South African women as drug mules

South Africa has been bombarded with stories of its citizens being arrested in foreign countries for amongst other crimes, drug trafficking. This seems to be the presiding crime as statistics prove that well over 60% of the South African citizens incarcerated in foreign prisons have committed crimes related to drug trafficking. In an attempt to understand and conceptualise the dynamics and context surrounding the issue of drug trafficking; there is a need to understand the motivation behind using mainly women for this trade. According to CG Roman in Illicit drug policies, trafficking, and use the world over, South Africa is one of the world’s leading marijuana producers. In addition to the marijuana, South Africans also use methaqualone, also known as Mandrax (main psychoactive ingredient in sleeping tablets. The drug was banned in 1977, but continues to be a problem).

Number of South Africans in prisons abroad
In 2010, there were 1 049 South Africans serving time in Brazilian jails alone, and an undetermined number of prisoners were in jails in other countries throughout the world. According to the Department of Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), in 2012, there were 969 South Africans in foreign jails and about 67 percent of them are serving time for drug related crimes. Common prisons are in Brazil, Thailand, and Mauritius; and a few in China; said Deputy Director, Clayson Monyela.
According to Die Burger newspaper, in 2007 alone, there were 865 South Africans in prisons across the world, for drug smuggling. It is said that the mules receive between R20 000 and R50 000 for their troubles, depending on the amount of drugs they smuggle. In 2013, there were 337 South African women, aged between 29 and 62, imprisoned in foreign countries for drug trafficking. Ninety-two of these women were incarcerated in some of the nine female prisons in Brazil and the number continued to rise yearly. This rising number raises concern, mostly due to the fact that young women are now becoming more involved in this industry.
According to Patricia Gerber of Locked Up [Locked Up is a Non-Governmental Organisation whose mission is to educate people, to put as much pressure as it takes on the SA Government to SIGN onto the existing worldwide multi-lateral Prisoner Transfer Agreement and extradite its people. This is according to their website on http://www.lockedup.co.za]; the NGO receives reports of South Africans being arrested abroad on drug trafficking charges on almost a weekly basis. Belinda West, founder of Locked Up said that there were about 12 of South African prisoners in Thailand, about five in China and up to 400 in Brazil, as of March 2013. Most cocaine comes from Brazil and there is a direct flight from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo in Brazil; therefore making it easier to travel and trade.
Reasons for imprisonment – the crime
According to Superintendent Ronnie Naidoo, mostly West Africans – particularly Nigerians – make use of drug mules. This was emphasised by CG Roman, who has stated that Nigerians have set up networks in South Africa for drug trade. South Africa is a hub where even drug lords from Mauritius use it as one of their networks. Criminal groups have set up permanent operational bases in the Southern region of Africa to traffic drugs; thus, South Africa has become part of the network of drug trafficking in the world – including Western Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia.
In March 2013, Blantina Makoti, a teacher, was arrested in India’s Mumbai International Airport, for carrying seven kilograms of drugs. Officials searched her bag after she was deemed as acting suspiciously. Drugs were stashed in 14 school bags that she was carrying. In May 2013, a woman by the name of Suty Lentin, was also arrested in the same airport for being in possession of 26 kilograms of drugs – methamphetamine (tik) and ketamine which is used as an animal tranquiliser.
In August 2012, a 22 year old woman was arrested in Indonesia for being in possession of six kilograms of either crystal meth or tik at Manando International Airport. Nolubabalo Nobanda who was arrested in Bangkok for carrying 600 grams of cocaine in her dreadlocks was sentenced to 15 years. Initially, her sentence was 30 years plus R500 000 fine, but because she “cooperated” with the officials, her sentence was then halved. Cooperation in this instance may also mean admitting to a crime you did not even commit. The sentence was also lightened as the cargo she was carrying was found to have been mixed with baking powder. In her sworn statement, she stated how she was tricked into going to Brazil by her friend as she had no idea that she would be used as a drug mule.
At the airport in Thailand, it seemed the immigration officers were expecting her as she was taken to a room already full of television cameras and reporters. She stated that she may have been used as a decoy, possibly to allow another drug mule carrying a greater amount of drugs, to be let through unquestioned.
A pattern should be noticed here that so often, people who are caught with drugs aren’t carrying great amounts. So often, these people would have been smuggling these drugs for the first time. According to South African Broadcasting Corporation news (SABC), most of the people who are arrested are found with less than 3.5kilograms of an illegal substance. They are often decoys – deliberately set up by the people who send them, as they take the fall while the bigger consignment gets through with the real drug mules. According to one mule who was arrested in Bangkok, escape is impossible as they are under constant surveillance by a syndicate member. She says officials were tipped off and she was arrested. While she was being stripped off, four other South African mules who had been coerced by the same syndicate, slipped through on their flight to China, undetected. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with no recourse to appeal or retrial. A sixth of her sentence was lopped off through the King’s pardon.
There are varying reasons why people associate themselves with this kind of trade. The most popular one probably being poverty; there are however other factors that play a major role. In some instances, the drug mule is fully aware of what they are doing, as was the case of Nombali Xundu. However, someone else may report that they had no option but to comply, as in the case of Nolubabalo Nobanda. People may also be vulnerable and desperate for jobs; in that case, the syndicates know who to target.
In 2003, a 20 year old lady – Brigene Young – was arrested in Mauritius for drug trafficking. When she related her story, she conveyed that she was an innocent bystander, unaware that the man who promised her a dream holiday, was actually trapping her. Prison conditions are a different matter on their own and would need to be tackled in a different article.

South African Government’s stance on the matter
South Africa and Ghana are the only two countries in the world who have not signed prisoner-transfer-agreement(s) with any country. “Every other country has, and has taken their citizens to their own country to complete their prison sentences at home, allowing their families to visit them”; says Gerber. Because other countries have inter-state-prisoner transfer agreements; their citizens can be extradited to serve at least part of their sentences back home. South Africa has not signed such agreements with any country. The Department of Correctional services believe that allowing South Africans to serve jail time at home would amount to too great a financial burden. The number of foreign prisoners in South Africa precedes that of South African prisoners in foreign countries.
Department of Correctional Services argued that due to important political considerations taken into account, the government will not be able to sign such an agreement. Gerber believes that the prisoner-transfer agreements could lift the financial burden the Department so speaks of. It can be noted that in some instances, offenders who come from countries with prisoner-transfer-agreements may get lighter sentences. For example, Vanessa Goosen was initially sentenced to death in Thailand for being found with 1.7 kilograms of heroin; whereas an American woman was sentenced to eight years for carrying 15 kilograms of heroin. Although no reasons were given for such a discrepancy; it remains worrying that there would be such a significant difference in the sentencing. Should we not be seeing this as part of human trafficking?

Ntando PZ Mbatha
(Parts of this article first appeared on The New Age newspaper on 16 November 2016)

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History of Black Newspapers in South Africa

Newspapers are one of the oldest sources of information available to historical researchers. Although we live in a digital world where information is available within a click of a button, newspapers are still able to make history, with its daily, weekly and monthly reports, and more importantly, what researchers may perceive as one of the reliable primary source. Newspaper files are now regarded as one of the richest collections of raw materials for the historian since it became an important news-gathering agency. Journalists have background insight and specialized techniques for their task. Readers should however keep in mind that a newspaper is a commercial business and one of its priorities is to make a profit for its stockholders. For this reason, they may take steps that appeal to their advertising clients and readership customers.

The great use of newspapers as a historical source has grown steadily faster since its first publication in South Africa in the 1800s. They have been drawn upon to finish historical details, to use the advertisements as illustrations, to focus on the lives of common people, to demonstrate the current stance of public opinion as well as to draw a very clear picture of that period. The newspaper has somehow become quite familiar as part of our daily living in such a way that we are much more likely to approach it with a more fixed idea when searching for historical information. Basically the idea could be to find the truth, gather evidence or particularly tell a story of what really happened as journalists normally experience the story at first hand (eye-witness).

We take a historical journey back to black newspapers in South Africa, their names, the pioneers and what their content was about. We understand that these newspapers have played a big role in the writing of the history of black people and would like to renown them as pioneers.

Black Press in South Africa

The first publication of the black press was in the 1820’s which included for example, an elementary spelling, small catechism, and some hymns. The first known series of publications aimed at black readers were Tswana religious tracts entitled: Morisa Oa Molemo, issued by the London Missionary Society in Kuruman in the early 1830’s. This hardly constituted a newspaper as such but it illustrated a focus on Christianity.

The first newspaper for blacks was therefore produced by Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries working in the Eastern Cape in 1837. It was called Umshumayeli Wendaba (Publisher of the news). This newspaper was printed at the Wesleyan Mission Society in Grahamstown from 1837 to 1839 and then printed from Peddie in 1840 to 1841. Other newspapers followed like; Kwezi between 1844 and 1845, and Indaba (news) in 1862, which was written largely by Africans from Lovedale; for example, Tiyo Soga (known as the first black literary figure) who wrote under the pseudonym Nonjiba Waseluhlangeni from 1829 to 1879. These newspapers were mainly written in isiXhosa with a portion of English articles, as it was seen as a way to assist Africans to learn English.

It should however be noted that the newspaper Isigidimi samaXhosa (the Xhosa messenger) is regarded as the first African newspaper due to the fact that it was edited by blacks in South Africa which also became independent as a Xhosa newspaper in 1876. Research, writing and editing was all carried out by blacks.

In 1844, at the age of 24 years, John Tengo Jabavu founded the newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu (African opinion) which was the first newspaper to progress from being written for and by blacks, to being under their ownership and control as well. It became the most influential and progressive means of expression for black people in the Eastern Cape. It was funded by Richard W Rose-Innes who was a lawyer and James W. Weir who was a local merchant. Imvo Zabantsundu experienced a lot of opposition due to Jabavu’s political stance. It was believed that he supported the Native Land Act of 1913 as well as the Afrikaner Bond, which was against the progress of black people. While the newspaper experienced these problems, a new paper named Izwi laBantu emerged. It was founded and published in East London, in the Eastern Cape by a group of Africans who opposed Jabavu’s support of the Afrikaaner Bond in the election of 1898 in the Cape Colony. This paper was heavily involved in the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912. It was politically motivated as it inspired the formation of the SANNC. One of the founding members of the SANNC Walter Benson Rubusana, was one of this newspaper’s most prominent political writers. This then made Izwi laBantu a publication which became a forum for those who wanted to corroborate African political activities. He used this newspaper to rally support when he became a candidate for the Thembuland Constituency in the Cape Provincial Council – which he went to win and became the first ever African to be elected to serve as its member. The affiliations the newspaper had whether economically or politically, played an important role in the newspaper’s success.

In KwaZulu Natal, John Langalibalele Dube founded the newspaper Ilanga lase Natal in 1903. This newspaper became politically involved as well. In 1912 all the pioneering black journalists met in Bloemfontein on the 8th of January with the exception of Jabavu, to form the SANNC which was renamed the African National Congress in 1923. It is however important to note that the organisation was not formed only by journalists as there were chiefs, and religious ministers as well. They all came from the four provinces (Transvaal Colony, Natal Colony, Cape Colony and the Orange River Colony) of the Union of South Africa (which came into being on 31 May 1910). One of the first orders of the congress business was to establish a collective newspaper which was named Abantu-Batho in 1913 against a background of increasing oppression of South African blacks. The paper had a nation-wide circulation and was printed in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho and English.

The alternative (Black) newspapers are a rich source of the black history. As mentioned above, the Black people’s history before the 1800s is very poorly written; these newspapers are an important source in the writing of black history in South Africa through the eye of the black people; for example, the history of the ANC is written in broader terms in the Black newspapers, specifically Abantu-Batho which was founded after its formation.

Sources:

Barnes, H.E. A history of historical writing.

Potter, E. The press as opposition: The political role of South African newspapers. London: 1975.

Barzun, J. and Graff, H.F. The modern researcher. New York: 1957

SA History Online

Research by Ntando PZ Mbatha

NPZ Mbatha

Meeting Bab’ Alfred Duma

The theme for heritage month in 2016 was “Celebrating Human Treasures by asserting our African Identity”. Now we need to be level headed about these things and not think our living heritage can only be renowned and celebrated during this month or when certain themes are set up. This is one of the reasons I have waited until the hype of celebrating heritage has died down because I refuse to be consumed by the idea that heritage is all about dress and song. My people think wearing traditional clothes, organising what they call heritage events, is all there is to heritage. The month has actually been hijacked by other programmes which I wouldn’t like to divulge in because I think they have received more than enough attention as is.

Nevertheless, in August I had the pleasure of sitting down with the one and only Bab’ Alfred Duma. I wasn’t aware that he lives in Tsakane, Steadville and when I learned of this, as a historian, I jumped to the occasion. I have been writing the history of Steadville through oral testimonies and it would have been an injustice not to get his story. I was so taken by how well he welcomed me to his home. From the moment we spoke on the phone organising our meeting, to the actual meeting. His granddaughter is also just the best. I often say “sit down with old people, you will get a lot from them”.

What was supposed to be a meet and greet ended up being a conversation for hours. We firstly spoke about where he was from. We spoke about how he didn’t receive formal education. He said “the only important thing at the time was getting education, it didn’t matter being the oldest person in the class”. He travelled KwaZulu Natal a lot with work and his work as a trade unionist.

He speaks about how difficult life was for him when his mother married another man. Due to this, he had to live with relatives and also struggled to complete his education. Around 1947 he started working “emajalidini” in Emnambithi.

The one question I asked him was why he decided to get into politics. He says “I was often reminded that I didn’t have a formal home and was just a visitor. I carried that with me until I was old and due to this struggle, when I got to work, I was reminded that I was nothing. The hardship I faced from my white employer was exactly the same as the one I had received growing up. So I was reminded that I didn’t belong and had no place I could call home”. He then started seeking a lawyer who would assist him when he got into trouble. By that time, he says he had already started thinking about politics. It was when he worked at KwaMavelempini (a big cotton company at the time), that he realised he had a burning desire within him to pursue politics. When they were all fired at the firm, kicked out like animals, he expresses how painful it was for him. He jokingly tells you that he wanted to burn the firm. He says, due to the seriousness of what he planned to do, he didn’t want to recruit anyone for this, he would do it alone. Arson was a serious case and it would be easy for him to get executed for it. “I collected sacks, I collected glasses (spectacles) thinking I’d prepare for the arson and hide myself in the process. Truth is, I did have friends but didn’t want to involve them in any of this. We were kicked out for protesting low wages. The only problem was that the firm was big with buildings scattered all over, so I wouldn’t have been able to burn it all”. Due to this, he did not proceed with this. He says he knew that he would get arrested and was ready for it as well. This was around 1949 because he left for Durban in 1950 to look for a job. Because he didn’t have documentation to be in Durban, he had to put himself under house arrest with some of his colleagues from eMnambithi. He only got documents in 1951 as from Eshowe as the Chiefs that side assisted him. They used to hold political meetings during the weekend and that is when he requested a lawyer. He was then advised to join the African National Congress. He also joined the South African Trade Union now known as COSATU. He soon belonged to the movement and would soon realise that he received all the assistance he needed. “I became a full member of these organisations in 1952”. He says the people he got introduced to at the organisation were Steven Dlamini and Moses Mabhida who were leaders at the time under President Chief Albert Luthuli.

In Durban he first did piece jobs and only got his formal work at Lion Matches factory where he became a unionist. He giggles when he learns that I have done some background research on his life. At this time, they used to stage peaceful marches (ama hamba kahle) and did not toyi toyi. Although these protests were peaceful, they still were treated brutally by the authorities. He says the challenges faced at this time were mostly working conditions, working hours, and payment. As a trade unionist, he had to speak on behalf of the workers who had faith in him. Their pay was in the fourth night and people presumed that they received a huge pay but only received 5 pounds per forth-night. They soon got arrested for being members and leaders of the trade union and staging peaceful marches. This firm had only black male workers, and their lawyer was RN Steyn who was well trusted at that time. They were found guilty of influencing people to take part in trade unions and they then took the case to the high court. Although they would not spend time, they had to pay bail. Mr Duma’s intent was to get formally acquitted which is why he took this case further for appeal to the high court. He unfortunately only pursued this with Mr Steyn as the rest of the members charged decided to stick with the fine they received.

He says they struggled with communication a lot because he was not fluent in English and his lawyer also could not speak IsiZulu. They did not win this case and lost both at the high court and appeals court. Trade unions weren’t popular at the time and the state wanted to ensure that they do not populate trade unions. He continued to be an active member of the ANC and the SATU.

His political work continues to be more active as the years progressed and Mr Duma shares even more interesting stories about his life and times.

You may tune in for more as I continue to publish…

(This article first appeared on the Ladysmith Herald)

NPZ Mbatha

Mkabayi kaJama c1760

Mkabayika Jama Zulu was the daughter of Jama ka Ndaba; King of the Zulu clan from 1763 to 1781. Said to be amazingly beautiful; Mkabayi was born the eldest of twin daughters. According to the Zulu custom at the time, one of the twins had to be sacrificed to avoid bad luck that would result in the death of one of the parents. It was at the naming ceremony that King Jama refused to yield to this custom, and declared that both Mkabayi and her twin named Mamma, would live.  From that time on, Mkabayi was subjected to great hatred and ostracism. She was subsequently blamed for her mother’s death when she was five years old. Mkabayi’s mother died without bearing her father a successor. Years later after her mother’s death, Mkabayi arranged and selected a wife for her father.  She courted Mthaniya Sibiya for her father without his knowledge and was highly respected for this gesture. Mthaniya bore Jama a son and named him Senzangakhona (we have done accordingly). Senzangakhona succeeded Jama after his death in 1781.
To show gratitude to her father for sparing her life, Mkabayi dedicated her life to serving him and she became his regent. Mkabayi continued to serve as regent for Senzangakhona after the death of their father. Mkabayi refused an arranged marriage with one of the most powerful and wealthy neighbouring kings. Instead, she became politically active and took care of the affairs of the nation. Mkabayi did this to protect the Zulu identity and also to ensure that the stability and well-being of her people was maintained. Labouring for one’s people was traditionally considered to be a man’s duty, but Mkabayi defied the odds.  She became one of the most powerful female figures amongst the Zulu nation as she continued to politically influence even the most patriarchal men. She would call political assemblies, known as izimbizo in isiZulu, where she would address Zulu elders and councillors in an effort to protect and ensure the stability of the Zulu nation.  Due to the patriarchal society she lived in at the time, Mkabayi was not appreciated as a leader, although others appreciated her remarkable political and administrative skills. 
Shortly before Senzangakhona ascended to the throne, he impregnated a lover – Nandi – before their wedding. He, however, went on to marry her and she bore him a son, Shaka in 1787.  Along the years, he married other wives who bore him more sons; who would eventually succeed him. Due to the harsh treatment received by Nandi and Shaka they were often called “outsiders”, which caused Nandi and Shaka to leave the clan and reside elsewhere. After Senzangakhona’s death in 1815, Mkabayi encouraged Nandi and Shaka to return and seize power from his brother Sigujana, who was killed at the age of 26.  Mkabayi continued to influence the decisions of all the Zulu Kings who reigned during her lifetime. It is believed that she had a hand in the death of Shaka so that he would be succeeded by Dingani in 1828.
Mkabayi was known for her wisdom, trickery, deceit; but at the same time for her passion, sacrifices, stubbornness and defying culture by standing up to misogynists. She successfully succeeded in convincing some key political figures to support some of her plots. She broke the gender boundaries that were created by the patriarchal system, standing in front of men to address them, a phenomenon that was unheard of during this historical time.  She was the one who installed new kings on their thrones and was also responsible for their dethroning. She was also very strategic in influencing the Kings’ decision-making. She lived at a time when Zulu was a clan and witnessed it grow into a nation. As a woman noted for her strong character, many went to her to seek her counsel. A popular phrase at the time was “Buzani ka Mkabayi” meaning, consult Mkabayi for any wisdom. During King Mapande’s reign, Mkabayi was sent to live ‘kwa Baqulusi’; because he didn’t want her opinionated self to disturb him. Mkabayi died in old age, not in the land she had so hard fought for.
The researcher is unaware of the year she passed away.

 
Sources:
[1]De Wit, H. and West, GO. African and European readers of the bible in dialogue: In quest of a shared  
   meaning, p. 239.  Koninklijke Brill NV, The Netherlands, 2008.
[1]  Ibid.
[1]Manyathi PPP, Ucwaningo ngeqhaza labesifazane esizweni samaZulu, kubhekiswe kakhulukazi kuMkabayi
kaJama. Unpublished Master’s theses, pp. 86
[1]De Wit H. and West GO, p. 241
[1] Jackson, GM, Women and leaders of Africa, Asia, Middle East and Pacific: A biographical reference, p. 90. USA, 2009.
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1] Jackson, p. 90
[1] Manyathi, pp. 91-92.
[1]Ibid
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1]Manyathi pp. 95-96
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1]Manyathi, pp. 101-103

Ntando PZ Mbatha

Queen Manthatisi (1781-1836)

Queen Manthatisi took the throne in 1815 after her husband passed away. She acted on behalf of her son, Sekonyela, who was then still a minor. Queen Manthatisi was known as a strong, brave and capable leader, both in times of peace and war. She was referred to by her followers as “Mosayane” (the tiny one) because of her small stature. Although her tribe was known as Batlokwa, during her reign, they came to be known as Manthatisi. Due to her staunch character, all Sotho-Tswana raiders became known as boo-Mmanthatisi or Manthatee Horde by the English. In the midst of the Mfecane/Difaqane wars, Manthatisi managed to keep her people together, despite the frequent raids by the Nguni group.
 
Jwala-Boholo – Majestic Mountain – located East of Ficksburg in the Free State was first occupied by a branch of the Bakoena tribe, known as Moraba. It was later wrestled from them by the Batlokwa under the command of Queen Manthatisi in the mid-1800s. There was a time when men trembled at the mention of her name – this proves how powerful the Queen was. Her reputation strode grimly before her. This natural fortress served as her capital for more than 30 years. It was here where many a war of conquest was planned; including the battle of Butha-Bothe which caused King Moshoeshoe to flee to Thaba-Bosiou. Queen Manthatisi was laid to rest on Jwala-Boholo. In 1853, King Moshoeshoe became very powerful and conquered the Mountain from Sekonyela.
With her power, dedication, bravery and staunch character, she managed to keep her people together, despite the divisions that were caused by the Mfecane/Difaqane wars that prevailed in the 1800s. Queen Manthatisi should be renowned for such an act of bravery. Women at that time were seen as rather secondary citizens, or ones that could not lead a whole nation; however, Queen Manthatisi got rid of that fallacy. This should be a lesson for every woman out there; to remind them that amongst all the challenges that threaten their feminism in this world, they are still able to carry the nation on their shoulders.
The distortion of history aims to demean the legacy of Manthatisi; however if the black people tell their own history and be proud of their heritage, such distortion would be rid of for good.
Ntando PZ Mbatha

Follow up on Fibromyalgia journey that was published on The Journalist

Early January, I return to work after the December vacation. There’s a colleague of mine whom I’ve been speaking with about how tired I am of visiting pastors and prophets to seek healing. He has been venting to me as well. So I was shocked when I got to work and he was walking better than he was when I left for home in December. Now he is using one crutch. I quickly go to his office in a quest to learn of this miracle. He tells me he has gone to a church on the 31st of December and that is where he got assisted. I get information about this church and some colleagues who also attend the church speak highly of it.

I don’t waste any time. On a Saturday, I got to the church to register for prayer. When I get there, I am asked for a diagnosis letter from my doctor. I quickly remember that I have a number of letters in the office at work. I make copies of about five letters, just so the prayer does not miss me. On my way back, I find that the queue has gone longer and I have to wait to be consulted. A friendly lady asks what I need prayer for and soon tells me that I am healed and need to believe it. I write my case down on their form and she tells me that there’s a section I need to sign, giving them consent to show my story on TV. I’m a bit sceptical at this moment, but my desperate self quickly shuns that thought away. I am then ushered into a big room – that looks like traditional churches – and I see a placard with FIBROMYALGIA written on it. At the bottom is my name, age and city. A lady comes and explains to me that they will conduct video interviews and I will have to tell them more about my sickness.

I then wait my turn as there are about three ladies before me. At that moment, my body is in aches and I need to eat and take medication. I had been there for a few hours by then and my body wasn’t kind to me. The lady then gives me the placard, tells me to sit on a chair as they will interview me.

I tell them “My name is Ntando Mbatha, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2010 but have been living with the pain since May 2009 – that’s as far as I can remember. I have been to doctors, prophets, traditional healers and the like, but have not found a cure. Doctors have told me that there is no cure for this syndrome. I have not lost hope as being here should be proof enough that I still believe in healing”

I was then asked what I think will happen from here on and exactly what I expect to happen. I was exhausted at this moment and needed to get it over and done with. I then mentioned machines I have been using to massage my back. As soon as I was done, I was told that I will not be in line for prayer unless I bring that machine. I told them it was not prescribed by the doctor, but the camera crew insisted that they would like to take a video of it. I tried to explain to them that I live far and cannot drive back there in time. So as I walked back to the car, I told myself that I will not be coming back. I didn’t understand why I needed to bring that machine and why couldn’t I bring it with in the morning, rather. An angel must have whispered to them because the lady who had been interviewing me came running and told me to bring it the next day.

We had to be at the church at 6:30am. Bright and early we were there. We were ushered to a section at the church where we would sit and about 15 minutes later were sent to the front and sat where our placards were placed. I observed the empty chair of a lady with cervix cancer and HIV. I wondered to myself whether there will be anyone checking up on her; perhaps she didn’t make it because she is sick. There were a lot of people, about 16 of us. The church proceeded, we sang, there was a sermon. During time for prayer, one lady came to me and told me that I need to be serious and pray because I don’t seem to be in the spirit. I was so confused and it suddenly dawned on me how I have been judged for so long and told that I am not healed because I do not believe. I was expected to lift up my hands and pray loudly, perhaps in tongues too. Tears, I couldn’t control, created a flood down my face. I then sat down and started crying. I was so hurt and then started asking God why I had to be in so much pain and why I had to go through such lengths to seek healing. I wondered if being there would even help me – although I still think this wasn’t a moment of doubt. I then thought about everything I had done thus far and just cried even more.

We were then called to the front and had to carry our placards as the cameras rolled. I was number two on the line. We sat in front of the congregation with our placards raised for everyone to see. The gentleman before me and I had to share our story one more time, in front of the congregation. I did as I was told – because I really don’t mind speaking out about fibromyalgia. After about an hour, the pastor came to us. He started praying for the gentleman next to me and laid his hands on him. At this moment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was shaking, extremely scared. The pastor tried to read the placard but he wasn’t sure how to pronounce the word. He then placed his hand on my forehead, then pushed me on my chest and hit me hard on my stomach. After that, he told me to stand up and as I was staggering up, my lithe body was pushed to the ground. Luckily my dress was below my knees, not that it mattered to me at this moment. He then told me to stand up, as I was standing, he pushed me to the floor again. I started crying at this moment, then he asked me what is wrong with me. I pushed the microphone away because I was in no state to speak. The lady with the microphone forced it on me and I had to answer. Told him – in my crying voice – that I had back pain. Before I could finish, he pushed me to the floor again and told me I was healed and can walk away. As I was walking, one lady said I should utter “Thank you Jesus, I am healed”. I was crying so much that I couldn’t see the way properly. I was then told to go sit at the back, someone would come speak with me. The first question I was asked was how I felt and whether I was still in pain. I was honest with the lady and told her that I was, but I also felt like a load was lifted off my shoulders. It seemed like that wasn’t enough for them.

About 45 minutes later, the lady who had been interviewing me the previous day asked me to step outside so she could coach me for an interview in front of the church again. I told her I was still in pain and she said she would then interview me after the church, I should not leave early. At this moment, I do as I am told because I start to think that my healing lies in how much I obey. At this time, it was around 13:00. I waited until the church was finished at around 14:30. I then had to demonstrate certain poses that I could not do before I was prayed for. I explained to the lady that I do yoga almost every day, so I am very flexible. As soon as the cameras started rolling, I was asked to demonstrate what I couldn’t do before I was prayed for. I then complied and told them what they wanted to hear. I left there still hoping that I will be healed. I figured that I still felt pain because I don’t remember what it’s like to be without pain, so my body was perhaps adjusting to it.

I planned to visit the church again the next Sunday but was away for two weeks after that.

A part of me felt like desperate people are preyed on sometimes. I occasionally do not know what to do with myself. I will have that ounce of hope, which is soon shattered by things that never happen. For some reason, I still think I will get better. The pain has not left my body and it has now gone worse because it is so cold. A few weeks ago I did yoga and the next day I could not even walk properly as all the muscles in my body ached. I stopped for a few days and resumed again. There is a journey I will be embarking on again – furtively – let us hope this works.

I still maintain, the worst thing you can say to someone with a chronic sickness is that they aren’t healed because they do not believe.

I wish I treated my Aunt better

I battled with myself on whether I should pen down this note. I wondered what my family would say and whether they would not reprimand me for sharing such family matters. Then I found consolation in the fact that this happened in the past, and perhaps people may learn from our story. Although it was so many years ago, people may still learn a lot from this.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS was still rife. Much worse than what it is at the moment. Society had, in a decade learned about how terrible this disease is and how it threatened to wipe out our society. There wasn’t as much education on it as there is now. People didn’t speak up about it because the second people learned that you were HIV positive, they suddenly assumed that you were promiscuous – mostly women.

We were not officially told about my aunt, who was living with us and was not herself anymore. We were close as she was the youngest in her home and I was one of the oldest grandchildren. I remember how she used to give me pocket money whenever we had an open day at school. She dressed well, knew the latest fashion trends and was just a ball of fun. She started living with her boyfriend and I doubt my family approved of this. So I often visited her, not just for the pocket money. She didn’t want anything from me, just to know that I was there and I loved her.

When she fell sick, she moved in with us. It was scary; this person who had been healthy not so long ago, was slowly fading. I wasn’t sure what to do. We lived in a four room (2 bedrooms) house so she took our bedroom and we had to sleep on the sitting room floor. It was a small price to pay for this woman whom I loved so much and was in need at this time. The tune soon changed when everyone around me started treating her differently.

I made her food and she didn’t have much of an appetite. She had her own cutlery and dishes. We used disinfectant to wash dishes all the time. You’d swear there was a plague of some sort. Thinking about it now, I just wonder how terrible she must have felt. The disease did kill her, but perhaps we had a role as well because we failed to support her as a family.

When she wasn’t getting better, she moved to her home. Nobody lovingly took care of her. She was often scolded for leaving home to go stay with her man. Her siblings felt that she abandoned them for a man. I recall the one time she needed her bandages changed. She was in so much pain and nobody wanted to help her. She said “Ntando please change my bandages, you will use gloves”. I said “ah Mamncane I’m scared”. I’m a little bit scared of blood and wounds, but at that moment, I should have braved it out for the person I loved. When I was done helping her out, although I was very reluctant, my other aunt spoke about how brave I was. That day, I didn’t want to eat using my hands, my cousin fed me. I cannot believe I did this to my aunt. I shed a tear every time I think about the pain I took her through.

I could have done things better. I could have been there for her emotionally. I instantly forgot how much she loved me and how she probably would have sacrificed anything for me. I was 12 years old, didn’t know much about the disease. All I knew was all I was told. I remember an echo once “Ntando, if you dare get HIV, I will bathe you with a mop”. So in my head, sleeping around was the reason for this disease.

It must have been difficult dealing with all of this on her own – a disease that no one knew much about. My uncle came to the rescue when he took her in. Although I cannot be sure how he treated her, but I think she was better off in his care. I have fibromyalgia, and it frustrates me so much that my family are not even bothered to learn about this syndrome; I often feel alone, so I cannot even begin to imagine how my aunt felt in all of this.

 
I often wish I could turn back the hands of time and do things right. I can only speak about the naivety because I was young and knew less. I mean I didn’t even know much about getting my period, imagine this. When I think of my aunt, I think about how I failed her in her time of need. She loved me and I loved her so much. I often wish that she could forgive me, wherever she is.

South Africa has come a long way with regards to HIV/AIDS education. It is no longer seen as a death sentence like before. People live with us with the disease and are leading such fruitful and beautiful lives. We are all one way or the other affected by HIV/AIDS. I’m pleased to report that my family has grew from that moment. My aunt is the only one ever treated that way and after that, we never did treat our loved ones the same – whatever the reason for their ailment was. I just wish we would speak out more about the disease and not just be told not to sleep around – it would go a long way.