Cancer and Tobacco Control Women's Health

Cervical cancer robs Nelspruit community of influential sangoma

Written by Cynthia Maseko

Sarah Masinga* was a sister, grandmother and a friend to many living with HIV in Daantjie. Sarah recently lost her months’ long battle with cervical cancer.

One in every 42 South African women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime (File photo)

One in every 42 South African women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime (File photo)

Not one to shy away from the truth or telling it like it was, Sarah was known to many as Daantjie’s best sangoma. After spending several days in hospital, Sarah recently lost her fight against cervical cancer. At her funeral, she was remembered as a beloved friend but also as a counselor, and HIV educator and treatment supporter.

Emmanuel Ndlovu told OurHealth how his relationship with Sarah started seven months ago when he developed shingles. His family assumed the skin condition was a sign that Ndlovu was HIV positive.

“The discrimination and name calling became unbearable to live with,” he remembered. “Before I started using traditional medicine (to treat my shingles), Gogo Sarah accompanied me for voluntary HIV counseling and testing.”

“The test came back negative,” Ndlovu added. “The whole family felt ashamed.”

According to Sarah’s niece Portia, vaginal bleeding had prompted Sarah to visit her clinic for a Pap smear, but the test results were lost.[quote float= right]”During her last days, she used to say, ‘for 31 years I have treated so many illnesses, but I am failing and can’t treat myself’”

“No one in our family knew that Aunt Sarah had cervical cancer because they were not many symptoms that were visible except the vaginal bleeding,” Portia told OurHealth. “At the clinic, they always said it was just menopause…they were always giving her pain blockers.”

“After her first Pap smear test result was lost by the clinic, she felt discouraged to test again,” Portia added. “Soon after the result was lost, is when she began using traditional medication…”

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among South African women and one in 42 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa.

“During her last days, she used to say, ‘for 31 years I have treated so many illnesses, but I am failing and can’t treat myself,’” Portia said. “She would just laugh, showing her beautiful smile.”

“Her death was never expected – we were sure she was going to pull through because she was always positive and it seemed like she was getting better,” she added. “I will always remember my aunt for her big heart and unconditional love towards people.”

*Name withheld at the family’s request

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.