Illegal abortions risk lives

EASY AS 1, 2, 3: Street pole charlatans use any surface to advertise "pain free and safe" abortions. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

EASY AS 1, 2, 3: Street pole charlatans use any surface to advertise “pain free and safe” abortions. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

“HOW FAR are you?” he asked.
“Six months.”
“Then it’s fine. I’ll take care of you.”
“Is it painful?”
After a six-week investigation, Wits Vuvuzela had this telephone exchange with a man who offers illegal abortions, even when pregnancies have advanced beyond the legal cut-off. He refused to give his name and place of work but offered to meet at Park Station.
“Backstreet” abortions have been a cause of medical concern. Yet even now, street pole charlatans provide dangerous abortions, which could cause women to lose their lives or their ability to have children. These services are widely advertised in the Johannesburg CBD, at stations, on stop signs and buildings.
The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act protects a woman’s right to choose and allows women to access safe abortion services at legitimate clinics and hospitals. Abortion is offered free at any government hospital or clinic. Legally, any woman, whatever her age, can have an abortion if she is still in the first trimester (12 weeks).
It is only legal to have an abortion after this if her physical or mental health is at stake, the baby will have severe mental or physical abnormalities or if she is pregnant because of incest or rape. However, this can only be done before the pregnancy has reached 20 weeks (five months). After this cut-off, it is illegal to perform or have an abortion.
An ex-UJ student, who asked not to be named for fear of legal and social repercussions, suffered damage to her cervix and uterine wall after undergoing a backstreet abortion way past the legal 20-week gestation period.
Enrolled as a Media Studies major, the woman was forced to take a “time-out” from school due to the physical and mental after-effects she suffered.
“I was scared and on a bursary and I could not afford to disappoint my family.” She had delayed the termination, thinking she would keep the baby, while her boyfriend was around. Once he disappeared, her pregnancy had advanced beyond the legal limit.
“I saw a flyer at Park Station and I secretly took the number. They promised a safe and cheap abortion so my mind was made.”

The stairs reeked of urine and rotting garbage. Lighting was scarce on the winding staircase and loud music blared from apartments on different floors.
She wouldn’t go into much detail about the procedure itself. “It was just at a building in town. I went to the room of it and there was a bed and some weird looking silver tools.”

She was given an array of pills “for pain”. The “midwife” used a tool which she described as “very cold and hard” and then she felt a sharp pain. Feeling a “warm fluid”, she assumed the worst was over – until it became apparent this fluid was blood, which wouldn’t stop.
She bled heavily for seven days, suffering intense abdominal pain, until an aunt forced her to go to a clinic.
Another young woman is said to have committed suicide as a result of the mental trauma she suffered after an illegal abortion. A friend, who asked not to be named since out of sensitivity for her friend’s family, said the woman was never the same after her abortion.

She bled heavily for seven days, suffering intense abdominal pain, until an aunt forced her to go to a clinic.
“She would not talk about it. She just started behaving differently. She became very reckless. She told me that it was a bad experience and that she would always regret it.”
Having received a tip-off, Wits Vuvuzela visited a building where unlicensed abortions are said to take place, three blocks from Park Station, adjacent to a taxi rank.
The stairs reeked of urine and rotting garbage.

Lighting was scarce on the winding staircase and loud music blared from apartments on different floors.

When our reporter knocked, a woman appeared behind a steel security door and asked if she had an appointment. The reporter pretended to be lost and left.
From the room, a metallic smell mingled with something that smelt like hard liquor.
According to Marie Stopes South Africa (MSSA), an organisation which specialises in sexual and reproductive healthcare, the drug sometimes used for medical abortions, Cytotech, is easily acquired. If administered incorrectly, it could cause hemorrhaging and rupturing of the uterus, said Andrea Thompson, head of clientele at Marie Stopes Organisation.
“Women should be wary of anyone offering medical abortion pills without providing a consultation and an exam to determine their gestation (stage of the pregnancy).”
If administered wrongly, the pill could have severe consequences, including death, she said.
Even though it is legal to have an abortion, no questions asked, Wits and UJ students told Wits Vuvuzela they avoided the health sector because of the judgement they faced there.
Wits Vuvuzela went to Hillbrow Clinic to posing as a woman in need of an abortion. The security guard at the entrance asked every patient their destination.

This forced her to disclose this in front of 25 people. She was treated unsympathetically by a nurse, whose face registered disapproval until the journalist said she had reconsidered and would not go through with the abortion.



The ‘luxury’ of being depressed

DOWN IN THE DUMPS: Depression is characterized as living in a black hole or having a feeling of doom. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

DOWN IN THE DUMPS: Depression is characterized as living in a black hole or having a feeling of doom. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa


WHEN I was eight, I was sent home from school because they did not understand why I was “acting out”.


I suffered from depression. But my family kept sending me back to school as they were convinced I was “seeking attention”.
I am not alone in my experience. Many other students have dealt with depression on their own because it is not regarded as an “African” illness. So, it is not easily recognised.
In Xhosa, Ndebele, Shona, Pedi, Tsonga and Venda cultures, there is no term for depression, only terms that describe their actions on the exterior. These terms include ukhatazekile (isiZulu for hurt/ worried/ broken-hearted); hatello yamunagano (Sesotho for oppression of the mind/mind is weighed down) and kufungisisa (Shona for overthinking).

“Usually those who have depression suffer from ancestral problems … I give them a mixture made of plants that we boil for 30 minutes.” Serake said.
Depression and mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Autism and Anxiety are viewed as a “luxury” for those who can afford to get them treated. These diseases are seen as a form of “indulgence” for attention-seekers.
Depression is characterised by the Health as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom or bleakness. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad a

t all, they may feel lifeless, empty, and disengaged. Men, in particular, may even feel angry, aggressive, and restless. Depression makes it tough to function because day to day “normal” activities become a chore and difficult to undertake.
Common symptoms of depression include headaches, emotional outbursts, acute sadness, isolation, self-loathing, weakness and stomach pains, to name but a few.
Trish Chikura, a University of North-West student, said that before she was diagnosed with Dysthymia, which is a neurotic depression, she had been living with it for over six years. She became aware of it initially when she was 15. “Deep inside, I was empty and had recurring anxiety attacks. I grew up in an unstable household. I saw things as a child that no child should see,” Chikura said.
She said her family, despite being the “catalyst of her depression”, didn’t take too well to her being depressed.
“They are still in denial. Some part of me thinks they don’t see depression as a big thing.”
Depression is not always caused by one isolated incident. While the root cause of depression varies, most cases are usually triggered by a major incident that the patient may have witnessed or suffered.Twenty-two year-old Braamfontein resident Dimitri Leroy Tshabalala suffered from depression when his mother, who was his support system, died.

He realised he was depressed when he suffered from constant headaches, weakness and feelings of loneliness and self-loathing. He became suicidal.
“Now that she was gone, I was at the point I tried to end my life on many occasions but failed,” he said.
Tshabalala said his family was unresponsive to the fact that he was depressed, and his friends acted as his support system.
Because mental illness is an unexplainable phenomenon in African cultures, it has proved difficult for many to get the help they need.
The fact that these diseases are identified with their physical or exterior symptoms makes it more difficult to deal with the root cause.
Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Seth Serake, a Johannesburg based traditional healer, who treats patients suffering from depression. For him, depression was caused by “ancestral problems”. He prepared an oral concoction which would get rid of the depression in two weeks, he claimed.
“Usually those who have depression suffer from ancestral problems … I give them a mixture made of plants that we boil for 30 minutes. They must take one tablespoon three times a day for two weeks. Guarantee in one month the depression is out of the body,” Serake said.

The fact that the concept of depression is clearly not fully comprehended adds to the difficulty in recognising it in its early stages.
Dr Vinitha Jithoo, of the Wits Psychology department, said that the issue of understanding depression in African contexts is not so much about people’s ignorance of the disease but more about the lack of a direct linguistic connection to the disease itself.
They identify depression differently, she said. “This is done by connecting the physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, to the disease but not the mental symptoms,” Jithoo said.
The treatment for depression can be found in acknowledgement of the depression, therapy and sometimes antidepressants, according to These procedures take some time as it also requires lifestyle changes such as exercise, better nutrition, reduction of stress and more sleep.
Wits Vuvuzela approached different people of different ethnic backgrounds and asked them what they thought depression was.
Most of them connected depression to over-thinking, stress, worry and just basic “not feeling well”. Some even went as far as saying that “it does not exist” and when Wits Vuvuzela explained the symptoms they called it “attention-seeking” or “laziness”.

It is important to identify depression in its early stages for it can lead to self-harm and suicide.
In my own experience the most important thing is to get acknowledgement that the disease exists. The hardest part is managing it. It has got easier with time, however.

Forensic pathologist says conflict resolution needs psychological warfare – it’s a mouthful, we know!

TEA TIME: Ryan Blumenthal, author of Mentalist Martial Arts, spoke about his book. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

TEA TIME: Ryan Blumenthal, author of Mentalist Martial Arts, enjoys a sip of tea after talking about his book at the Golden Key breakfast. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

The academic elite of Wits University were treated to the mentalist musings of Dr Ryan Blumenthal at the Golden Key corporate breakfast held early this morning.

Blumenthal, a forensic pathologist based at the University of Pretoria, spoke at the breakfast about his book,  Mentalist Martial Arts which focuses on the art of conflict resolution through misdirection.

His methods of conflict resolution  mentions the use of tools such as triple negatives and the element of surprise to get out of high risk situations ranging from calming down a mental patient to rape attempts.

Blumenthal told Wits Vuvuzela that he feels like there is more of a need to explore the issue of anger and conflict management in South Africa today.

He said, “I see a lot of standard stuff go wrong, like if people fight, flight or freeze it often goes wrong. I’m just saying use your brain, misdirect, think and use psychological warfare.”

“The earth is becoming more populated, traffic, the recession, people are stressed nowadays. There’s going to be more conflict, you can bet on it. One has to think of innovative ways of dealing with conflict.”

Blumenthal was not short on suggestions for innovative conflict resolution strategies. “Always think about the best possible answers to a situation and try not to ask “why”  and  “how” type questions these come across as judgemental .”

Golden Key is an international organisation of students that excel academically and holds regular breakfasts with prominent speakers.


‘Girls compete with each other – women empower each other’

Anya van Zyl and Melinda Bam, the organisers of the Womentality Workshop.

POWERFUL WOMEN: Anja van Zyl and Melinda Bam, the organisers of the Womentality Workshop. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

One of Johannesburg’s poshest hotels played host to a bevy of beautiful women who were attending the second annual Womentality Workshop  yesterday.

The workshop, aimed at empowering young women, and is the brainchild of former Miss South Africa Melinda Bam and 2008 runner-up, Anja van Zyl, took place all through the day at the Maslow in Sandton. The aim of the former beauty queens is to help women embrace their inner femininity and be fearless and proud.

“Womentality workshops touch on several aspects of the female form and mind, to help you refine your femininity.”

“Being feminine means embracing different facets, acquiring new skills to be able to adapt to life’s changes and to realise that being a woman is the biggest blessing of all,” said Bam.

A self-confessed tomboy, she said that there is a lot for women, even the tomboys, to take away from the workshops which focus on a mind-set shift.

“There is a bit of femininity in every single woman that she should embrace, it is not just about what you look like, it is how all of that translates into how you feel about yourself every day,” she said.

Rolene Strauss, current Miss South Africa, gave a talk at yesterday's Womentality Workshop. Photo: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

Rolene Strauss, current Miss South Africa, also gave a talk at yesterday’s Womentality Workshop in Sandton. Photo: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

“We want to create a movement, we are going to go to each province, and yes we want to have them regularly,” said Van Zyl about the future of the workshops.

When kids give to kids


WORKING IT: One of the creations featured at the ‘What You Rocking’ fashion show put on by three charity organisations. Photo: Provided

They give away their profits to take care of infant babies, create self-sustainable decent homes for aids orphans, children from dysfunctional homes and children living in the streets and cater to post matriculants too.
These are hero students from Wits, University of Johannesburg and surrounding educational institutions who are doing great work with the profits they make from their entrepreneurial efforts. People pay them to watch art and fashion shows, listen to their poetry and music, and at the end of the day they use their money for the needy children of Berea.

The project, which started last year, launched its first big event last month. Student entrepreneur, Kgothatso Habedi and his friend Lesego Moeletsi, started their company, Oh2sickPRO_Deuce. They are based in Johannesburg and the Vaal.

“Basically we are all artists. Our company is a photography and graphic design company but sometimes we host events. We’ve done some stuff for DJ Speedsta and Goodfolx. We love and support everything art and media based,” Habedi said.

[pullquote]“We encourage young people to come in and help especially in areas they like most.”[/pullquote]

The company has worked with other companies in organising and hosting some of their major events which include the ‘What You Rocking’ runway event that took place in March. These companies include SSM Ploughback and Starting Now South Africa.

“[After] our first event, we donated 90% of the funds to two children’s homes in Berea.

“As a brand we work with other companies. One of our DJs are on radio, one of our graphic designers has a clothing label and I am starting a new project. So as we grow we look to working with more people,” Habedi said.
Phephisile Nkanyezi Mathizerd, SSM Ploughback’s music and art director, said that as a company they do a lot of events and outreach programmes but she is mostly in charge of the arts division.
It organises events that range from poetry sessions to drama and fashion events.

“We encourage young people to come in and help especially in areas they like most,” she said.

SSM Ploughback is officially affiliated with two charity organisations, two children’s homes called The Christ Church Christian Care Centre (5Cees) and Mofumahadi wa Tsepo Care. These are orphanages and care centres which provide services to children, adoption services, child development centres, foster care and includes infant care centres and nurseries.

“We run mentorship programs and entertain these children by playing with them and celebrating their birthdays with them. We also collect clothes for them for the winter season,” she said.
SSM Ploughback targets young people and encourages involvement through showcasing their talents in art or helping out with the underprivileged children.