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A Journey into Indigenous Maternal Care

As a doula and Mamandla Fellow, my journey often leads me into communities where maternal care challenges persist, and the !Xun and the Khwe people of Platfontein have opened my eyes to a world that exists right under our noses, but often remains hidden from our view.

Platfontein, situated on the outskirts of Kimberley, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, is home to a vibrant and culturally rich community of indigenous San people. It was an opportunity for me to delve into a community with a profound connection to their heritage and traditions, even amidst the socio-economic hardships that envelope them.

My initial visit to Platfontein was a heartwarming experience. The clinic staff welcomed me with open arms, introducing me to women whose stories were a testament to their resilience and unwavering commitment to preserving their customs. These women had stories that transcended language barriers. I may not have comprehended their words, but the depth of their vulnerability was unmistakable.

One question had always lingered in my mind: where did these women give birth? How did they navigate the crucial rite of passage that is childbirth and motherhood? Their stories provided the answers, shedding light on the importance of birthing according to their customs, ensuring the well-being of both mother and child, in alignment with the teachings of their mothers and grandmothers. To these women, birthing is not just a biological event; it is a sacred practice that binds generations and communities. Childbirth is a communal event, where women come together to support and assist one another. Their commitment to birthing according to their traditions serves as a powerful link between their past and their future.

They are often misunderstood, overlooked, and unheard. Despite the disadvantages they face, these women cling to their way of life, which separates them from the rest of the world. While the government has established facilities within the community, they are predominantly run by individuals from nearby areas. The women’s plea is simple: when will they produce their own nurses, teachers, and have an ambulance stationed within their own community?

Communication barriers only add to their struggles. They encounter difficulties with essential services, such as interpreting at government facilities. Minor issues like misspelled names on IDs and birth certificates may seem insignificant, but to the women of Platfontein, they are disheartening. Their mistrust of hospitals is rooted in fear and stories of mistreatment at larger medical institutions. The mistreatment of the elderly at hospitals, the financial burden of transportation to facilities, and the lack of basic necessities like nappies after birth serve as painful reminders of their marginalised existence within a society that does not always acknowledge their unique needs.

It is with these insights that I propose a plan to address some of the most pressing maternal care challenges in Platfontein:

Home Birthing Training: Provide education and training to women for safe home birthing practices, emphasising hygiene and the use of home birthing kits.

Language Inclusivity: Offer birth preparation classes (antenatal classes) in the indigenous language, bridging the communication gap and ensuring understanding and trust in medical settings.

Language Training: Train caregivers to communicate effectively in the indigenous language, enhancing the quality of care.

Advocate for Interpretation Services: Work towards the establishment of interpretation services at Kimberley Hospital, ensuring that language barriers do not hinder access to essential healthcare.

Nutritional Support: Establish nutritional meals for waiting areas at local clinics to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women.

Sanitary Supplies: Launch a pads and nappies drive to ensure that mothers and babies have access to basic necessities.

As we embark on this journey, I call upon relevant stakeholders, including the government, non-governmental organisations, and local institutions, to join hands and support these initiatives. Together, we can bridge the gap that separates the indigenous people of Platfontein from the care and support they deserve.

The challenges faced by this community are a shared responsibility, and through collaboration, we can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future for maternal care.