It felt like the whole world kept making fun of me

A man on a sofa smiling

Chamu Muvheyo from South Africa writes candidly about the negative reactions and experiences he's had to face because of his stammer. But they've made him determined to help others.

Hi, my name is Chamu. Having stuttered since childhood, I have encountered many life-defining challenges. I've suffered terrible shame and have felt alone, inwardly and outwardly. Here in Africa, you are a laughing stock if you stutter and comedians make fun of us. Movie writers even write scripts and scenes featuring people who stutter (while using fluent people who pretend to stutter) just to make their movies and soapies jokily fun and make viewers laugh. My heart bleeds profusely at these things because inwardly I know the damage this treatment has caused me. It felt like the whole world, including my own family, kept making fun of me. 

Why would she take the side of the quicker speaker, my little sister?

My father had 15 children and I'm the only who stutters. I was given derogatory names. No one cared what I was going through every day of my life. One day, when I was about 7, my little sister stole some sugar in the house and ate it. My mother came back home and asked who stole the sugar. While I was still struggling to utter the first word, my young sister quickly shouted that it was me. Remember, sugar is a very important food asset in many rural African homes. My mother insulted me and beat me while I was struggling to talk and tell the truth. She never allowed me the time to finish talking. I was so angry. Why would my own mother jump to the conclusion that it was me who stole the sugar without hearing my side of the story? Why would she not allow me to talk no matter how long I would take? Why would she take the side of the quicker speaker, my little sister? I boiled with anger.

In another, more extreme, case, which taught me to control my anger, my big sister accused me of something I did not do. I couldn't defend myself and, similar to before, I couldn't utter a simple statement that "It was not me". Instead, I boiled with hot anger. We were in the kitchen and on the stove was a pot of boiling water. I picked up the pot and was about to pour it on my sister, when a voice suddenly told me to stop. I put it back on the stove and rushed out of the kitchen crying. I could have killed my sister or caused her grievous bodily harm. I always try to listen to that voice now. I learnt the hard way that I should just try hard to control my anger.

Wanting to make a difference

This November, I am turning 47, but these incidents and too many others, are fresh in my mind. Not that I haven't forgiven all those who caused terror in my life, from family, friends, schoolmates and work colleagues. I forgave and I still keep forgiving but I fail to forget. I keep asking myself why I can't forget. Two possible answers come to my mind: (1) I can't forget because I am still a stutterer and every day new incidents happen which remind me of my past and so the struggle continues, and; (2) because I have to be part of the solution and a helper to the many other stutterers out there in the world who continue to suffer in silence.

Deep in my heart lies the intimate desire to open up a haven to assist the many other stutterers in South Africa who are going through what I've been through.

All the while up to now, as I write this story, I never had help or support for my stutter. It has severely affected my whole life from school to university, from the many workplaces I have been to, to the many places I network, and in the communities I engage with too. In 2007, I wasn't promoted at work from Assistant Product Development to Product Development Manager at a global consumer goods company, because of my stutter. I was shattered. I will need a whole book to write about how disastrous the effects of anxiety and fear have been on my life.

Deep in my heart lies the intimate desire to open up a haven to assist the many other stutterers in South Africa who are going through what I've been through and suffering in silence. I want to start an organisation that offers practical stammering programs to help them. I want to get my hands dirty helping people.

Many people need help out there. If I had received help, I would have been a much happier and, I think, better person and I would have achieved much more in life. My ego and assertiveness, and my networking skills could have been better. My self-management skills could have been much better. I would not be caged by fear and anxiety, although I try to fight these all the time.

Whenever I meet other stutterers, I try and help by talking to them and encouraging them. I've talked to many people and shared my experiences. I've convinced many to wipe away tears from their cheeks. Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to who understands your situation.

If you'd like to talk to somebody about your stammer, call our helpline or start a webchat. See what support groups are out there. Our Get Help section lists all the other ways you can get help.

Read more Your Voice articles from people who stammer and their allies. Would you like to write something? See Submit Something For The Site or email for details. 

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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