danni diana on bogus muthi (and ad agencies)

A year or so ago, some colleagues of mine did a campaign for a film called Night Drive, which was a slashy, schlocky horror that centred on the body-parts-for-muthi trade. The campaign handed out a couple hundred pamphlets, in the style of those ridiculous pamphlets that offer penis enlargement, bad luck cure, womb cleaning etc that we see littered around town every day. The pamphlets offered money for body parts, and linked to a website that detailed the “doctor’s” cash-for-organs trade in more detail. The people who received the pamphlets went ape-shit, calls were made to the national media, everyone was pranked and much outrage ensued. The campaign was slammed by the Department of Health for trivialising a “Serious Problem”, and was pulled, effective immediately, complete with apology from the ad agency in question, and a promise to conduct an “internal disciplinary procedure”.

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Pamphlet collected in Durban by Rosemary Lombard, 2009

My question is, what exactly is being done about this serious problem? Why do people get up in arms about a cash-for-body-parts hoax, but think its OK (and hilarious) for there to be pamphlets offering safe abortions, womb cleaning, AIDS cures and a whole manner of sexual health treatment that is not only bogus, but seriously harmful to those who pursue it. What effort is being made by the Department of Health to shut down these “doctors”? Most disturbing is the discriminatory gender ideas at the root of these so called treatments. Muthi to “make lover have sex with you”, and treatment for women for, among other things “cleaner vaginas, more willingness to have sex.”

These charlatan muthi men make a mockery of traditional healing, and the pamphlets and posters not only mislead the poor, vulnerable and uneducated, but reinforce negative stereotypes about traditional healing and the communities that take advantage of them. Is any work being done to address this “Serious Problem”, or do people only care so long as the content of said media panders to savage stereotypes of murderous muthi men lurking in the shadows to chop your heart out?

Pamphlet collected in Durban by Rosemary Lombard, 2009

Pamphlet collected in Durban by Rosemary Lombard, 2009

One thought on “danni diana on bogus muthi (and ad agencies)

  1. The above first appeared as a status update on Facebook. Here is part of the comment thread that has ensued:

    Alexia: Night Drive was the most startlingly racist film I’ve seen in a long time. I’m surprised nobody made more of a fuss about that.

    Borrie: i guess its easier to hit up an ad agency with a public slap on the wrist than rooting out faceless organ harvesters.

    Danni: Borrie, if numerous civilians can access these services on a daily basis, how can the authorities find it so difficult? Even if they prove elusive, the people spreading the pamphlets are in plain sight. The signs and “surgeries” are there in town, in plain sight. You’re not tracking down a Colombian cartel here.

    Borrie: like i said – its easier to hunt down the ad agency than solve the real problem. low hanging fruit. but i am with you DD.

    Dylan: Racism allegations at the second comment! News24 would eat you up. Bitch, its hammertime.

    Danni: Borrie – well i’m not going to even go into the agency politics. I think it would have been a great opportunity to open a public dialogue about the hypocrisy of the public’s reactions, and leverage some press for the issue, should they have had the balls. But you know, advertising, as much as they may do lip service about ideas that matter and corporate social investment and such, soon as anything interferes with the bottom line (you know, angry journos who want to save face after getting duped) it’s all skulking off into the shadows.

    Danni: Alexia i could not agree with you more. the evil savage muthi men! rituals! leopard skins! drums! cannibalism! the ghost and the darkness! someone call val kilmer! all it was missing was some ooga chugga ooga chugga fire dancing and indiana jones heart rip scene. luckily, its reach was minimal. far more concerned about the reach of the real dr abujaba’s, astrological surgeon, who will cast a spell/give you “herbs” to cure your diabetes, gross vagina, tiny penis and homosexuality.

    Juliana: THATS SAD TO SEE THAT THE AD AGENCY WAS SCAPEGOATED FOR POINTING OUT AN OBVIOUS SYMPTOM OF GOVERNMENT IGNORANCE. I, TOO FOUND MYSELF FRUSTRATED BY THE MIS-REPRESENTATION OF TRADITIONAL HEALERS, AND REALLY THE NOTION OF ‘TRADITIONAL’ GENERALLY. ITS BECOME A GUISE BEHIND WHICH LITERALLY INSANE POLITICAL LEADERS WHO MANIPULATED THE FRAGILITY OF A POPULATION WHOSE SENSIBILITIES AND POLITICAL INTUITIONS MAY NOT HAVE THE RIGHT LEGAL OR LINGUISTIC EXPRESSION IN GOVERMENTAL POLICY. THE IDEA OF TRADITION IS SO POLITICALLY CHARGED, THAT ITS BECOME A WAY TO EXPLOIT THAT DISCORD. I REMEMBER TEACHING SEX ED CLASSES TO HS STUDENTS AT RHRU AND TRADITION HAD BEEN WARPED BY SEX-STARVED BITTER TEACHERS TO MEAN THAT GIRLS SHOULD BE POWDERING THEIR VAGINAS BEFORE SEX TO MAKE IT MORE PLEASURABLE FOR MEN… NOT. A. FACT.

    Danni: and Juliana the thing is is that the majority of these “doctors” are not even south african, or have any claim to “traditional” remedies. The most worrying aspect of these treatments is not only the physical and psychological risk they pose, but also the fact that so many of the ailments they treat are rooted in gender/sexuality issues. many claim to cure homosexuality, by vanquishing demons (cuz gay = possession/sin). ever popular are medicines to make a woman submit to you (as they should), not to mention that a lot of the problems, like relationships difficulties, difficulties with money, aren’t even health issues! So they target real social problems with dubious procedures and remedies. The majority of women in SA have a non-concensual first sexual experience. There is a huge amount of shame and stigma and misinformation around pregnancy/abortion/sex/the body and such. These services exploit women who wish to be “cleansed”, and the type of treatment and support they recieve is seriously destructive, especially in light of how many of them came to be pregnant in the first place (rape/abuse). And about the agency, don’t you worry, the intention behind the campaign was never to expose these issues or enter into this dialogue, it all happened unexpectedly after a stupid journo took what was clearly a hoax as being real. Ad agencies are like honey badgers. And honey badger don’t give a damn. But yes, unfortunate that the response form the agency wasn’t more supportive of the team who produces the work, and sidestepped an opportunity to do some good. Typical.

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