In her first feature for Wits Vuvuzela, Lisa Golden profiles Salvatore Serio, a healer in the town of Magaliesberg for over 40 years.
In north-west Gauteng lies the sleepy town of Magaliesburg. The only visitors are tourists moving through to the various B’nB’s that lie in prettier parts in the mountain and truck drivers going towards Botswana.
And then there are the people who come from all over the country, and the world, to seek advice from Salvatore Serio.
Driving down a potholed road just past the city center, there are weather-battered petrol stations with glaring attendants, resentful to be standing outside on the rare occasion of snow in the province. After a cluster of shops advertising fairy ornaments and hot coffee, the winding road to Serio’s Healing Sanctuary begins. The trees running up the drive way look abnormally green compared to the dry cold surroundings.
This morning, Serio sits outside his consulting room, hot air rising from his mouth into the cold air as he pats the collection of dogs surrounding him.
His physicality is father-like
At the age of 75, Serio’s energy is that of a much younger man. His physicality is father-like, a large strong presence that fills the small rooms and offices that lead to his consultation room.
Although he has been in South Africa for more than six decades, his strong Italian accent and expressive hand gestures belie his heritage.
Serio holds intense eye-contact while he speaks and punctuates his speech with “You understand, hm?” and light jabs on your shoulder. He’s comfortable with placing his hand over your heart when talking about love, or running a finger across your head when explaining your thoughts.
Touch between strangers has been made taboo
His physicality is unusual in world where touch between strangers has been made taboo, however it is not invasive or uncomfortable in any way. His frequent repetition of that overused phrase “I love you” seems so genuinely heart-felt that it is difficult not smile and squeeze his hand back.
But the work Serio does in this quiet, peaceful place appears to be a lot more powerful than hugs and smiles. Serio’s reputation as a healer and psychic of sorts had kept him busy for the last 42 years, and he has consequently built a hospice in neighbouring Krugersdorp, and old age home and this healing sanctuary to advance his work.
He rejects attempts to define what he does as psychic, clairvoyant or fortune-telling.
“To me, its nature, you understand? I want to feel you, you have an aura. So I must enter your aura, your energy. When I have your energy, I know everything. Not psychic, or you feel vibrations, because we are one people, we remove the body and we love each other so much, you understand?”
How this bubbly Italian man ended up in Africa, let alone the small town of Magaliesburg is a tale in itself.
“When I was ten, I told my mother, my wife, she is in Africa”
“When I was ten, I told my mother, my wife, she is in Africa. I did come to Africa, I did meet my wife. I had never had a girl before. At the same age, hm, my wife told her friends at school that her husband was coming over from Italy.”
“We are like this, joo!” He brings his hands together and links his fingers. “You go to the right place, you meet the right person. We are 52 years married, and we are still like this,” he says, holding up his interlocked fingers.
Salvatore Serio grew up in war-torn Italy. As the only boy in his family Serio was unable to finish his schooling as he began to work to help support his family.
“He had a growth here, on his neck, and I cut it off with a blade”
“It was the best time of my life, because I remember how good it is to get some food, and now I get joy in giving other poor people food because I remember how good it is. I needed that to know.”
A turning point came when a hobo came in to his town, in need of assistance. Serio, his sister and his cousins helped wash the man with hot water. Whilst doing this, Serio saw a growth on the man’s neck.
“He had a growth here, on his neck, and I cut it off with a blade. All the rubbish came out, but then it started bleeding and the skin was hanging”
His sister and cousin told him that the old man would die and Serio would go to jail for killing the man. Serio spent the night praying that the man would be okay, and discovered in the morning that the man’s wound had completely healed.
“You have the devil inside you”
“When I showed my mother she said ‘you have the devil inside you’. From there I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know why when people were sick I wanted to help them, and I could help them.”
It was soon after this incident that Serio was given an opportunity to come to South Africa to work on the mines. Serio proved a successful builder, a skill he had never studied formally.
Marisa Serio, his daughter, grew up with her Catholic father and Afrikaans orthodox mother. She remembers stories from when her dad ran a construction business, where he could pick up faults and problems before the quantity surveyors could work out what was wrong.
“My dad has developed a wonderful mind, where he can tap into the resources of the universe. He knows what he needs to know and applies it to what he does.”
It was this intuitive understanding of the world around it, and his ability to heal that led to him opening up the sanctuary.
Like any skill, Serio explains that what he does has taken year of practice and hard work.
His consulting room is the definition of cosy, with warm arm chairs lining the sides of the room, and a seat not unlike a doctor’s chair to lie down on when he performs Reiki. While Reiki traditionally is the manipulation of energy without touching the body, Serio moves his hands up and down your body, pushing and squeezing different parts as he goes. Like his affectionate jabs while he talks, it does not feel like an invasion of personal space. When he placed his large, soft hands over my forehead and eyes, it felt incredibly peaceful.
While describing the many portraits of spirit guides on his walls, Serio tells of an experiences that shows the very powerful work he does at the sanctuary.
A desperate mother brought her eight-year-old son Antonio Gras to Serio. He had cancer of the stomach
When he lifted his hand the mark had transferred onto it
“He was green. The doctors had told the mother, maybe one month, but they can’t help him.” He placed his hand over a scar from the treatment, and when he lifted his hand the mark had transferred onto it. He asked them to come back the next week to try do more healing.
Serio points to a dark portrait of a pale, sombre man with dark eyes. His name is Peter Angelou, a spirit guide of Serio’s.
When the mother returned, her son walked into the room. “The mother tells me, that one, he came. He came in the night and said ‘I want to take the goggo out of your stomach.” Serio’s smile as he tells of Antonio’s four grown children shows the extreme pleasure and joy he takes in explaining this phenomenon.
While extreme illness and depression are some of the more serious reasons people seek out Serio’s guidance, the everyday burdens of love, loss and hope for the future is the more common guidance people are seeking. Such personal and emotional information is shared with ease as Serio pick up issues.
Dominated spiritually by the Afrikaans Orthodox church
Serio is against giving negative messages to people about their past or future, but prefers to tell the people to “pull yourself together” and “think right, be positive.”
“I must see the good in you, I must see the love. I mustn’t tell you bad things, because it gets more power,” says Serio sternly.
Serio’s work natural draw criticism , especially in a town so long dominated spiritually by the Afrikaans Orthodox church, the NGK. Marissa describes growing up in such a small town where her family’s spirituality was not accepted by some parts.
“They were afraid of what my dad was doing”
“People are better now, and are more open-minded. In the beginning years, it was tough. Especially the Christian churches, and very rigid philosophies, they were very afraid of what my dad was doing. And judged it a lot without really exploring it properly. We were often rejected and judged.”
Marisa helped run the family hospice, where she came against resistance to people who were scared of her “different connection to God.”
“Our family philosophy was that this is not something we fight about, or try convince someone about. This is a way of life you find for yourself. We’d rather try to see the divinity in every body, and try to speak to that divine part.”
Christianity mixed with unconventional spirituality
Up the road from the sanctuary, I meet a woman named Tracey McMahone, whose own life has been changed by Serio and the healing sanctuary.
McMahone described her harsh divorce and loss of self that drew her to Serio in search of healing. Her eyes are bright and energised, and between them lies a Hindu bindi that covers a permanent bindi that McMahone tattoed on herself.
“He taught me that Tracey needs to be fed, Tracey needs to be clothed, Tracey needs to walk around with tattoos and shaved head if she wants to, and as long as she’s happy, she’s happy.”
Tracey embodies the mixed spirituality of many of the residents of this town who have come to Serio; Christianity mixed with unconventional spirituality.
Marisa explained the phenomenon as changing time in history where people were changing their conventional understandings of what it means too have a relationship with a higher power.
“There’s an awakening in humanity to realise, hey, wait a minute, this box is too small to fit God in.”
“You have the right to enjoy life”
Back in Serio’s warm, cosy room, it seems that in all his stories and conversations, he always comes back to one point; love.
“My sweetheart, the reality is I have a feeling. I work for this gift. I want to touch you, I want to know what you need. But not always for a cure. You have the right to enjoy life, you have the right be happy, you have the right to cry, you have the right to be poor, you have the right to be sick.”
“But you can change everything you want, by, you see,” he pulls my ribcage up with one hand on the back and one on the front, “you understand, hm”, he smiles, “Breath life.”
As he waves me goodbye I notice that his middle finger on his right hand is missing from the second knuckle down.
It seems such a strangely human disfigurement on such a spiritually complete person.
The SRC’s decision to boycott Israel, academically and culturally, has made international news as the official voice of Wits students – even though the outgoing SRC was elected by less than 20% of the student body.
In response, Wits released a statement signalling concern that the SRC did not represent all students or the views of the University.
“The views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council and other student groups do not represent the official views of the University, nor are they an accurate reflection of the views of the majority of students, staff and alumni.”
The SRC’s stance was reported locally and internationally by papers like the Washington Post, with some online news agencies falsely reporting that the entire university had joined in the boycott.
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) has a strong presence at the university with almost 1000 Jewish students.
There are no SAUJS members in the SRC currently, although Wits Chairman Harry Hoshovsky said that the 20% voter turnout is a “clear sign of student apathy”.
“It is somewhat pretentious for the SRC to claim that it represents all Wits students, as barely one out of five actually voted in the elections and thus the SRC cannot be said to officially represent more than that number.”
SAUJS claims that the SRC is in contravention of its own Constitution, specifically section 8(1)(r). This section states that the SRC is duty bound to “initiate, undertake or stimulate discussion or debate or action, or to make its views known on matters of general concern that are likely to be of interest to or to affect students.”
The SRC made the decision to boycott after it was proposed by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). Fatima Mukaddam, SRC Fundraising and Entreprenuership officer, said the boycott action is in line with Wits’ ethics.
“Israel is a violator of human rights, and the occupation of the West bank is illegal under international law. If Wits and the SRC hold the values of respecting human rights then it is completely under the mandate of the SRC of boycott Israel.”
Just over 20% of the student body voted in the 2012 SRC elections. The IEC requires 25% of students to vote for a legitimate SRC, but when this quota is not met, the votes are then taken to the Vice Chancellor who then declares the elections valid.
Jabu Mashinini, the member of staff elected by the IEC to oversee the elections, said these percentages are acceptable given that “11,028 of the voters are post graduate students who are off campus most of the time”.
Tatenda Dune, a 1st year BA student said, “I think it’s unethical and incorrect for the SRC to represent us on such big issues, considering only 20% of the students voted. Ultimately they are representing a very small part of Wits.”
Nazeer-Ahmed Ballim, a prominent ex-Witsie, died on August 25 after a motorcycle accident.
Ballim matriculated from St John’s in 2004, served on the SRC in 2006 and was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).
Nazeer left Wits to study Information Technology and worked for Oracle, an online financing system that Wits uses.
Fatima Mukkadam, head of the MSA and SRC member, said, “The legacy he leaves behind is one of love, happiness and kindness. A gentleman, loved by his family, peers and colleagues.
Mukkadam said the SRC, MSA and the Wits community would like to offer their condolences to the Ballim family. “It’s always difficult for the people left behind. We pray that Allah Ta’ala (God) helps his family and loved ones through this difficult time and that Nazeer reaches the highest stage in Jannah (Paradise), Aameen.”
His uncle, Deputy Vice Chancellor Yunus Ballim said that, in Nazeer’s short time at Wits, he had touched many lives through his passion for the community. “His death has been a blow to young and old in our family and he is sorely missed.”
Wits Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) leadership accepted the terms offered by Wits management after last-minute negotiations last night but failed to inform some of their members of this decision. This left the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) to strike by themselves today August 28 against Wits management.
This morning confused ALTSA members arrived at the picketing lines, unaware that their leaders had accepted an agreement with Wits management the night before. Some were confused and frustrated when they found out.
This is the second strike by the academic unions this month. They are demanding an increase in salaries for workers, an agreement to structure salaries around the 75th percentile, resolve issues with parking and provide a childcare facility for workers among other issues.
Ian Walters, and ALTSA member and an administrator in the Wits School of Arts, was unaware that ALTSA had backed out of the strike, and only found out when he arrived at campus in the morning.
“I’m staying on strike because I’m in support of NEHAWU and ASAWU. That was the original idea,” said Walters.
Adele Underhay, the president of ALTSA, was unavailable for comment, and some members of the union also couldn’t reach her.
David Dickinson, president of ASAWU said it was regrettable that ALTSA leaders had chosen to break ranks. “I respect the independence as a union and the decision of their leadership is what they must account for to their membership” Dickinson said.
Negotiations between the Wits Executive Council and ASAWU, ALTSA and NEHAWU was re-opened a day before the strike. Photo by Jay Caboz
The Wits Senate (the academic leadership forum) made a call to halt the striking unions “without further delay”. Photo by Jay Caboz
Fellow ALTSA members expressed their disappointment in their leadership’s acceptance of management’s offers. Barbie Pickering from the finance faculty said she didn’t know about their union pulling out at the eleventh hour and they only received the e-mail this morning.
“We went into this thing to support all the unions. We are not happy with our union leadership on that,” said Pickering.
The rally, which started at noon, had speakers that reiterated the unions’ demands. Carl Beaumont, an ASAWU member, congratulated the ALTSA members who turned up at the rally while fellow strikers applauded the group.
The Student Representation Council and the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee again pledged their support for the striking unions.
The final word from Beaumont was that the unions are prepared to strike again if their demands are not properly discussed and considered during negotiations. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
In the wake of the Lonmin massacre, South African political “leaders” came crawling out the woodwork, just as predictably as the tow trucks arrive as soon as there is a car accident.
They slithered out of their luxury sedans, surrounded by bodyguards, prepping their insincere, disingenuous speeches on their iPads, breathing in the desperation and tragedy that surrounded them thinking only one thing: good time to earn brownie points and point fingers at my enemies.
Of course there will be an investigation. Probably with a dedicated paid team, which will then have a sub-committee, which will then hold endless meetings without coming to any conclusion that will bring back the dead or even prevent something similar from happening in the future.
Where are our leaders? Where are our voices of reason who can guide us through the difficult political, social and economic times? They do not have to be any particular race, religion or speak any specific language, but they need to have the needs of the entire country as their main focus. I would argue that there is not one single leader in SA at the moment that has our best interests at heart and is willing to act to make them so.
We are now sitting with “leaders” who prioritise making profits off tenders over delivering textbooks. “Leaders” who have kept at one point three corrupt police chiefs employed while they exhaust the legal system with endless retrials and legal challenges.
Perhaps the reason the whole country idolises Madiba to the point of deification is because we have no one to look up to after he’s gone. While no one ever had to reach the standard he set, the fact that no one has even come close is a sad prospect for the youth of our country.
Last week Friday, thought leaders came together for the Ruth First memorial lecture. Not one, ANC-inclined included, praised the wonderful, strong leadership in our country. In fact, a lot of discussion revolved around where it even was.
As university students we have an incredibly important role in our country’s future, and if no one from the generation above us is going to take the mantle of balanced, controlled, and inspired leadership, we will have to mould into them ourselves without any guidance.
This week we will have a new SRC. Let us hold them up to the standard we expect from our country’s leadership. Hopefully they will turn into the kinds of leaders we can be proud of who will lead us into a future where political mileage isn’t gained out of tragedy.
The Wits University flag flies at half-mast over Central Block. Pic: Lisa Golden
Management of Wits University have decided to fly the university flag at half mast for this week in memory of those who died in the violence of the last two weeks.
In a statement sent to Wits news, acting vice-chancellor Prof Yunus Ballim said:
“As the Acting Vice-Chancellor, I have requested that the Wits flag be flown at half-mast for this week in memory of those members of our community who died recently in the violence at Marikana and Pomeroy. Events like these always leave us feeling that an important part of our humanness is being offended.
“Regardless of our distance from the event, we feel the blow of such violence as if we were right at its source.
“Importantly, the flag is at half-mast to symbolise Wits’ deep dismay and the continuing expression of violence that characterises social and institutional interactions in South Africa. Marikana and Pomeroy are only recent examples of this characteristic.
“Wits flinches with the same pain when violence is visited upon an individual or a group; a single child or a gathering of adults. Social justice cannot be allowed to reside in the stoning hand or the trigger finger of those with more power. This on-going violence is a part of our national and collective shame and it is right that Wits acts to disturb the conscience of our community – students, staff and the broader South Africa alike.”
In a lecture on the worth of a BA education by Jeffrey Sehume earlier this year, a student asked if society could “manufacture passion” for careers in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics – industries where jobs were readily available for those equipped to do them.
What struck me was the simplicity of the question and its vast consequences. As we grow up we see certain professions around us and, considering our own interests and passions, we pick a career path we think will make us happiest.
Now before you accuse me of being idealistic, many people do find happiness in earning money.
While I have yet to meet an overly exciting chartered accountant, I have also not met a poor one.
We all find things exciting and interesting. If we’re lucky, we find a subject that challenges the way we perceive the world and engages us every step of the way.
Add this to the fact that, in our modern society, many of us are told that if something makes us happy, we should pursue it full-throttle and the money will follow. We were told we are all unique little snowflakes and that the world would help us on our journey to happiness.
Now cross to the stuffy, crowded room where excited, engaged BA students asked Sehume inquisitively: “Well we’ve already done/about to finish our BAs, what should we do?”
To their horror, Sehume replied: “Go to a FET college, get trained in something practical. Artisans can always earn money and then you can live your life and feed your family.”
The energy in the room went from 100 to negative-10 in a split-second. We were basically told to drop our intellectual pursuits and become plumbers.
Yes, there is no honour in being the world’s leading expert on a single Nietzsche poem if you are living under a bridge. Yes, the government is trying to change the image of the FET colleges and make them more accessible. But I would never tell someone not to do a BA.
My mind was expanded across countries, even universes, because of the opportunities a BA degree offered me.
In German, I learnt the frustration people around me must feel when they try to communicate a nuanced and difficult idea in English, when it isn’t their first language. I learnt that, in every language, you have a slightly different personality. I felt the fury and emotion of the Sturm und Drang poets as they cried, “Feelings are everything!”
In Politics I realised the reason I live in a democracy is that I have given some of my personal freedom to another group because I chose them to represent me. I marched with my fellow classmates into the dingy, murky waters of racial identity. We ripped open the not-yet-healed scar of racial divisions and, delicately, in our little class, tried to go deep and actually talk to each other about what we really felt.
And while failing to find a job is not romantic or funny in any way, if you want to stretch your soul, your mind, and your heart before you decide where you want to go in this world, I would recommend doing a BA degree.
The Wits academic staff union have pressed ahead with their planned strike today, after last-minute negotiations yesterday failed.
Members of the union, ASAWU, have gathered at the entrances to Wits main campus in small groups, holding signs that read “We love Wits, do you?” and “Stop imposing – negotiate.”
Member of ASAWU and Senior lecturer in the School of Mining and Engineering, Carl Beaumont, said,“Our aims for today are to get our message across to Wits University management, that staff have had enough. We’ve had enough of managerialism, we’ve had enough of imposed pay-rises and poor salaries. It’s something that’s been brewing for years, not something that’s just happened in 2012.”
David Dickinson, President of ASAWU (pictured above) said, “People have to stand up for their rights, and more importantly they have to stand up for the good of Wits University. We believe the management is running this university into the ground.”
Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff, but the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9% increase.
ALTSA and NEHAWU, as well as Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management.
The three unions demand:
– a 9% salary increase for support staff, to be paid at a higher scale at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector benchmark – decent salaries to be given before performance regulations were initiated; – a resolution of the dispute on shift allowances – an agreement on sliding scales to advance equity – the establishment of a childcare facility for Wits employees – an end to overselling of parking permits in non-designated parking areas; – an increase in individual research incentive
However, Wits vice-Chancellor and principal Prof Loyiso Nongxa says that meeting these demands are complicated, and formal investigations need to be concluded prior to reaching an agreement.
Nongxa said that Wits academics are missing the bigger picture in their fight for better pay and working conditions, in an article he wrote for Business Day last week.
A rally for staff is set to take place on the Library Lawns at 12:00.
Chad le Clos beat his “role model” Michael Phelps with a 0.05 second lead in the 200 meters men’s butterfly last night.
This is the second gold medal for South Africa, the first coming from Cameron van der Burgh who won gold for his record-breaking win in the 100m men’s breast-stroke.
Commentators had Phelps pegged as a sure win. Phelps has won 19 Olympic medals during his career, 15 of which are gold.
Le Clos had slightly trailed Phelps throughout the race, overtaking him at the last moment.
Chad le Clos told the Mail and Guardian, “”When I turned I looked at him and there was a trigger point I just thought I could try do something special. The last 25 metres came in slow-mo and I just remember thinking to myself and my coach saying ‘keep it long and make sure you don’t shorten up.'”