Stranger than fiction?
It's a story that is supposed to reside between the pages of Harry Porter. It shocked the closely-knit community of New Forest next to Thulamahashe and the country at large when it made it to newspaper pages. A couple 'admitted' in a daily newspaper that they conspired to fake a pregnancy. To what end nobody knows. "Our suspision is that they wanted to run away, go and steal a child then come back and claim that it's their own flesh and blood," believes Nelson Mathebula (68), the father to one of the conspirators, Afrika (39).
The older Mathebula also speculates that they might have planned to leave home and come back claiming a miscarriage occured. He says that what hid everything so well was that his daughter-in-law Jennifer (24) often went to Thulamahashe Health Centre on maternity days like all expecting women. "She was supposed to be seven months pregnant now. What also raised suspisions was that there were times when her stomach was big and sometimes it was small. There were allegations that she was not weighing on the scale like all the other women" he says.
Then the 68-year-old's six years old grandson reported to him on Good Friday that he has observed that his aunt puts folded towels and sponges under her clothes.
However childhood friend and later Afrika's niece, Zodwa Ndlovu (29), who has her own three years old child busted the conspiracy early in May. "It was this day that she greeted me and immeidately fled. I noticed that something looked like it was about to fall down and she grabbed it when she ran. I followed her and when I got to their home I demanded to touch Afrika's unborn child. I said it jokingly infront of uncle Afrika", reveals Zodwa.
She says they struggled when Jennifer refused and that's when the sponge and towel fell down. "When I asked her why she did it she said that people talk a lot about her not being fertile and she wanted to put them to shame", Zodwa adds. She says she still talks to her but is confused by her desperation. She then broke the story to the family.
Some of the people speculating are the family elders Leah Mathebula and Lydia Marule (63) who are not sympathetic with the deceptive couple. "I don't think those two are mentally sane. They love each other so much you can tell that there's something wrong with them. I guess they planned this sponge pregnancy together and my guess is that they planned to go and steal a child. I doubt if any of them is fertile to have children. We think that Afrika was damaged by bilharzhia when he was young and he can't procreate", says Afrika's aunt Leah. "I remember that she refused to talk about her visits to the clinic since she was afraid we were going to ask for a clinic card that shows that she was not gaining any weight or anything growing in her," adds Lydia.
However both the father and the two women feel a sense of responsibility for not having conducted a traditional fertility test. According to Shangaan culture if infertility is suspected the groom's aunts will first secretly send the wife to go out and have a sexual relationship with another man and see if she conceives or not. When she does it will be their secret who the father is. It can be a whole surrogate family, they say. "Optionally we get the seed of a sorghum plant. We put a number of seeds in two separate containers and each of the two has to urinate in their own bowl. We store the bowls in a safe place and whoever is infertile we'll see by their seeds not growing. The ones whose seeds grow is the fertile one", says Nelson, a story corroborated by the two gogos.
But the problem seems to be bigger than Afrika and Jennifer as the two gogos allege that even Afrika's half-brother Bhutini (by another mother but same father) does not have children of his own. "Bhutini is fine mentally that's why both Afrika and Jennifer stole bags and clothes from him last month", reveals Lydia.
The gogos say they feel responsiblt that they never performed any ritual for the couple. "When Afrika married in 2006 we were supposed to have slaughtered a beast and introduced the bride to our ancestors, in that way they would have allowed her to give birth to our grandchildren. Now they don't even know that she's here which is why they don't give her children", says the father.
In his own words Afrika, who works as a bricklayer first disputes that there was a conspiracy between him and his wife. "All I know is that she was indeed pregnant. I hear all this talk about sponges and towels and that's a story to me because for me she was indeed pregnant and I had started preparing for the arrival of the child in June. Look, I'm just a bricklayer and money isn't always around so I have been saving for my child all along", Afrika says without flinching.
He says that since moving in with Jennifer in 2006 they had been trying for a child. "Then in August last year we went to herbalist Sibuyi at Dark City (neighbouring village) who gave my wife some concoction to drink. She started using the muti and in October she fell pregant", he adds.
While confessing that his wife wasn't ovulating before they went to a doctor he can't really tell if she started after that but says that she fell pregnant.
"Look, she's my wife, she takes off her clothes and bathes infront infront of me. I sleep with her and touch her belly every night. I felt it kicking one night. I could see the belly swelling that's why I started preparing for the birth. I don't know if anyone can swallow a sponge and pretend to be pregnant", Afrika says.
While the conversation is taking place Jennifer is performing her house chores but refuses to be part of it. Afrika says that his suspision is that when him and his wife were arrested for the theft at Bhutini's home his wife might have been manhandled by Mhala police and induced a miscarriage. When told that she was busted on 04 May and arrested on 05 May he sticks to the story that he has spent R600 planning for the arrival of his 'second' child. "I have a 10-year old daughter, Nothando from a previous relationship which ended in 2002 before I met Jennifer while she came from the store to buy bread", he reveals.
The aunts have another version of the story. Lydia says, "indeed he had a wife before. They have always been trying for child until one day when she decided to leave him. But she came back after a month or so and soon she was pregnant. Then one day when he was not around she prepared food and ate infront of her in-laws. Afrikan's father reprimanded her and asked her what is that she was teaching their grandchild. She retorted and told them that they don't have a grandchild since Afrika is infertile. It was a shocker".
"You can see they are in love and there's nothing we can do to separate them. What we want now is for them to move out of the homestead and build their own house somewhere where we won't interfere with them", says Nelson, who is quick to say that he has not run the idea through his son since annulling the marriage is not an option.
"I love it here, I don't see any reason why I should leave. It's just this thing about us having stolen clothes that disturbs me because my wife was in jail for five days before I bailed her out. They pester me but Bhutini (32) does not have children as well", Afrika says. He protests that they were planning to run away and steal a child. He says most of the details in the newspaper story were allegations from neighbours and he never admitted to any conspiracy.
Zodwa believes that Afrika knew as he told her he's the only one who touches his wife's swelling belly.
Dr Bongile Baloi who practises at Promenade in Nelspruit says that it's unacceptable that one person can be accused of infertility. "Infertility affects both partners. It's not unusual for couples to go for some years without conceiving. I know of some who tried for fifteen years before they conceived. The pressure people are put under might contribute since the woman gets pschologically affected which causes an imbalance in her hormones and brings about stress which is not conducive to conception", she says.
She admits that bilharzia does play a role, saying the inflammation process might cause fibrosis and bring about inflammation of the tubes. "The way to know where the problem lies is a sperm analysis to see if both heads are active and to check hormone levels", Baloi says.
Since Afrika reported that Jennifer was not ovulating before they consulted a herbalist Dr Baloi says, "you need to ovulate to fall pregnant. If someone is not ovulating there are tablets to induce ovulation, but ovulation alone can change due to a change of temperature and the stress levels of a person", she says.
As days turn to weeks the closely-knit community of New Forest can't stop talking about the sponge pregnancy and speculating about what the couple intended to do next. Of all these Afrika and his wife take every day as it comes and wait for the day when they shall conceive their first child together.
- additional reporting by Oris Mnisi

1 comment:

  1. Shooo, very strange!!!

    I just feel sad for this Jennifer person coz I have seen what in-laws can do/say when their son's wife cannot conceive a child.

    Besides... there are too many people who have something to say about the situations so the real story may never be known.

    It'll never matter what Afrika & Jen say.... their side of the story will not be heard properly anyways, the "community" has already decided on what they want to believe. Atleast they love each other.............


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