To talk publicly about abortion in South Africa today is to break a taboo. To scream privately during an abortion is to risk prosecution for breaking the law. Since the vast majority of abortions are illegal, some back-street operators demand complete silence:
He said to me, Annie, you can’t scream. He said, I know it’s sore, you can’t scream. You have to shut up … I was like biting the pillow and had to come out of there and like — sort of act very normal. I could hardly walk.1
- Black Woman
- African Woman
- Black Female
- Fertility Control
- South African Journal
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There is, for example, no history of twentieth-century medicine in South Africa; almost the only book which has a bearing on this period is C. Searle, The History of the Development of Nursing in South Africa, 1652–1960 (Cape Town: C. Struik, 1965).
For the paucity of feminist studies, see B. Bozzoli, ‘Marxism, Feminism and South African Studies’, Journal of Southern African Studies (hereafter JSAS) 9, 2 (1983).
G. Devereux, A Study of Abortion in Primitive Societies (New York: International Universities Press, 1976) p. 98;
P. van Regenmortel and E. van Harte, Family Planning in the Greater Cape Town Area: A Background Study (Bellville: University of the Western Cape, Institute for Social Development, 1978) p. 72.
N. Farnsworth et al, ‘Potential value of plants as sources of new anti-fertility agents’, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 64 (1975).
See also G. Greer, Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (London: Picador, 1985) pp. 180–1.
A. Smith, A Contribution to South African Materia Medica Chiefly from Plants in Use Among the Natives, 2nd ed. (Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1888) p. 12;
C. Harries, Notes on Sepedi Laws and Customs (Pretoria: Government Printing and Stationery Office, 1909) pp. 70–1, 74.
S. Kay, Travels and Researches in Caffraria (London: John Mason, 1833) p. 157.
J. Maclean, A Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs (Cape Town: Saul Solomon, 1866) pp. 64, 67.
see J. Guy, ‘Analysing Pre-Capitalist Societies in Southern Africa’, JSAS, 14, 1 (1987).
Cape Colony, Report and Proceedings with Appendices of the Government Commission on Native Laws and Customs, 1883, G4–83, p. 520, and Appendix C, p. 127.
L. Pappe, Florae Capensis medicae prodromus; or an Enumeration of South African Plants used as Remedies by the Colonists of the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town: W. Brittain, 1868) pp. 5, 33, 43;
P. Laidler, ‘The Magic Medicine of the Hottentots’, South African Journal of Science, 25 (1928), 443;
Suid-Afrikaanse Akademisie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, Volksgeneeskuns in Suid-Afrika: ‘n kultuurhistoriese oorsig benewens ‘n uitgebreide versameling Boererate, vol. 1, (Pretoria?: 1966?) pp. 480–2, 502.
in J. Watt and M. Brandwijk, The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern Africa (Edinburgh: E. and S. Livingstone, 1932).
H. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1927) p. 166;
E. Hellmann, Problems of Urban Bantu Youth (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1940) p. 4.
R. Petchesky, Abortion and Woman’s Choice (London: Verso, 1986) p. 53.
P. Laidler and M. Gelfand, South Africa: its Medical History 1652–1898 (Cape Town: C. Struik, 1971) p. 339;
E. Burrows, A History of Medicine in South Africa up to the End of the Nineteenth Century (Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1958) p. 67.
C. Juritz, Kort Berigt over de gebruikelykste Geneesmiddelen, welken te bekomen zyn in de Engel Apotheek (London: W. H. Collingridge, c. 1870), p. 14;
P. Knight, ‘Women and Abortion in Victorian and Edwardian England’, History Workshop 4 (1977) 61.
F. Smith, The People’s Health 1830–1910 (London: Croom Helm, 1979) p. 78.
C. Pijper, De Volksgeneeskunsî in Transvaal (Leiden: Groen, 1919) p. 29.
The above paragraphs are drawn from N. Gordimer, No Place Like: Selected Stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978) pp. 107–121.
see S. Clingman, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1986).
N. Kitson, Where Sixpence Lives (London: Chatto and Windus, 1986) pp. 58, 73;
L. Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control In America (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977) p. 139.
E. Woodrow, ‘Family Planning in South Africa’, South African Medical Journal (hereafter SAMJ) 50 (11 December 1976) 2101.
C. Simkins and E. van Heyningen, ‘Fertility, Mortality and Migration in the Cape Colony, 1891–1904’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 22, 1 (1989) 89.
I. Frack, A South African Doctor Looks Backwards — and Forward (South Africa: Central News Agency, 1943) pp. 194–5.
C. Tietze and S. Lewit, ‘Epidemiology of induced abortion’ in J. Hodgson, Abortion and Sterilization: Medical and Social Aspects (London: Academic Press, 1981) p. 41.
J. Cock, Maids and Madams (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1980) p. 359.
Obituary for Dr J. Duminy in SAMJ 12 (12 March 1938);
C. Barnard and C. Pepper, One Life (Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1969) pp. 84–5.
E. Crichton, ‘The Adventures of a Crochet Hook’, South African Medical Record 24 (25 Dec. 1926) 549–50.
R. Levin, Marriage in Langa Native Location (Cape Town: School of African Studies, 1947) pp. 75–6.
P. Mayer, Townsmen or Tribesmen (London: Oxford University Press, 1971) p. 281.
E. Hellmann, Rooiyard: a Sociological Survey of an Urban Native Slum Yard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948) pp. 27, 61.
M. Makeba with J. Hall, Makeba: My Story (Johannesburg: Skotaville, 1989) p. 3;
J. Watt, ‘The Present Position of our Knowledge of South African Medicinal and Poisonous Plants’, South African Journal of Science, 25 (1928) 228;
L. Longmore, The Dispossessed: A Study of the Sex-Life of Bantu Women in and around Johannesburg (London: Jonathan Cape, 1959) p. 136.
I. Schapera, Married Life in an African Tribe (London: Faber and Faber, 1939) p. 223.
The following paragraph is derived from M. Spilhaus, ‘The Intra-uterine Device in Soweto and other Townships’, SAMJ 48 (22 June 1974) 1302–5.
M. Grant, ‘Iatrogenic gynaecological disease’, SAMJ 41 (15 April 1967) 388
A. Greenblatt to ed., SAMJ 36 (8 Sept. 1962) 764.
C. Holtzhausen, ‘Preliminary Report on the Use of Intra-Uterine Contraception in Private Practice’, South African Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 5–6 (17 June 1967) 18;
J. Shlugmann, ‘The Multiload Copper Intra-uterine Contraceptive Device in a Mixed Urban and Rural Population’, SAMJ 55 (29 Sept. 1979) 571;
B. Brown, ‘Facing the “Black Peril”: the Politics of Population Control in South Africa’, JSAS, 13, 3 (1987) 264, 268.
N. Wathen et al., ‘Postpartum Insertion of the Combined Multiload Copper Intra-uterine Device’, SAMJ 54 (16 September 1978) 473–5;
B. Pauw, The Second Generation: A Study of the Family among Urbanized Bantu in East London, Cape Province (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1961) p. 81.
L. van Dongen, ‘Thoughts on Contraception and Family Planning Clinics’, SAMJ 49 (19 March, 1975) 424;
R. Ismail, ‘Tranlocated Intrauterine Contraceptive Devices and Missing Strings’, SAMJ 51 (30 July 1977) 235;
E. Williams, Where Have all the Children Gone (Johannesburg: Ernest Stanton, 1980) pp. 90–3.
B. Karstadt, ‘A South African-made Copper Intra-uterine Contraceptive Device’, SAMJ 59 (27 June 1981) 981.
J. Westmore, Abortion in South Africa and Attitudes of Natal Medical Practitioners towards South African Abortion Legislation (Durban: University of Natal, 1977) p. 15;
J. Larsen, ‘Induced Abortion’, SAMJ, 53 (27 May 1978) 853.
G. van Niekerk, ‘Psigiatriese Aspekte van Terapeutiese Aborsie’, SAMJ 55 (17 March 1979) pp. 421–3.
L. Vogelman, The Sexual Face of Violence: Rapists on Rape (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1990) p. 2.
Scope, 5, 20 (2 October 1970) p. 38.
SACHED, Working Women (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985) p. 12.
T. Thomas, Their Doctor Speaks (College of Careers pamphlet, 1973) p. 4.
C. Hermer, The Diary of Maria Tholo (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1980) p. 139;
Editors and Affiliations
© 1991 Teresa Meade and Mark Walker
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Bradford, H. (1991). Herbs, Knives and Plastic: 150 Years of Abortion in South Africa. In: Meade, T., Walker, M. (eds) Science, Medicine and Cultural Imperialism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-12445-9_7
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
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Online ISBN: 978-1-349-12445-9