Chwayita: As a young woman in South Africa, what do you know about rape and what has Kopano Matlwa’s Period Pain taught you?
Mpho: I’ve always thought that rape is a result of men not raised the right way and then enforcing their own power onto somebody else so that they feel more empowered. I think this is a result of them not feeling validated. Therefore, I still say men and women should be raised the same way. Period Pain has confirmed this perception, or added to your understanding?
Chwayita: Please also explain your understanding of xenophobia before and after reading this book.
Mpho: Xenophobia is an act of prejudice against foreigners. Period Pain really shows the acts of anger and disagreement for foreigners. In this book it is the three males who rape Masechaba that are used as examples of xenophobes in South Africa. Masechaba is raped by three male strangers and then recalls every detail and claims that she still sees the blood stains. She says the following morning after being raped, “If anything, it’s taught me humility. I had a big head. I thought I was special, immune, exceptional. That these sort of things wouldn’t happen to me. But I’m not. I’m just another South African rape statistic. There’s nothing extraordinary about my story, it happens everywhere, every day. It doesn’t matter that I’m highly educated, a doctor, that I started a petition that made the newspapers. I have a vagina. That’s all that matters.” What she says hear shows that we tend to see and hear of awful things that happen to different people and hardly ever think the same will happen to us.
Chwayita: I don’t like how Masechaba is humbled by rape, because men have used sexual violence against women as revenge when they are rejected, when they want to humble women they consider themselves as better than they are. So, I wish Masechaba wouldn’t feel humbled by rape.
Mpho: The most shocking rape report I have ever heard is the story of the better known Kwezi who was raped by former president Jacob Zuma.
Chwayita: Well, legally, he was acquitted of rape, but publicly, there are different perceptions that he is guilty.
Mpho: It was this novel that showed me that rape happens to anyone, and that rapists could be anyone, if that person feels a need to enforce their own power onto somebody else. What this book does when speaking about rape is to give the reader an insight to the different characters and their motives behind their deeds, meaning that a rapist is not easy to identify and can be anyone, and motives can be so different.
To learn more about the rape crisis in South Africa visit one of many informative pages, this one by the Cape Town Trust. For help on what to do when one is raped, visit The Tears Foundation and Health e news websites, which are just two of many sites on the internet that provide information on what to do in the event of rape.
Chwayita: Ok, moving on to another issue that the book raises: single parenthood. The incidence of children raised by single mothers is extensive. What do you think the book says about this phenomenon?
Mpho: Single parenthood in South Africa is very common. A pattern has been created of mostly men deserting their children. It is interesting to look at what happens worldwide.
The cause of single parenthood in this case, is rape. Masechaba in Period Pain says:
“Do not worry, I told her. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ve spent my whole life worried. I worried in Grade One that I’d never be able to read. Then I worried I’d never make friends. Later I worried about bleeding to death. Not a day ever passed where I didn’t worry. Would I ever learn to drive? Would I ever fall in love? Would a man ever love me? Would I ever be happy again?”
Masechaba here speaks about Mpho, her baby daughter, being the saviour and biggest downfall of her life all at the same time. After being raped she states that she feels lifeless and once finding out that she is pregnant made things worse. Masechaba becoming a single mother isn’t really something she fears as she is given a reason to live. This shows that Masechaba chooses to take the child as something good, while some people have not been able to parent their children who are born of rape. The famous gospel singer, Solly Mahlangu says that his mother was raped at the age of fourteen, and she became pregnant with him, but it does not define him as a person.
Chwayita: Yes, it’s a very important point to mention, because the people who end up in the spotlight are the women or men, girls or boys who have been raped more than their rapists. It is important for us to change the focus of our rape narratives- the focus must be on the rapists. They are the ones who commit the crime, they are the violators, but instead we still focus and stigmatise and victimise for the second, third and fourth time, those who have been violated.
Let’s talk about another difficult topic for many girls in South Africa, the difficulty of going through menstruation while not having the resources for basics such as sanitary towels. Firstly, how is menstruation depicted in the book?
Mpho: In the first chapter Masechaba describes it as something she thought was a sin. Her dark secret, she calls it. She finds out at Sunday school that “jugs of serum periodically pouring from one’s vagina” is not a sin. Masechaba prays to God through reciting scriptures from the Bible to take the “beast” inside her out. In the following chapter Masechaba remembers pleading with her mother to be allowed to remove the lining of her womb,” She said I was mad. “It is mad!” I had screamed. “It’s not mad, Masechaba, it is just unwell.”” Well, I’m unwell because of it, Ma.”
Chwayita: I find this to be such an apt description that I think people struggling with periods would have, that it’s an illness, or a madness, a curse, even. Why do you think Matlwa uses periods and pain to talk about what’s wrong with society? Please also state what you feel is wrong with society today.
Mpho: In the book Masechaba’s story is used as an example of one experiencing a fair share of many of society’s current problems such as corrective rape, fear, xenophobia and political turmoil.
Masechaba also experiences recurring bleeding. When Nyasha, her friends, says the following sentence,” It’s just a period South Africa’s in,” during a conversation with Masechaba about what, she replies matter-of-factly saying, “Like period pain,” agreeing and comparing her life’s woe to the problems South Africa is experiencing. I feel that the biggest problems we’re facing today in South Africa are poverty, failing health care, corruption, lack of transportation, issues concerning land, and racism all over. Those are the first that come to mind.
A period pain comes every month with menstruation. Masechaba resents her bleeding to such a far extent because it prevents her from living a normal life and she experiences tremendous pains.
With the growing awareness in our country that this is such a big problem for many girls, there have been so many initiatives to collect and donate sanitary towels, such as projects started by Dischem, Project Dignity and Caring4girls.
Chwayita: The female body in this novel is traumatised so much, does this reflect what you know about the treatment of women in society?
Mpho: The female body is generally not given respect. From how we focus on and talk about women’s bodies, mostly. There is too much focus on the naked body, for my age group, in songs we like, mostly.
The menstrual cycle is still regarded by society as a woman’s body giving off dirt even though everyone knows that if it were not for such there would be no life. The standard of beauty is a petite figure. If there is an obese man and woman, the woman is ridiculed first. To match the beauty standards of society your image needs to lean more towards the Caucasian looks. You need to have lighter skin, straight hair, a thinner figure, etc. Because of these standards that have been enforced on us as beauty through advertising mostly, women now go out of their way to look a certain way that is not true to their actual bodies.
Chwayita: But I think Black women of various cultures embrace their blackness. It’s a message that’s prevalent now in a way it wasn’t before. Last month was Africa month. What does Africa month and Africa day mean to you?
Mpho: Africa month for me is firstly a month to look at the different beautiful countries of the continent as I tend to keep to South Africa. I look at the different cultures as well as the way that they dress. I will also give a listen to the music of the area.
Chwayita: How would you love to celebrate Africa day apart from cooking and eating different foods from the continent and dressing up in various traditional attire?
Mpho: I had a conversation with one of my friends and we said that we would put a party together and ask guests to bring African songs that they love. This way everybody gets to know each other better and we get to know more about the continent.
Chwayita: What is your relationship with the rest of the continent?
Mpho: The majority of what I know about the continent comes from the music I listen to. Some of my continental favourites are Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Davido, Patoranking and Runtown.
Chwayita: Why should young adults (teens) read Period Pain? Why would you recommend it to your friends?
Mpho: I loved reading this book because it’s a story about a young South African girl experiencing her own struggles and, in the end, overcoming her fears for the better. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Masechaba speaks about dying and how she wishes to skip life to reach her late brother Tshiamo faster. “When I see Tshiamo there, I’m going to slap him first before I kiss and hug him. Slap him first for all the heartache he’s caused us by being so selfish and unkind. Slap him first for being a coward, for running away, for not thinking about us first, for only seeing himself and his own pain. But then I’ll hug him and kiss him, because I miss him, even now. I still miss him like it was only yesterday that he chose to leave us. I miss him even though I hate him for what he did.” This part of the book shows that life is joy and pain, that its ups and downs, and they are both impossible to escape.