GROWING PAINS: The South African period

Author: Kopano Matlwa

Title: Period Pain

Publisher: Jacana    P1040767

Kopano Matlwa’s Period Pain tells the story of a young South African female, Masechaba living in modern South Africa. She is shown her first and most horrific enemy at a tender age when she battles with continual menstrual bleeding, which she refers to as The Beast. Once the bleeding has taken a lighter turn, Masechaba loses her brother, Tshiamo, about which she is in denial. The novel is about depression resulting from these challenges, and then her rape and its subsequent pregnancy. The book also explores issues around xenophobia in South Africa.

Masechaba expresses depression through reciting different scriptures from the bible P1040776and  repetitive conversations with God. At this point she has gone on to become a medical doctor. At one point she says “Patients die all the time. They come to hospital so late, anyway, what can you do really?” which is indicative of her struggles in her profession, especially her relationship with patients.

Masechaba and her Zimbabwean friend Nyasha’s relationship takes a turn when Masechaba is correctively raped, according to Nyasha, by three stranger males for her association with a foreigner. “You like your kwere kwere pipi neh? That’s because you’ve never had a real South African man. Today we will make you a real South African woman.” It was emotionally haunting for me to read this part. Masechaba still sees the blood stains on her legs and the “madness” is inescapable.

She also stabs her best friend Nyasha in a fight over reporting the reporting the rape, P1040775 who luckily survives. The menstrual bleeding continues, and morning sickness becomes a norm. A while later, Masechaba feels the heartbeat inside her body and can feel kicking, too.

This book is a reminder to South Africans that after more than 20 years after apartheid, we still have a long way to go before equality for women is attained and xenophobia wiped out.

I couldn’t put this book down. I felt and still do that this is a story too important for South Africans, specifically. It is familiar to thousands in modern Southern Africa and needs to be told over and over. Kopano Matlwa creates a character in Masechaba that many will relate to because of how she hides her depression, does not seek, as she needs to get back into the world and keep going. Matlwa writes in a rich manner: her use of metaphors and poetically structured scenes make every incident come to life.


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