur.”
After 11 years of marriage, they divorced.
Sigege had a five-year-old son out of wedlock when she got married. She then had a daughter and a son during her marriage.
Pain birthed a novel
Her worst memories were of her and her children moving from one house to the next following her divorce. Many things were affected, including the relocation of schools, new settings, and new homes. It was too much for both the children and her, Sigege admits.
She needed to get everything off her chest and pour out all her pain, as well as how the divorce affected her children.
“The vulnerability of a woman who did what she was supposed to do to save her marriage; the pain she endures, the trials and tribulations she faces, and the highlights of how life changes when you marry. Because the moment you say I do, you marry society.”
All of this gave birth to her novel, Broken Wing: A memoir of divorce.
The experience made her stronger. “You know what, this is my story, and I don’t really care how the other person feels,” she says.
Seeking help and healing
When she told her children that she was willing to leave her marriage, they showed no signs of being hurt or upset, she says.
“Let’s just go see a psychologist and figure out what’s going on, I suggested. Nothing was said or happened. I was just being a mom, concerned about their laid-back attitude.”
It is always best to deal with trauma head-on, she explains. “When reality sets in, it’s a different story. Seeking help may entail speaking with a stranger or someone you know. It can refer to either crying or laughing. The goal is to heal along the way.”