“I want my uterus back, it was stolen and I demand it back.”
Bongekile Msibi, a 32-year-old woman from Benoni, posted these heart-rending words on Twitter last year. Her uterus was removed after giving birth at 17.
Msibi told The Star she learnt in 2016 that she would never conceive again, 11 years after she was sterilised at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital allegedly without her consent and knowledge.
“In 2016 I got engaged and wanted to have a child. That’s when I learnt that I don’t have a uterus,” Msibi recalled.
“I was discharged after giving birth in 2005 without being told that my uterus was removed. I took contraceptives for 11 years which my mother introduced me to because she feared I’d fall pregnant again.”
At a time when the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) was conducting its investigation into allegations that hospitals sterilised women without their consent, Msibi fought to find answers from Baragwanath about her sterilisation. She also became an activist for women in her plight and founded the Hopeville Foundation Support Group.
The CGE report released last week confirmed complaints brought to it in 2015 that some public hospitals coerced and forced 48 women to sterilise because they were living with HIV. This was a gross violation of women’s rights, the CGE concluded.
“The complainants were subjected to cruel, torturous or inhuman and degrading treatment,” it said.
The Department of Health was still not ready to comment on the CGE’s findings.
“I won’t say when (we could comment) because there’s still information gathering that is needed,” Health spokesperson Popo Maja said last week.
Msibi said her assessment was that it was not just women living with HIV that have had their chances to conceive again cut by hospitals.
HIV negative herself, Msibi said she was one of the women who made complaints with the CGE.
“I was not told that I was going to be sterilised. Nobody signed my consent form. My mother was present with me all the time, she knows nothing about my uterus being taken out. I know for a fact that there are more people. Majority of us in the (Hopeville) support group do not have uteruses,” she said.
Puleng Moloi, a 29-year-old woman from Free State, said her uterus was also removed without her consent in 2017.
Doctors later informed her that they performed the procedure to save her life, she said. Moloi, also in the category of HIV negative women sterilised without consent, said she wanted justice.
“I want them to pay for taking away my womanhood without telling me. I want them to be locked up. It means I’ll never get married because I can’t bear children,” Moloi said.
Msibi called for both the prosecution of culprits and monetary compensation for the violated women.
“This is not about money,” she said. “Yes, as victims we do need to be compensated, but no amount of money can bring back my uterus.