SLICE: I ate dirt for seven years

No one made me do it, and my family was in the dark all those years that I was enslaved by clay, even when it was my nightly midnight snack. 

It started with a small piece of chalk. I was a school prefect in grade seven and this came with duties such as arriving in class before everyone to make sure everything was ready for lessons.

One morning while busy with my class leader chores, I was suddenly tempted to have a bite of chalk and that is exactly what I did, which, to my surprise, was oddly satisfying. From that point on, I developed the habit of consuming chalk. 

From chalk, I soon found myself tempted to try another substance: soil, and the temptation mainly came from the smell of it after rain. The soil did wonders to my taste buds as well, tasting like something that I had been craving for a long time. Two years in, and now in high school, I was completely addicted to consuming clay, be it red, grey, white or brown, and regularly bought it from street vendors.

After a while, a plastic bag of roughly 40 grams of clay would not last me a week. So, I would use my weekly R200 pocket money to buy the R5-packets of clay in bulk. Soon this was not enough, and I began experimenting with various clays be it from the garden or the side of the street.

All of this was done behind closed doors because I was petrified of my parents’ reaction. Therefore, I made sure to always be alone in my room when I consumed clay. To keep the clay a secret from my parents for many years, I always kept my clay in a box where we stored old shoes because it was hardly checked. 

I reached a point where my addiction to clay became essential for me to function as a human being. I would constantly ask teachers to excuse me from class so I could go and secretly nibble on clay. I also spent a lot of time thinking about clay in class and it was destructive. I became so reliant on it that I started keeping it under my pillow, as a midnight snack. 

After high school, I took a gap year as I did not know what I wanted to study. This made me feel as if my life was stagnant, that I had no life while my peers were progressing. I resorted to clay more to relieve the stress. I ate clay to help me fall asleep, and I would wake up in the middle of the night to eat it. I simply could not live without it. 

My wakeup call started with severe constipation which led to excessive bleeding, and my skin breaking out and getting pale. There were days where even standing for a few minutes was difficult because of the pain. 

I had to go to the doctor, to whom I confessed about my addiction to clay. It turned out that I had consumed clay that had parasites and bacteria, which led to pain in the abdomen. From the doctor I found out that I was suffering from iron deficiency anaemia, and this was what made me crave clay.

According to the South African Medical Journal, the condition I was suffering from, geophagia, is the “intentional ingestion of soil/sand, clay blocks and mud…[because of] religious, cultural, nutritional and medicinal practices, famine, perceived enhancement of personal appearance, pregnancy-related cravings, and enjoyment of the taste, texture or smell of the substance consumed”.

Science Daily reported in 2017 that “up to 80% of people in Africa, especially women, regularly eat clayey soil”. One of the lead investigators, medical anthropologist Ruth Kutalek, wrote that, “These people often eat clay as a snack between meals and report that they could not do without it.”

Geophagia is not new as scientific research has found evidence of humans using clay for healing purposes as early as 2500BC. It is a form of pica, “a condition that mostly affects pregnant people and children. People with it feel compelled to eat non-food items.” Other common pica cravings include pebbles, ash, cloth, paper, chalk, hair, soap and faeces.

I am overjoyed that I am completely over the addiction, because I no longer get cravings. I am not tempted to eat clay even when I see it. My doctor prescribed iron supplements and encouraged me to eat food that is high in iron such as spinach and liver. 

I have been clean for five years now and I am able to freely talk about it now because it is all in the past. People get shocked, though, to learn that I was enslaved by clay at such a young age. 

FEATURED IMAGE:  Boitumelo Masalesa. Photo: File


PROFILE: Kgomotso Monyai finds her rhythm on radio

Six months in, Wits University alumni says riding the airwaves at talk-radio 702 is part of her destiny. 

From volunteering at a campus radio station to producing Afternoons with Relebogile Mabotja, airing on weekdays from 13h00 to 15h00, one former Witsie is living out her wildest dreams. 

Born and raised in Soweto, Dobsonville, twenty-six-year-old Kgomotso Monyai is a writer, performer, poet, broadcaster, and a Wits Theatre and Performance graduate.  

Kgomotso Monyai at Radio 702 station. Photo: Mongezi Ntsebezo/Supplied.

Monyai joined Radio 702 in November 2022 after finishing her Radio Certificate course through the Wits Centre for Journalism radio course during her final year. When she enrolled, her primary goal was to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes and improve her skills. 

Her friend Nomusa Khoza says it all began with some manifestation at community radio station, Voice of Wits FM (VoW FM).  
“I remember when she invited me to a year-end function and took me on tour at the Vow FM studio, and I told her she would sit in those chairs, and she did,” and now she finds herself in a studio producing for a national radio show Khoza says.  

Monyai said the certification was necessary to break through some barriers to entry.  “As a young broadcaster, you are met with a lot of talks, such as ‘being a broadcaster alone will not sustain you,’ so I needed to refine my craft,” Monyai explains. 

Despite having prior knowledge of radio operations from student-run and focused Vow FM, she struggled during her first days at Radio 702.  

“[Radio] 702 is full of older people who are mature, and the radio station is more serious and political, it’s different, I felt so lonely at first,” says Monyai. 

Thabo Mosima, a former colleague of Monyai, attests to her hard work. “A lot of people don’t know how much work you need to do before doing a radio show and that time she was doing a breakfast show, she was always on time, an hour early before her show all the time,” he says.  

He adds, “The love and passion she has for radio got her a radio award for Breakfast Show.”  Monyai hopes this is one of many wins as she begins to make a name for herself in the industry.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Kgomotso Monyai at the radio station. Photo: Mongezi Ntsebezo/Supplied 



TENNIS: Advanced players go toe to toe 

Wits university’s advanced tennis team played in the intra-Wits club championship, pitting the very best against one another in a fast-paced tournament. 

Seth Thorne (21), honours in journalism student and Wits Vuvuzela journalist, put down his pen and notebook on May 13, 2023 and picked up his tennis racquet to compete and win the internal championship.  

It was a long way to the top for players, needed to play and win eight matches to get to the final. The semi-finals saw Thorne beat Ciaran Swartz with a score of 6-1,6-2 while Roberto Da Silva beat Salmaan Bhatti, who withdrew his second set as he was suffering from fatigue and the overall score was 6-0. 

Bozzoli tennis court was the stage for the David and Goliath battle between finalists Thorne and Da Silva, Wits’ number one player on 2022.  

In the final, Thorne won the first set of the finals, 4-3, after long and good rallies. Da Silva fought back in the second set, which ended in a tiebreak.  

The tiebreaker was short, but filled with intense saves from either side of the court. Thorne ended the set with a win, with a score of 6-4,4-6,10-6. 

Thorne played defensively and minimized unforced errors to ensure consistent wins set after set. He also made sure that he gets every ball back with good positioning so that he puts his opponent under pressure to make mistakes, which worked in his favour.  

Roberto Da Villa throwing the ball in the air, about to serve his opponent at in the tournament.

Da Silva said, “it was nice playing with Seth for a change. The game was very intense, and emotionally and mentally challenging, especially playing the icebreaker”. 

The champion claimed prioritising fun over winning was the key to success, “I was able to play so much better” in that mindset he said. 

Spectator, Neo Matutuane said, “The games were interesting, some of the scores don’t reflect how close the matches were.”  

“What I’ve seen today from the players is courage, strength, determination, and resilience. Our finalists are dedicated club members and have shown that to preparations leading to the tournament,” stated the chairperson of the team, Connel Manhica. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Thorne after getting a point in the finals. Photo: Boitumelo Masalesa


REVIEW: Gold Mafia’s dodgy dealings revealed


 Africa’s Gold Mafia made up of self-proclaimed prophets, diplomats and gangsters caught in 4K smuggling gold and ‘washing money’.

A four-part investigative documentary produced and aired on news channel, Al Jazeera, has blown the lid on a syndicate that facilitates well-orchestrated money laundering services for criminals. The first episode, The Laundry Service, aired on March 23, 2023 and new episodes have come out every week since.  

The documentary took two years of investigation and much of it hinged on the undercover work of three reporters, who relied on hidden cameras and microphones to catch those implicated red-handed.  

Leading the investigative unit (iUnit) is ‘Mr Stanley’, a Chinese gangster in search of money laundering services. Then there’s ‘Jonny’ (or the Hawala Man) a black-market trader who moves money across borders without using banks.  And lastly, ‘Ms. Sin’, Mr Stanley’s financial advisor. 

The first episode profiles Kamlesh Pattni, a pastor who classifies himself as Brother Paul, and the founder of Hope International. Using his pious cover, Pattni manages to get close to several African presidents and ‘work with them’ on a number of shady deals.  

Pattni’s greed is bolstered by his political connections, which enable him to get exceptional licenses to export gold from country to country.  Just when it seemed the authorities might be onto him and prosecute him for his crimes, particularly stealing taxpayers’ money, he relocated to Zimbabwe from Kenya.  

Pattni does not work alone, his accomplices include Ewan Macmillan and Alistair Mathias. Macmillan has been in and out of prison countless times from the age of 21. He stands accused of smuggling gold worth R436 million through an untraceable bank account in Dubai.

The more unassuming of the two, Mathias, earned his gold smuggling stripes in Ghana and as the group’s ‘financial architect’, builds money laundering schemes for corrupt politicians and criminals. 

What stays with the viewer beyond the shocking revelations, is the lengths the iUnit journalists went to, to expose all of the things done behind closed doors. It successfully tracks the illicit and seemingly commonplace way corruption robs resource rich nations of their riches.  

The documentary comes to show how even people who claim to be prophets cannot be trusted, as seen through Pattni and  Prophet Uebert Angel, a Zimbabwean diplomat who uses his government post to facilitate gold smuggling.  

Investigative journalism of this kind clearly still has a place and purpose in exposing wrongdoing and holding people to account. All the episodes are free to stream on Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel.    

Vuvu rating: 7/10  

FEATURED IMAGE: Al Jazeera Gold Mafia Cover. Photo: Screenshot/AlJazeera YouTube


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