Archive for February 2011
By Hassan Isilow
For nearly 17 years, migrants from all over the world have been flocking to South Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices. Some of these practices violate the dignity and human rights of women and children. An Africa witness investigation has found that one such practice is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is secretly taking place in some migrant communities in South Africa.
“My hands were tied with a rope and two strong women held my legs apart. Then an elderly woman sat straight facing me, with a sharp knife in her hands. In just two minutes, the elderly woman had cut off my entire clitoris,” Habiba, a traumatized 16-year-old Sudanese migrant related with tears welling up in her eyes.
It will take a long time for Habiba to forget the events of the day she was brutally mutilated. Today she clearly remembers every detail. “Blood was all over my legs and thighs. The elderly woman then put some herbs on my wound, while the others wiped off the blood. It was so painful, I felt like dying,” the terrified teenager recalled.
During the procedure, she remembered screaming at the top of her lungs, but no one in the room would pay the slightest attention to her pain. “I remember screaming loudly, but no one listened; not even my biological mother who was present in the room,” she said, the agony still evident.
Six years earlier, Habiba was very excited when her parents moved from Sudan to find a new home in South Africa. To her this meant that she would be able to survive the brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGN) which is commonly practiced in Sudan.
In South Africa, she was enrolled in an expensive school, but while in grade 11, she was rudely made to realise that she had not escaped the cruel practice. “Four women visited our home during the December holidays. The next thing they started teaching me was about womanhood. Later that night the women took me into a separate room and tightly held me till they cut off my clitoris,” she narrates with a clot in her throat.
Habiba is just one of the many girls who have undergone this brutal practice conducted on South African soils. Many young girls are not willing to speak about their experiences of FGM. They fear this would make their culture seem barbaric. Instead, they choose to keep quiet and protect their cultures, just like their mothers did…and the practice continues.
Reasons for FGM
The main reasons advanced for FGM is that it promotes premarital virginity and marital infidelity because it reduces the woman’s sexual desires. This practice is internationally considered as a violation of women’s rights since the clitoris is viewed as a God given gift whose sole purpose is to generate sexual pleasure.
FGM is most common in Western, Eastern, and North eastern regions of Africa. The practice is also common in Asia and the Middle East. However, among the migrant communities in South Africa, it is most common among Egyptians, Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, some Kenyan tribes, Senegalese and people from the Middle East and a few Asians.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 140 million women living worldwide with consequences of FGM. This practice is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 16 years. It comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, but in recent times, there have been reports that some health providers have also been secretly performing the inhumane practice. The WHO considers FMG as a reflection of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
According to the WHO, FGM is classified into four major types. The first type is called Clitoridectomy which involves either partial or total removal of the clitoris which are a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals. The second common type of procedure is medically known as excision, which involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
The third type is called infibulations, involves vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. Lastly, other harmful procedures may include, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. According to the WHO, all the above mentioned procedures have no health benefits, and are harmful to girls and women.
The most immediate complications of FGM include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissues. In the long-term the victim could experience recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
By Hassan Isilow
INVESTIGATIVE FEATURE: In South Africa, the word sangoma refers to a person who practices herbal medicine or has supernatural healing powers. This week Africa witness went undercover to investigate the activities of a growing number of foreign sangoma’s (traditional healers) that operate within Cape Town and its environs.
It is 9:30am on Wednesday morning and I’m sitting in a queue with four other clients waiting for the services of a sangoma in a well furnished office in Loop Street, Cape Town. Just like any other organised business, the traditional healer has a receptionist sitting at the front desk with a computer. She asks for R70 which she says is consultation fees for seeing the “doctor”. Being on a special assignment, I oblige and pay the money. A fellow “patient” waiting with me in the queue is an elderly Muslim woman who tells me her youngest son has “bad luck” and cannot stay on a job for long. So she wants the sangoma to give him herbs for good luck .I silently wonder if this is possible.
At exactly 10am, I’m led into the traditional healer’s office by the young female receptionist. It is a very dark and smelly room. I cannot see anything, but hear voices of so-called “ancestors”. The sangoma who calls himself “Dr” Mutalemwa Yusuf, asks me to tell him my problems.
I lie to him, saying that I cannot find a bride and I urgently need one. The healer then tells me to make sacrifice by buying two goats, a white African hen and food stuffs to appease my ancestors, who he claims are unhappy with me. In a twist of events, he also tells me that a close family friend has bewitched me and I will need to pay R12, 000 ($2,000) to be cleansed by the sangoma.
As I leave the sangoma’s shrine, I meet an old varsity friend from East Africa who asks me what I was doing there. He tells me he was also a sangoma when he first arrived in South Africa, before getting a formal job. My friend said since most “blacks” and a few of the other races believe in superstition and the powers of the ancestors, it created the perfect opportunity for unemployed foreigners and a few local con artists to take advantage.
He said since sangomas are considered to be holy men and women who can bring good luck to their communities and chase away evil spirits (tokoloshes), they hold a certain power in the community. These powers are never questioned, which has made most unemployed or unskilled foreign nationals join the lucrative alternative healing market, promising the highly superstitious “black” and a few others South African races “heaven on earth”.
Interestingly enough, he added, a high number of these “fake” foreign sangomas are from East Africa and they claim to cure all sorts of illnesses that even the most powerful local sangomas dare not treat.
Spill the beans
The former sangoma told me that he had never had any training to become a traditional healer, but when he arrived in South Africa, he couldn’t readily find employment. So he went to visit a friend from his home country who told him about the secret of being a “fake” sangoma. “Just like other sangomas, I claimed to make the poor rich in two days, bring back lost lovers and make men’s private parts bigger and more virile. But after lying to my clients for a long time, I decided to quit the practice, pursue my masters degree and here I’m now,” he related, chatting to me in a restaurant in Loop Street, Cape Town.
The former sangama said he left the “fake” trade because his conscience began to bother him after repeatedly cheating poor people who came to him daily with their problems. “At times I used to cry at night, after telling several lies to people who came to my shrine with various depressing problems. I kept running from city to city in this country, as I was being hunted by some people whom I had promised would see change in their lives. But it never happened,” he said with regret.
I’ve also learnt that most foreign Sangomas promise to protect businesses from thieves, win court cases and the Lotto among others. Because of these claims, the foreign sangomas are considered to be the hottest healers in the witch craft business. “It would have been better if these people could deliver their promises,” a 35 year old South African school teacher who went to a foreign sangoma seeking the return of his lost lover, told me.
Identifying himself only as Rasheed, he confided that he had paid R14, 000($2200) to a sangoma from East Africa who then quietly disappeared. “I lost both my lover and my money to that devil. I promise, I will believe only in God from today onwards,” the wounded man pledged.
However, a 65-year-old Ugandan national who operates as a sangoma in Wynberg near Cape Town, disputed the allegations that all foreign sangomas are “fake” and cheats. “Those fake doctors are the young boys who came here recently. Since they did not find jobs, they began to imitate what we do.” The elderly Ugandan sangoma who operates his business in a well-furnished office in Wynberg said he was a genuine traditional healer, bragging that he is even well known among Ugandan communities.
“I have treated all sorts of people – politicians seeking to win elections, scholars, love seekers and the like. They have all become what they are today because of my powers,” he boasted, spreading his arms in a sign of confidence used mostly by healers in East and West Africa. He recalled that when he arrived in Cape Town in 1997, there were only a few foreign traditional healers. That created the space for them to corner the market in their “profession”.
Whenever they returned to Uganda, their neighbors and family members insisted on coming with them to South Africa, which led to an influx of Ugandan healers in South Africa. “On average, I get 10 clients a day and each pays R70 for consultation, besides the fees I charge them for the medicine,” he said.
Why Muslim Names?
Shockingly most of these foreign traditional healers are using Muslim names, even when they are non-Muslims. Out of 10 muti shops I visited today, eight had Muslim names. I picked up nearly 20 different pamphlets advertising the sangomas expertise and in three quarter of them, the healer had a Muslim name.
The foreign sangomas believe when you use a Muslim name in your “practice” you will attract many clients, especially in Cape Town where there is a high Muslim population. These sangomas target Muslim suburbs such as Wynberg, Athlone and Gatesville among others.
According to the chairperson of the South African Traditional Healers Organisation, Phepsile Maseko, bogus practitioners are bringing the healing sector into disrepute. “The practice of traditional healing is genuine, but when bogus people join the uncontrolled business it becomes difficult to distinguish between the real healer and the fake ones,” she said.
Police in Pretoria recently, arrested seven Ugandan herbalists who had been operating in the city for reportedly defrauding their clients. The latest arrest came after a Ugandan herbalist allegedly took R15, 000($2300) from a customer, claiming that his ancestors would turn it into R100 million. When the victim returned to collect his promised millions, the Ugandan herbalist become aggressive and promised to bewitch his victim if he insisted on demanding the money.
According to Gauteng Provisional police spokesperson, Eugene Opperman, they have arrested around five bogus herbalists believed to be Ugandans across the city in just four months. Authorities said these conmen claimed to have the power to make people rich or even cure illnesses, such as HIV/Aids. They often advertise in pamphlets and newspapers so as to woo the gullible.
It is understood that after meeting their victims and promising to make them rich, these conmen would take the money and disappear. In January 2008, 20 Ugandan healers were arrested in Johannesburg for carrying out illegal abortions.
By Hassan Isilow
Mini-bus taxis are one of the major sources of transport in Cape Town, but loud music, hooting and shouting touts seem to accompany it permanently, much to the aggravation of fellow road users. Boarding a taxi from Bellville to Cape Town feels like you have entered a disco. The music is usually unbearably loud and as if that is not bad enough, the taxi touts never keep their mouths shut for a second.
I’m standing outside the Boston centre in Bellville, waiting for a taxi to Cape Town, when I hear a man yelling out, “Kap-kap…Cape, kaptyown,” meaning Cape Town – this is how taxi touts here pronounce it. The taxi tout continues to persuade us to board his taxi, “Brotha come, come sister. We are going now.”
As I enter the taxi, I spot six young high school students dancing and whistling to the tune of the loud music pouring out of the huge speakers. They seem to be enjoying the ride, but mature passengers inside the van are irritated with the noise. Two passengers, who were having a conversation in the taxi, tell the driver to reduce the volume of his music, but their efforts sinks like a stone in the sea. The driver refuses.
“Eish, this driver is not seriaas (serious), I can not even converse with my friend in this taxi. The music is so loud, oh!” an elderly female passenger complains. “I feel the music beating right in my veins. This is not good for my health,” she adds.
Ten minutes into our journey, the taxi tout asks for transport fare. “Brotha, where?” implying where are you going. “Cape Town,” I reply and give him a R20 note. He does not return my R10 change. When I ask for my change, the taxi tout ignores me.
An elderly woman seated next to me says that’s the character of taxi touts – they are quick to ask for transport fare, but reluctant to give back change. She says that’s how taxi touts cheat unsuspecting passengers, especially tourists and visitors to the region.
As we reach another spot where taxis pick up passengers in Parow, the taxi tout, starts shouting at the top of his lungs, “Kap-kap…Cape, kaptyown.” By now I feel as if I could have bust an ear drum, but the tout does not care. All he cares about is getting more passengers and making more money.
After all this noise, the taxi tout gets only two passengers. As another taxi van attempts to bypass us, we drive towards Maitland. A race comparable to a motoring sport rally ensures. The taxi drivers go bumber to bumper till we reach the Maitland taxi rank. I then introduce myself to the driver as a journalist, doing a feature story about the taxi industry in Cape Town . I ask him, why he was racing at such a speed, with out considering the safety of passengers.
“The taxi industry has become very competitive nowadays. There are many taxis on the road, yet our boss – the taxi owner – wants a fixed amount of money everyday. He doesn’t care whether you got passengers or not. All he needs is his money,” the taxi driver who only identifies himself as Simon, tells me. Simon drives fast so as to make more trips. “Our target is to make more trips so we can make more money,” he relates before starting his engine to continue with his journey.
Taxi drivers in Western Cape are a crazy lot. They indicate right, but will turn left once they see a passenger. During heavy traffic, some of these drivers will think nothing of even driving on the pavement to get around faster. It is also common to see these taxi drivers stopping their vans at traffic lights and getting out to chat with their colleagues.
Gary Ronald, spokesperson of the Automobile Association (AA), says this is very risky behaviour which puts the lives of passengers and other road users at risk. “There is a need for regular sensitisation of taxi drivers and other reckless motorists,” says Garry and after my latest experience, I could not agree more.