Change the world


“The moral fibre of our society is dead and the rot starts from the head. There is no moral leadership in our land and the new generation of graduates needs to play their part in changing this,” says Mmatshilo Motsei, intuitive healer, author and activist who combines midwifery, psychology, creative writing and African spirituality in her work.

“Our bright new graduates who have spent so many years getting an education are stepping into a fractured world and a country that my generation of politicians has destroyed. Yet I want to assure them that there is still hope; without hope we would die, we would not be able to breathe.”

The hope with which graduates step into life is the gift of education. “Use it to connect with other people who are doing similar work to what you would like to do or who can offer you support and guidance. It is up to young people to think and act differently to create a better country. You need to work out what you can do for yourself, how to make inroads, reinvent yourself, and, very importantly, to live within your means.

“Our society is detrimentally consumerist, to the degree that success is defined by material possessions and the position that you occupy. This generation needs to change this as it is the root of an unequal society, where the majority of the population are struggling while our politicians are okay with looting from public funds to satisfy their own greedy needs. It is the most brutal form of violence to which our people are being subjected.”

Motsei believes “it is the duty of every generation to fight its own distinctive war and this generation’s war is to fight corruption, poverty, unemployment and the destruction of our natural resources. This generation needs to rebuild an African consciousness that provides fertile ground for the healing of wounded individuals, families, and communities.”   

Her work has always been rooted in healing. She started her career as a nurse, midwife, and evolved into a social science researcher, rural development facilitator, gender transformation consultant and intuitive healer. She has pioneered several break-through projects. In 1992, she founded ADAPT (Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training) in Alex Township, Johannesburg, to address domestic and sexual violence in urban and rural communities. In 1997, she organised the first men’s march against rape in Alex.

In 2001 and 2002, she was a consultant to RADAR, a rural women and HIV project of the School of Public Health at WITS University. She designed a microcredit finance programmes for rural women in the Burgersfort district, Limpopo Province, while at the same time addressing gender, gender violence and HIV there.

She has multiple qualifications, including an Integrated Diploma in General Nursing and Midwifery from Mapulaneng Hospital in Mpumalanga, a BCur from Limpopo University, BA Honours in Psychology from UNISA, and an MA in creative writing from Rhodes University. She is currently enrolled for her PhD in Sociology at the University of Pretoria, focusing on indigenous midwifery, and she does individual and group counselling from her base in Pretoria.

“I am currently involved in a very interesting project called Marumo Fatshe – which means ‘put down the spears’ or ‘stop the war’,” she explains. “It is borrowed from historic indigenous healing practices where the warriors were not allowed to integrate back into the community until their spears and themselves had been cleansed by the village healers. The Zulus, Tswanas and most indigenous groups in our country and other countries engaged in this cleansing ritual.”

The project brings together “healing circles” of men and women to address gender-based violence (GBV). “Our criminal justice system is not effective in responding to GBV or unhardening the hearts of people committing these crimes or of making men aware of and sensitised to the impact of patriarchy on themselves. In African cosmology you cannot heal one part of the body, you need to heal the whole, and where humanity is concerned this includes men and women.”

One of the books Motsei has written is on that gender-based violence which caused her immense personal trauma is The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court about the rape trial of Jacob Zuma. She felt the vicious might of political patronage come down on her as political ranks closed around Zuman and people vilified her for writing this work. “It was the most painful period of my life where I lost everything but ultimately it shaped who I am now and the work that I do,” she says.

“I facilitate healing circles with women who have been raped and treated badly, going back to when they were children, and we confront the spiritual and multigeneration wound of rape, and how we have normalised it as being the lot of women, in the same way that we have normalised single motherhood.”

She is currently taking this group counselling work online in what her team is calling the ‘digital hut’. Born out of lockdown it brings people together even when they cannot be connected physically. To get this off the ground she is working with a talented group of IT-savvy young people who are creating podcasts and blogs for the hub. It’s an example of self-created work where young people can contribute their skills, and they are hoping to launch the digital hut on Africa Day, 25 May.

Motsei explains that she was first drawn to gender work when she was working as an emergency nurse in a Pretoria hospital where a woman was brought in with an axe lodged in her knee by her husband. “It triggered me and I decided I would do something about this, not only to treat the physical injury but holistically.”

She adds that she was fortunate to have “the most beautiful, loving, caring, gentleman of a father” who showed her how men can be. Her father, Rantebo Motsei has passed but Motsei is still guided by him as an intuitive healer. She strongly feels her father’s presence in the work she is doing on the healing of men. The call to healing is in her family, her aunt, Mme Morongwa, is a spiritual healer and Motsei’s mother, Boitumelo Motsei, who was a nurse and midwife also practised as a healer.

Boitumelo also wrote prolifically, which Motsei inherited. “When my mother visited the villages as a nurse she took the time to interview elderly women about African folklore, relationships, indigenous birthing practices, sexuality, all sorts of subjects.” Motsei has created a book in Tswana of her mother’s writings that is due to be published in August. It is called Botshe jwa Puo meaning ‘the beauty and depth of language’. Boitumelo, who is now 88 and living in a village in Hammanskraal, never imagined herself as an author, which she will soon be.

“This brings me back to this generation of graduates,” says Motsei. “I want to emphasise that they have the ability to craft their own path throughout their life. The advantage of this generation is they are not tied to struggle credentials that can be problematic in terms of development. They don’t carry the burden; they can learn from and draw from the struggle but craft their own path. I wish them well on the journey.”

Dr Motsei received an Honorary Doctorate from Nelson Mandela Univeristy during its April 2021 Graduation sessions.

Article written by Heather Dugmore:

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