Unveiling the Shadows: A Call to End Female Genital Mutilation in South Africa – By Ramadimetja Makgeru

Unveiling the Shadows: A Call to End Female Genital Mutilation in South Africa – By Ramadimetja Makgeru

During one of my documentary binge-watching sprees a few months ago, I came across a BBC Africa Eye film by Tyson Conteh titled “FGM: For the Love of Fatmata.” Conteh, a young man at the time of filming, embarked on a journey that would expose the painful truth behind the death of his late girlfriend, Fatmata. As I delved into Conteh’s narrative, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the harrowing reality of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice deeply ingrained in cultural traditions across the African continent.

Conteh’s documentary follows his personal quest, beginning on the day of Fatmata’s funeral on 18 August 2016. Motivated by a haunting request from Fatmata in his dreams, Conteh committed to revealing the truth of her death and bringing an end to the insidious practice of FGM. The emotional weight of this journey, coupled with the prevalence of FGM, resonated with me on a personal level.

His story brought back memories of my time in a rural boarding school in the Sekhukhune region of South Africa. During the quarterly breaks, some girls would return late, marked by the remnants of their time at female initiation school – a tradition still deeply rooted in my Pedi culture. The cut hair, traces of red polish, and, in some cases, a round hot iron stamp on their cheek were stark reminders of the transition-to-womanhood camps. In the confined environment of our boarding house, curiosity often led to discussions about their experiences, unveiling the hidden reality of Female Genital Mutilation.

South Africa’s Unseen Struggle:

While FGM may not be as widely recognised in South Africa as in some other African nations, the shadows of this practice linger, often concealed within cultural rites of passage. The silence surrounding FGM in South Africa is not an indicator of its absence but rather a testament to the need for a more vigilant approach to understanding and addressing this issue.

Global Context of FGM:

The global scale of FGM is staggering, affecting approximately 200 million girls and women in 31 countries, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). The urgency to eradicate this harmful practice is evident in the UN’s commitment to eliminate FGM by 2030. Collaborative efforts have resulted in the prevention of FGM for an estimated 6 million girls and women, highlighting the impact of concerted actions1.

Cultural Nuances and Women’s Rights:

As witnessed in Conteh’s documentary and my own experiences, the intertwining of cultural traditions with FGM poses a complex challenge. Cultural preservation is vital, but it should never supersede the fundamental rights of women and girls. Acknowledging cultural nuances while safeguarding the well-being and autonomy of individuals is paramount to effecting change2.

Educational Empowerment:

The lack of sexual education, as emphasised in various research pieces, is a significant impediment to combating FGM. In South Africa, where a literacy rate of 93.5% exists3, there is immense potential to leverage education as a tool for change. Comprehensive sex education programs are essential to empower women with knowledge about their rights and the health risks associated with FGM.

Survivor-Led Advocacy and Legal Framework:

Survivor-led initiatives, exemplified by Aha Dukureh’s impactful advocacy, showcase the resilience of those affected by FGM. South Africa’s legal framework, as discussed in “Female genital mutilation in South Africa,” is a critical foundation that requires reinforcement and effective implementation2.

A Call to Action in South Africa:

As we observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the narrative unveiled by Conteh’s documentary urges us to confront the shadows within our own communities. South Africa has a pivotal role to play in dismantling the veils that conceal FGM. Strengthening legal enforcement, prioritising educational empowerment, and fostering open dialogues are integral steps toward eradicating this harmful practice.

The time has come for South Africa to emerge from the shadows and take a leading stance against Female Genital Mutilation. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that no more lives are marred by the devastating impact of this practice. Let us stand united, echoing the call for a future where every woman and girl can embrace womanhood without fear, pain, or coercion.



  1. FGM Annual Report of 2021 – United Nations.
  2. “Female genital mutilation in South Africa” – AfricLaw, 7 June 2012. 
  3. World Population Review – South Africa Literacy Rate.


About the author:

Ramadimetja is a freelance writer deeply committed to social justice. She uses her writing as a form of activism to amplify the voices of grassroots leaders and community members. She aims to produce insightful and thought-provoking work, often shedding light on underrepresented issues and challenges facing marginalised communities.

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